WORDS BY Yessenia Funes
The Arctic is among the most vulnerable places in the world. Rising temperatures are one threat, but so are extractive industries hoping to exploit its resources. The Frontline speaks to the Arctic Angels, a group bringing together young women from around the world under a common cause: to save the Arctic.
When Divya Nawale first saw any type of snow ever, she was 22 years old. In the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, where Nawale lives, she only sees humid heat and skyscrapers. It’s a vast difference from the endless white she saw when she first stepped foot on Antarctica more than 10 years ago. “For someone who grew up in tropical India, it was an entirely different part of the planet, which I couldn’t even comprehend,” she says.
Now 33 years old, Nawale advocates on behalf of both poles. But the one in particular need is the North. The North Pole doesn’t need Santa, his workshop, or his elves to be magical—the region creates wonder unto itself; its glittering glaciers and extraordinary ecosystems can sustain creatures that exist nowhere else.
However, the Arctic is in serious trouble. Unlike Antarctica, the North Pole isn’t protected by any treaty or international agreement that covers extraction or private interests. It’s vulnerable to oil and gas drilling, as well as geopolitical interests. That’s why Nawale joined the Arctic Angels, a women-led intergenerational network focused on protecting the region from rising temperatures created by Global Choices, a group working to save our polar regions.
“The ice crisis is a global issue. What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.”
Welcome to The Frontline, where we’re introducing you to a few of the Arctic Angels. I’m Yessenia Funes, climate editor of Atmos. Today, the group has 21 angels in 11 countries that come together under a shared vision: to stop the ice crisis. As glaciers melt, sea levels rise. And as sea ice disappears, the Earth has fewer surfaces to repel sunrays, permanently baking in more warming. These girls and women are on a mission to save the North Pole and, consequently, the planet.
The Arctic Angels was only born this year. Like many of us, the group expected more for 2020, but the coronavirus had something else in mind. Still, the group has managed to bring on women and girls from around the world. Though not all have been to the Arctic, they all understand what’s at stake should we lose it—like Nawale in India or Emma Grace Wilkinson, the Arctic Angels coordinator who’s an angel herself, based in London.
“The ice crisis is a global issue,” she says “What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.”
Wilkinson is only 22 years old—the same age Nawale was when she first visited Antarctica—but she’s able to mentor and lead. Youth is at the heart of how Arctic Angels operates: Your age is a superpower and why your voice is so important in saving the polar regions. The youngest angel is 9 years old; the oldest, 32. Iluuna Sørensen is 19 years old and from Nuuk, Greenland, where she doesn’t have to seek nature.
“It’s very, very much a part of our everyday life,” she tells me. “The way we get food or the way we use our weekends.”
Sørensen grew up sailing with her mother, who loves to fish. Throughout the summer, they’d fill up their freezer so they had plenty to eat for the winter. She’s already noticed a difference in the landscape now from when she used to be a child, though. Her family used to be able to look at the sky and know with confidence what weather to expect; now, it’s unpredictable. Nature has always ruled in Greenland.
“I already see change now, and seeing this change so rapidly is just alarming how much action we have to take,” she says. “When I started in climate action, I was like, ‘Oh, I want my kids to see the same nature as I do,’ but the truth is I have already seen a change from when I was a bit younger.”
What stands out most, perhaps, is the view from her home. She used to be able to look out her huge windows during the summer and spot whales a few times a month in her view of the ocean outside. These days, she’s lucky to see even a single whale from the same windows in an entire year.
Earlier this month, this year’s Arctic Report Card detailed the dramatic transformation unfolding in the region due to record-breaking temperatures. As Earther Managing Editor Brian Kahn said perfectly, “The old Arctic is gone.” Saving it will require substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions. So long as the world keeps warming, the region will keep melting.
However, Arctic Angels isn’t only focused on global warming. The group tackles other threats, too, such as deep sea mining and oil and gas drilling. The hope is to empower young women like Sørensen so that they build the necessary skills to push leaders to make right choices—or eventually replace those leaders themselves.
Achieving climate justice won’t be easy, but the work can be easier with support and community. The North Pole needs saving—and the Arctic Angels is up to the task.