One of the global problems of our modern world is climate change. The most noticeable process of climate change is observed in the Arctic. There are lots of rallies, actions and campaigns held in support of work on preserving the climate in the Arctic, and on preserving the local habitat and settlements. And against the background of such events, the exhibition “Arctic: Culture and Climate” provides something very different.

The exhibition “Arctic: Culture and Climate” was opened at the end of October 2020 at the British Museum in collaboration with the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (“Kunstkamera’’) and other museums. It is the first event where people can see the unique history of the Arctic people and their culture.

The main idea of the exhibition was to show the interconnection of Arctic culture and the climate. More than 50 pieces were brought over from the Russian museum. And among them are amazing things of different purposes: tools of labour; clothes adapted to the local climate and to activities; tableware; artworks that reflect the features of the region and much more.
According to the Russian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Andrey Vladimirovich Kelin, it took a lot of effort to organise the exhibition: “We are well aware of how much effort was put into organising this exhibition, with preparations under way for the past 8 years, which is why it is a great pleasure to see this exhibition taking place today, despite all the coronavirus restrictions.” As the Ambassador notes, this exhibition is also an important platform for British-Russian cooperation and for the development of cultural communication between countries.

About the region
The Arctic is a region neighbouring the North Pole and includes parts of Eurasia and North America, the islands of the Arctic Ocean, as well as the neighboring parts of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The area of the Arctic is approximately 27 million km².

The nature of the Arctic is balanced – unique and rich fauna and flora, fresh air, fresh water, natural resources. The Arctic is not only nature, but also an ethnocultural region where different people, cultures, languages are concentrated, and their cultural uniqueness have been retained for several centuries.

About the local people
Local people are accustomed to living in the polar climate, which is characterized by long winters, constant snow cover (despite the fact that precipitation in this region does not fall often), and ice. Through the centuries they began to use climatic features in everyday life, and it was demonstrated at the exhibition as well. Moreover, people are completely dependent on the local ecosystem: their everyday life is closely intertwined with the peculiarities of the Arctic. The main activities of local people are hunting, gathering, reindeer husbandry and fishing, so nature is the basis of their life. Therefore, environmental problems like climate change affect their lives more than the lives of people in other regions.

Climatic changes
According to the research, the temperature in the Arctic continues to rise at more than twice the global annual average and there is a noticeable melting of snow and ice, which reduces the total area of Arctic ice (this year the ice reached only 3.74 million km²).

Climatic changes in the region have already manifested themselves in the second half of the last century, but the changes were not as significant as now. As the threat of warming has hung over the inhabitants of the regions, they have taken measures to preserve the climate and nature. For these purposes, the Arctic Council was established in 1996. Today it includes 8 Arctic countries and deals with Arctic issues, in particular on issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic.

What is the threat of climate change?
Due to the reduction in sea ice, animals have to change their usual way of existence. For example, during their annual migration, walruses cannot last for long voyages, so they often stop on ice floes for rest. Due to the melting ice, they have to change the places of their rookeries, and in recent years the rookeries are moving closer and closer to the narrow coasts, which causes some sad consequences, such as the mass death of walruses in Chukotka in 2007.

Also, climatic changes have a direct impact on water supply, traditional food for the local people. They have had to change their habitual way of life: the duration of the fishing season is shrinking, the conditions for hunting have also deteriorated. Animals living on ice sheets have moved to other places because of the melting ice, and hunters have to go further and run the risk of being drowned.

Climate change also impacts on infrastructure: there is deformation of buildings’ foundations, roads, and various technical structures. The situation is aggravated by poor-quality work done in past years, but the most terrible threat is a rise in the sea level, which can cause natural disasters, such as floods, tsunamis, and this will undoubtedly affect the life of regional settlements in the near future.

The importance of cultural events
Local people, who have lived in the same conditions for thousands of years, have united with the local climate. It is the features of the region that contributed to the development of these people’s lives and it is the climate that plays a big role in their culture. Therefore, the slightest climate change can lead to very unpleasant consequences in their lives: from the loss of cultural authenticity to disappearance altogether. That’s why it is very important to hold cultural events so that people understand how closely culture and climate are intertwined, and how important climate change is in general.

Text by Sabina Abdybachaeva