Yesterday, as I was preparing the graphic for an article about two anti-NAFTA bills in Congress, a little thought erupted in my brain, and stayed there all day.
The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration confirmed yesterday that 2012 was the hottest year ever recorded in the United States. Every single one of the contiguous 48 states had above average temperatures last year.
I was thinking of the remarkable shift in climate, in combination with the remarkable lack of response by either Democrats or Republicans in the U.S. government. Looking at the graphic of the North American continent I was working on, I was reminded that climate change isn’t just a problem in one nation. It’s global in scope, and maybe that’s one reason that action to confront climate change has been so difficult to organize. People think in terms of national identity, and national identities restrict areas of focus within national boundaries rather than on a larger scale.
When the news came out last summer that Arctic sea ice had reached the lowest extent ever recorded, it sounded theoretically important, because the Arctic seems like a world apart from where most people live.
In truth, the Arctic is not as far as people think it is. Americans routinely fly from coast to coast, going three thousand miles. The Arctic is closer to major northern cities than that. It’s so close, a person could walk there.
That’s the thought that popped into my mind as I looked at a map of my own continent, North America: With some preparation, I could walk out the door and keep on going until I reached the Arctic. With enough time, I could travel on foot to see the melting Arctic waters for myself.
Why not do it?
If I could take a walk right up to the shore of the Arctic waters within the Arctic Circle, maybe the extreme climate shifts taking place in the Arctic could become less abstract than they seem now. By walking the distance, I could connect the continental United States with the Arctic in a way that hasn’t been done in recent times.
Part of the point would be to see the Arctic before it changes. There are plenty of ways to do that, including flights to Arctic destinations, cruises on gigantic ships, and even a few roads to the Alaskan north. Those forms of transportation use fossil fuels, though, and are significant sources of the very greenhouse gases that are causing global warming in the first place.
Walking this great distance, into a land where there are no roads, part of what I want to do is to remind myself that traveling in machines propelled by internal combustion engines is the aberration from the historical norm. I want to engage in an act of extreme pedestrian travel as a reminder, to myself and to others, that driving a car to get around town really isn’t as necessary as we like to think it is.
I wouldn’t say I’ve firmly made up my mind, but I’m seriously considering actually taking this walk.
Of course, I’ve done nothing at all like this before. Given that it’s far beyond any sort of travel by foot I’ve undertaken before, and that I’ve never traveled to the Arctic at all, I have a great deal of preparation before I make the attempt. I don’t want to end up as a character in a book like Jon Krakauer’s Into The Wild.
If I’m going to take this walk, I want to do it right:
1. With a reasonable degree of safety
2. Without creating a heavy environmental footprint
3. Creating enough of a political impact to make the time and effort worthwhile
There’s a lot of planning to go into a trip like this. If I were to go to the top of Quebec or Newfoundland, the distance would be approximately 1,500 miles, as the crow flies. To get across the Arctic Circle, however, I’d have to make my way up to Churchill, and then go west of Hudson Bay, more than 2,500 miles as the crow flies… and I won’t be a crow flying.
Questions to ponder:
How much food will I need, and what kind of food can I take, once I reach the last reasonably-sized human settlement?
Can I find a string of remote camps and settlements to travel between, or will I have to abandon hope of places to resupply after a certain point?
How should I prepare for the bears?
What kind of technology can I reasonably take along to document the journey? Will solar cells effectively power small devices in the far north?
Should I take a small paddle portable boat to increase my speed as I encounter the many rivers and lakes of the Canadian wilderness?
Should I recruit guides and allies to travel with me along various parts of the walk? What kind of company should I avoid?
How can I keep my family financially afloat as I take this long walk?
How do I prepare to establish a foundation of good health as I begin? What health problems are most likely?
What are the legal requirements for a U.S. citizen walking across large areas of Canadian wilderness?