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The Maastricht Diplomat

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A tale of a former arctic

The year is 2045. Osuitok, now an old man, steps out of his truck, puts on his jacket and backpack, and sets off. His destination is the Shifmaref Inlet, a bay on the peak of the western edge of Alaska. He will have to hike several hours across the tundra, circumventing waterholes, to arrive at the water. To make the long hours less lonely, his trusty companion, an ashen husky aptly called Taktuq (mist in Inuktuk), is following him by the heel.

Greenish almost grey bushes cover the plains in front of him, with leaves folding beneath his step. He still remembers how the earth beneath him was hard, with frozen leaves crunching under the steps of him and his friends as they used to play catch in those plains while young. It was such a happy time to be running in the fields, with the only worry being whether you’d get home on time for dinner. Now, the fields of the tundra were muddy and desolate, with life scarce and the ground soft.


Taktuq gets distracted by a mouse burrowing out of the ground and starts running after it. After some back and forth across tiny hills, the pursuit is quickly over. Alas, the rodent quickly finds another refuge in the holy ground and gets out of reach of the dog. If it were thirty years earlier, the mouse would have had much more difficulty actually burrowing into the ground. Now, with the permafrost almost completely thawed, it is a soft and spongy material, which causes landslides and a full reversal in vegetation. The ground is also much hotter, enabling a fast and easy deterioration of animal corpses. This of course brought in a litany of new insects and other scavengers that would have never survived in the cold before.


Taktuq suddenly raises his head and smells something perfidy yet appetising and bolts to a nearby hill. Behind it, a not-so-fresh corpse of a reindeer is wallowing in the sun. As the dog approaches it he quickly turns away with disgust, as rotten flesh now doesn’t seem as interesting for a little mid-hike snack.


Approaching the coast, Osuitok gets lost in his thoughts, remembering his youth in the village. While it wasn’t the calm, picket-fenced suburban life some of his colleagues from university would have preferred, he still absolutely loved growing up on the westernmost point of Alaska, well into the arctic circle. When he was younger, he used to play on the coast and the plains, observing the reindeers from afar, looking at plants in the ground, and seeing seals swim by. Sometimes, even whales would come up close enough to the edge so that he and his friends could just about see a dark mass in the water, coming up for a breath then disappearing in the icy waters again. Every time he saw one he was absolutely captivated, having his sight fixed on this gentle giant until he really couldn’t see it in the dark blue water anymore. Once he became older, he did all he could to learn more about these animals, and others living in this ocean that was oh so fascinating to him. Naturally, his passion for the ocean grew and he spent hours on his father’s fishing boat or in a kayak, just getting lost in the waves. This was heaven for him: just floating in this endless expanse, being rocked by the waves, with the tip of his kayak bobbing up and down under the water. Naturally, following his father’s footsteps as a fisherman allowed him to just do this, which he had then decided early on as a career. He could stay in Shifmaref, actually Qigiqtaq in the Inupiaq, and be on the water all day. Sometimes, when he had some time to spend, he took out his sketchbook and started drawing the scenery he saw.


Unfortunately, as idyllic as this sounds, his ideal life was robbed from him once he reached the ripe age of 18. Qigiqtaq, a charming, crescent shaped island just off the coast was a small patch of rock and frozen earth, with houses sprinkled atop like snowflakes in a dog's fur. This is where he grew up and this is where he wanted to stay. Indeed, the ground especially on the edges was becoming less and less stable, with the foundation of the little houses becoming unstable. With the sea level rising, the ground melting and the icebergs that would normally protect them from large sea storms dwindling away, the village decided to relocate to the mainland, further inside. Osuitok had to give up his dreams and follow everyone into the mainland.


Osuitok was pulled from his daydream, as he started to approach the coast. His visions from his childhood of the dark blue sea with the massive ice boulders were replaced by what he saw before him: the sea, still as dark and menacing as before, had a little sense of fatigue within it. Osuitok felt that the sea was much more lacklustre and the usually ominous dark blue felt dull and pale. Besides the colour of the ocean, another crucial missing part were the icebergs: during his childhood, floating off the coast, glistening in the sun. Now though, nothing was left: the sea was completely vast and flat. All was molten.

The most striking difference though, was that the little piece of land where he grew up was almost completely gone, taken by the waves. Seeing the remains of the red little houses on this desolate rock filled Osuitoks eyes with tears. His heart seemed to break in his chest and he had to sit down on the floor. Sensing his despair, Taktuq came to his rescue and snuggled up to him. His owner had adopted him when he moved to the big city: indeed after having to leave his hometown, Osuitok decided to go to the big city and study ecological sciences. Seeing what would be happening to his home inspired him to learn more about global warming and he vowed to do everything in his power to find a solution and raise awareness. And even if all science was against it, Osuitok had a sliver of hope that he would at some point be able to come back to live in his hometown. But seeing this before him, all that was remaining of his life there completely gone and taken by nature made him feel truly helpless. Helpless and angry.


As to demonstrate a point, a shadow appeared on the horizon. A big, dark vessel started creeping past Osuitok in the distance. In white letters on the black and red hull speckled with rust spots he could see the name Vinjerac, indicating that it was a Russian oil tanker. Indeed, since the ice in the arctic started to melt, more and more exploitation projects had opened, with several different states and powers opening the oil reserves to the highest bidder. And not only is it extremely harmful to nature to pump out all the natural oil, but the tankers carrying their load of heavy oil are one of the most polluting vehicles available. During their month-long journey they spew out thousands and thousands of tons of CO2 until they finally arrive at their destination. Once at the destination, the oil they carry will be refined and then later on burned again to release even more CO2. It all seemed so excessive to Osuitok and he just couldn’t understand how so many people chose to simply disregard the damage, even though it was clear to everyone and irrefutable signs had been seen all over the world for decades now.


Osuitok decided to stay and sit for some time, reflecting and trying to get his thoughts in order. With his dog now asleep on his legs, he looked around him to his nature, his heart aching. Finishing the view he looked towards the horizon with the sun slowly setting and giving the sky a beautiful orange tint. Breaking this pleasing almost scenic view a fleet of metal hulls broke the light coming from the south: a fleet of Russian military boats, probably going to the numerous military installations that had been installed in islands all over the arctic circle. This was also a side effect of the arctic melting: with ice breaking and melting, it was much easier for the countries bordering the arctic circle to sail up north and install military checkpoints. The tactical advantage was obvious, it started a gold rush to control the important choke points of the arctic. With Russia, Canada, Norway, and the USA a lot of new military stations were created to have a tactical advantage and to protect all those commercial vessels driving up to carry the oil being extracted from these underground reserves.


The sun now turning the sky red, and his eyes filling with tears again, Osuitok looked out one last time to this seemingly endless and vast water. Suddenly, there was movement beneath the waves. He convinced himself that it was actually a whale and took it as a sign that nature was still persevering. He smiled as the sun was setting and he turned away to walk back, leaving it all behind him with a broken heart.


This article was written for the MD x EuroMUN Printed Edition.

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