Recap Day 4 & 5 at IPY 2012

Day 4 started with a video summarizing the Indigenous Knowledge Exchange. With performances by the ArtCirq, the Dakhka Khwaan Dancers and throat singers, photo exhibits, forums, award winners, exhibitors, guest panelists, keynote speakers, representatives on the executive committee, and even a strong presence in the conference “twittersphere” and a special degustation of northern delicacies, the indigenous people and their voices have been a top priority during this event. Most importantly, it was crucial to make the scientists understand the value of their traditional knowledge and the necessity to include it in their work.

After a short keynote policy address by Dr. Palle Christiansen, Minister of Education, Research and Nordic Cooperation in Greenland it was time for one of the most remarkable keynotes of the week, Dr. Sheila Jasanoff, Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies and Director of the Program on Science, Technology and Society at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As well as member of the Board of Directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and as President of the Society for Social Studies of Science. Humbly presenting herself as someone who simply teaches and writes about knowledge, she let  the audience know that she saw herself in group that could be summarized, using the words of H. L. Mencken, by “Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach.” She talked in length about the failures of the Linear Model and its unfortunate results, “minilateralism not multilateralism seems to be the discord of the day” she says.

Yet in spite of this unproductive system, the science world is quick to claim and hold tight to its presumed benefits. Dr. Jasanoff goes on identifying presumed assumptions and presenting a different perspective and what that perspective should entail. She also talks about the politics of science and the complexity of knowledge making, leading unfortunately to many faulty courses of action. What is missing, Dr. Jasanoff points out, is the human factor – how people understand science and how culture shapes understanding. She goes as far as to ask the audience “Why should we believe scientists?” Is it because they are close to nature – a questionable statement. Is it because of science integrity, which is hard to prove. Or is it because of a strength of consensus, which they often don’t have. She even wonders if Rio+20 is actually an admission to failure, recognizing a global environmental exhaustion on the matter and the lack of international treaties and consensus. But she finishes hoping that the summit will present a chance to move away from business as usual and act on today’s challenges by building a bridge to the future. I strongly recommend that you listen to her speech and read each slide of her presentation on the webcast by clicking here.

In the afternoon, I attended a session given by Dr. Elizabeth White, director of BBC’s Frozen Planet series, titled “Behind the scenes: Broadcasters and Scientists Working Together” White spent an hour showing us scenes from the show and telling us how the filming team had only succeeded because of a strong partnership with field scientists. She also demonstrated how new filming technology and science knowledge had created never filmed before opportunities.

Next stop was the Martin Bergmann Medal Award ceremony, hosted by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Bergmann was director of the Natural Resources Canada’s Polar Continental Shelf Program and personal friend of Mr. Peter Harrison, President of IPY 2012. Sadly, in August 2011, Bergmann was part of the victims in a plane crash in Resolute Bay. Martin’s wife was to receive the first honorary medal. In what was an highly emotional event, Harrison spoke of his friend with honor, pride and nostalgia. “I want to celebrate an Arctic hero, I want to celebrate Marty” he said, “He embodied knowledge to action!” Several of his dear friends came to tell the audience a story that epitomized the good nature of this Arctic legend. In fact, everyone in the room had himself or herself, at one point or another, experienced the magic of Bergmann. Not only was he a master at connecting people, but he excelled at making things happened.

That evening, being the last one before the closing day, it was time for the conference’s big banquet featuring a performance by the prestigious Cirque du Soleil. Sold out and without one single seat left, the packed room dined together for the last time before being treated to an absolute fascinating show. The small troupe demonstrated physical feats that none of us thought even possible. Rolling and spinning in a giant metal ring, bouncing on a trampoline in ways that flouted gravity, and finally human sculptures that were, well scientifically defying the laws of physics! At the table with me was British educational hero Antony Jinman from ETE (Education Through Exploration)

Day 5, the final day, was time to close the conference in the same way it had started, with the educators. The last keynote speaker was Dr. Jose Xavier, a marine biologist with the Institute of Marine Research, University of Coimbra, Portugal and the British Antarctic Survey, U.K. In addition to his work on a number of science projects, he lead a highly successful educational program called LATITUDE60!, which reached thousands of students, educators, and politicians, helping to raise awareness of the polar regions. In 2011, he was awarded the prestigious Martha T. Muse Prize for Science and Policy in Antarctica. Before starting his speech, Xavier invited the public to watch on the big screen behind him a video honoring the incredible work of APECS’s (Association of Polar Early Career Scientists) founder Jenny Baeseman.

For the closing speech, Harrison summarized what had been accomplished over the last 5 days. While the conference in Olso was specifically focused on science, this year’s IPY 2012, which took 3 years to prepare, was to go beyond the science and move from knowledge to action. By involving the youth, the educators, the indigenous, and the politicians, the goal was to bridge all these parties with the science community. On another level, the green aspect of the conference was acclaimed as goals established prior to the event, were actually greatly surpassed.

What impact will have the conference? No one knows, time will tell. One thing is for sure, up to 4,000 people per day showed up and worked relentlessly at laying the foundations, and the framework on which to build a global partnership, an international momentum involving everyone and working together on a single mission – to preserve and protect the Poles, with their unique environment and their priceless biodiversity. Congratulations to the Steering Committee, the Program Committee, the Secretariat, the Volunteers, the Green Committee and everyone else  involved in the making of this incredible conference!

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