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Listening to the 'canaries in the coal mine' of climate change

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A father and son fix a wood and wire fence in front of snowcapped mountains
Ulf Isaak Aleksandersen helps his father Reiulf build the corral where they will gather their reindeer.
Courtesy of Amy Martin, Threshold Podcast

This week, the Norwegian Polar Institute reported the largest die-off of reindeer in a decade. Researchers found 200 dead reindeer on an isolated chain of islands in Norway, called Svalbard. And they believe climate change was at work; a wet winter resulted in a thick layer of ice that plants — the main food source for reindeer — couldn't poke through.

These arctic ecosystems are some of the hardest hit by climate change, and that's what Amy Martin sought to document in season two of her podcast, Threshold. It includes dispatches from an island in Alaska that’s washing away, a Russian community struggling to speak up about climate change despite crackdowns on dissent, and Svalbard, where herding reindeer is a way of life for indigenous families.

“Getting out onto the land and meeting people where climate change is visible right in front of them, it’s not necessarily coming top-down from an academic but just from, ‘I know this place. I know how it used to be, and I know that it’s changing.’ I think those are powerful stories.” Martin told Climate Cast host Paul Huttner. 

“Oftentimes in rural areas, people are more deeply connected with the land, and so in some ways I feel they’re the canaries in the coal mine, and we need to listen to them,” she said.

To hear more of their conversation, hit play on the audio player above.