Impossible Records Melt Under a Scorching Siberian Sun

In the far north Siberian city of Yakutsk, reputed to be the coldest city on the planet, temperatures in the -40s Celsius are “cold but not very cold.” If you were to travel hundreds of kilometers even further north, well into the Arctic Circle, you might find the tiny mining town of Verkhoyansk, population 1300, home of one of the coldest temperatures ever recorded outside of Antarctica (-67.6C). But if you were to go there this month, you might find something far more grave: a summery weather so intense that temperatures higher than 100F (37.7C) were recorded there this June 20—breaking a record set last summer for highest temperature ever north of the Arctic Circle.

The problem is that Verkhoyansk—and the entire Arctic region—are supposed to be keeping us cool. Arctic land and sea ice have been playing this role for millions of years, reflecting the sun’s heat back out into space through the summer, then rebuilding through the sunless winter. Humanity has never known life without this protection. Now, that is changing—at a speed of 14,000 tons a second, according to a 2018 study on melting Arctic ice. Sweltering Siberian heat is not just a surreal experience. Nor is it just a threat to those who have historically had to develop far more cold tolerance than heat tolerance. It is an urgent alarm for us all.

It might be tempting to say that Verkhoyansk is a canary in the coalmine for our rapidly changing world. But there have already been uncountable canaries- from the collapsing Arctic permafrost with its deadly reserves of long-buried germs and methane, to the far southern island nations whose shorelines are being swallowed by rising sea levels. At this point, our collective inaction to address the problem is as though we are a deranged coal miner plunging into a mine where every canary he has taken so far has died.

The situation is grave. It is rooted in our collective disease of disconnect—from ourselves, from each other, from Nature, and from the consequences of our actions. When we understand our inherent interconnection, we immediately recognize that global dependency on fossil fuels, and exploitation of the already-struggling Arctic Ocean, are incompatible with life on Earth. We are the canaries, and we are collectively losing our song in every second that goes by without a recommitment to interconnection.

For the sake of all life, let’s get out of the coal mine and stop trying to burn our future. Let’s affirm the singular importance of acting in keeping with our interconnection. By stopping all exploitation in the Arctic Ocean north of the Arctic Circle, the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary safeguards the remaining ice that protects us, and compels a global shift to sustainable energy use and the collective good. Instead of turning our air conditioner into a boiling kettle, let’s turn the world into our sanctuary with MAPS.

Verkhoyansk mountains image credit: Simone Stuenzi