A whole village at risk of washing into the ocean.

Bridges destabilized overnight, cutting off the water supply to a remote northern town.

Melting permafrost causing buildings and houses crack and break.

Thin sea ice cutting off transportation routes between communities.

Shorter growing seasons and a dwindling supply of local produce.

These are just some of the consequences of climate change depicted in a new exhibit on display at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, which tells the story through the perspective of Arctic youth.

Portraits of Resilience, on display in the Teck Connections Gallery until Feb. 14, is a poignant collection of photographs and stories collected from youth living in Alaska, Nunavut, Greenland, Russia and other northern areas.

Curated by Artistic Director Christine Germano, the exhibit offers a powerful window into the profound, sometimes shocking ways climate change impacts northern communities. “It’s so much more than how the ice is melting. It’s how it affects people, the domino effect,” says Germano.

In Chukofka, Russia, buildings are cracking and breaking due to the uneven melting of permafrost.

In Chukotka, Russia, buildings are cracking and breaking due to the uneven melting of permafrost.

While people still think of climate change as something that threatens to radically change our way of life in the future, for the people living in the world’s northern-most communities that change has already come. And no one is more affected than young people.

The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the global average, wreaking havoc on infrastructure, communities and traditional ways of life. Through Portraits of Resilience, young people show the world how they are personally affected by this shift — often in ways that would surprise those of us living far away from these remote locales.

In Pangnirtung, Nunavut, warming temperatures mean hockey season is much shorter than it used to be, because in the High Arctic, arenas aren’t refrigerated, they simply open the doors and let nature take its course. Meanwhile bridges have been dislodged by shifting permafrost, cutting off the town from its water supply and sanitation services.

In Uummannaq, Greenland the ice sheet has melted so much, the sun returns one day earlier than it used to after the winter dark, while dog-sled travel between communities is often too dangerous on thin sea ice, leaving communities completely isolated.

In Shishmaref, Alaska, erosion is happening so fast that the entire village is at risk of falling into the sea.

For Portraits of Resilience, young people were encouraged to document the cultural practices that were important to them.

For Portraits of Resilience, young people were encouraged to document important cultural practices that are at risk due to climate change.

For Germano, empowering young people to tell these stories makes them more accessible a general public fatigued by dim scientific predictions. “The stories of youth are so powerful and accessible,” she says. “People don’t want to read any more scientific reports, but they’ll read personal stories and then do the research.”

Germano collected these stories with the support of Many Strong Voices, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about the effects of climate change on Arctic and island states – which are the most vulnerable to rising sea levels. The exhibit, originally opened in 2009, has been shown around the world, including at the Smithsonian Museum, Chicago’s Field Museum and the Norwegian Museum of Cultural Heritage. Several of the young artists and storytellers also spoke at the 2009 Copenhagen Summit on Climate Change. Germano has since repeated the project with youth living in island states in the South Pacific.

To learn more, visit the Vancouver Aquarium from now until Feb. 15, or watch Germano speak about what she learned on her tour of the High Arctic on our Northern Spotlights Arctic Talk Show.

Visit vanaqua.org/ournorth to learn more about how climate change is impacting Canada’s North and what you can do to help.

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