On particularly frosty February days it can be hard to conceive of the reality of global warming, but Inuit activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier does not go a moment without considering the dangers of this threat.
Watt-Cloutier, Bowdoin's 2010 Tallman Scholar, spoke to students about the direct effects of global warming on her native Canadian Inuit people, as well as its implications for the world at large on Tuesday. The lecture, entitled "The Right to be Cold," was held in Kresge Auditorium.
"We must look at [global warming] as a rights-based issue," said Watt-Cloutier during her presentation. "We must consider its effects not just on economics, but on humanity."
Indeed, Watt-Cloutier has done impressive work to bring attention to the impact that climate change has had on Inuit culture and lifestyle. She has chaired the Inuit Circumpolar Council, has spoken at a number of national and international conferences and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. She was also given an honorary degree from Bowdoin, which preceded her nomination for the Tallman Scholarship.
"It was great to be able to bring her back to Bowdoin for extended engagement," said Dean for Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd. "Her expertise coincides with elements of the Bowdoin campus in its emphasis on activism and environmental issues in the Arctic."
Judd expressed her enthusiasm for Watt-Cloutier's lecture and her appreciation for the subject matter.
"It is important to understand from a first-hand perspective how someone is bringing scientific social science and humanistic discussion together to bear on important policy questions," said Judd. "To have the chance to hear first hand from someone who has been an important voice at global conferences is a very special opportunity."
As the Tallman Scholar, Watt-Cloutier is required to live on campus. Last fall, she co-taught an environmental studies class. She expressed her appreciation for her students in the lecture, incorporating excerpts from their final reflection papers into her presentation.
Watt-Cloutier supplemented her lecture with examples from her own direct encounters with climate change as a member of the Inuit tribe living in the Canadian Arctic.
"When I went home in December there was no ice," she recounted. "There were actually canoe races in the middle of winter. This is unheard of."
She gave numerous other examples of how Inuit culture has changed and suffered in the face of global warming.
"The Inuit has undergone extreme and abrupt industrialization," she said. "In my lifetime alone I have witnessed the Inuit's adaption into the modern world."
Watt-Cloutier also emphasized the Inuit culture's strong traditional roots.
"The Inuit still remain very connected to nature and the traditional way of life," she said.
Attendees were offered a glimpse into traditional Inuit culture at the start of the lecture with the special musical performance by Inuit throat singers Sylvia Cloutier and Beatrice Deer.
Cloutier and Deer demonstrated their unique singing and breathing techniques and invited the audience to participate. Each song emulated the sounds of different elements of nature, a subject inseparable from Inuit culture.
"Our natural environment has been a way of teaching our children about our way of life," explained Watt-Cloutier. "That our environment is suffering from human actions is devastating."
Watt-Cloutier's work as an activist has and continues to be extremely successful. She ended the lecture on a hopeful note.
"When you change public opinion, you can translate that into international policy," she said. "Ultimately the change has to happen at a larger scale, but if you speak to people on a heart-to-heart level about these human stories, you can motivate people to change their course."