The Big Thaw: Scholars, experts, address policy, governance and climate change in the Arctic

As climate change transforms the planet, researchers examine imminent and long-term consequences 

Release Date: April 15, 2013 This content is archived.

“Experts agree that the amplified response of the Arctic makes it a high-sensitivity indicator of climate change and a worthy focus for exploration of the future of climate change policy. ”
Kim Connolly, professor and director of the Environmental Law Program
UB Law School

BUFFALO, N.Y. – As part of its Earth Day observances, the University at Buffalo will present a conference on the unprecedented and rapid changes from many stressors on the Arctic environment. Experts in science, law, sociology, anthropology and other fields will address the pressing issue of how climate change in the Arctic is affecting and will continue to affect environments, cultures, societies and economies throughout the world.

“The Big Thaw: Policy, Governance and Climate Change in the Circumpolar North” is sponsored by UB’s Baldy Center for Law & Social Policy, the UB Department of Anthropology, and the National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs Arctic Social Sciences Program.  It will take place on April 18 and 19 at the UB Law School, 509 O’Brian Hall, on UB’s North Campus.

It is free of charge and open to the public.

Participants from the U.S., Russia, England, Finland, Norway, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Arctic Council (a high-level intergovernmental forum for Arctic governments and peoples), individual researchers and representatives of other institutions and agencies will deliberate on international, national and local perceptions of Arctic changes in the contexts of policy, legal, local and scientific models.

In addition, through its core focus on time, space, change and movement, this conference also will consider common ways to measure the time scales of lived human experience in the Arctic and sub-Arctic region in a warming world.

The conference will open with a panel from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on April 18 that will feature three domestic climate change experts:

  • Michael B. Gerrard is the Andrew Sabin Professor of Professional Practice, Columbia University Law School and director of Columbia’s Center for Climate Change Law. An eminent climate change expert, he is the former president of the American Bar Association’s Section on Energy, Environment and Resources.  His talk is titled, “Regulating in the face of a changing world: legal remedies for and legal issues faced by communities threatened by climate change.”
  • Cinnamon Carlarne, who is associate professor, Moritz College of Law, Ohio State University, and a leading expert in environmental law and climate change law and policy, will address the audience on “Global Climate Change Negotiations Then and Now: Adaptation and Diversification in a Warming World.”
  • Mark Roberts is an international policy advisor, Environmental Investigation Agency, a non-profit international organization that investigates and exposes environmental crime and campaigns against illegal wildlife trade and threats to the global environment. His talk will answer the question “Will Action on Short-Lived Climate Forcers Give the Arctic Time to Adapt?”

The conference program and biographies of participants can be found at:

One of the conference organizers, Kim Connolly, professor and director of the Environmental Law Program in the UB Law School, says, “In 2012, the peer-reviewed Arctic Report Card revealed that new records were set for sea ice extent, terrestrial snow extent and permafrost temperature. Experts agree that the amplified response of the Arctic makes it a high-sensitivity indicator of climate change and a worthy focus for exploration of the future of climate change policy. “

Errol Meidinger, UB professor of law—another organizer of the conference and the director of the UB Baldy Center for Law & Social Policy says, “The full conference on Friday will bring together interdisciplinary experts in multiple fields from around the world who will ask hard questions and seek to better understand better changing relations between human societies and the environment, and the policies that should accompany such change.”

Meidinger and Connolly point out that the circumpolar North is a critical observatory for changing relations between human societies and the environment and the policies that should accompany such change. The Arctic and sub-Arctic already are at the center of global debates on post-Cold War partnerships and issues of post-colonial governance, strategy and regional sovereignty.

Conference experts will gather and share thoughts on how we arrived at the current situation(s), where exactly things stand and where to go from here.

Among other UB participants are:

  • Ezra Zubrow, professor of anthropology, has worked intensively with teams of US, Finnish, Canadian and Russian scientists in the Arctic regions of St. James Bay, Quebec; Yli-ii, Finland, and Kamchatka, Siberia to understand how humans living 4,000 to 6,000 years ago reacted to climate changes.
  • Sarah Elder, professor of media study, is an award-winning documentary filmmaker whose work focuses on the lives of Arctic peoples, and recently on how climate change is affecting their economies and cultures.
  • Ted Steegman, professor emeritus of anthropology, is widely regarded as one of the world's leading researchers on the biology of cold adaptation among both contemporary and prehistoric human populations. His influential work over the last 40 years has transformed our understanding of how humans adapt to extreme environmental stressors, including cold, under-nutrition, hard physical work and toxic substances.
  • Tina Thurston, associate professor of anthropology, is an archaeologist who specializes in northern Europe—Sweden, Denmark and Northern Ireland—and whose research into the archaeological data of these regions has included work on climate change and innovation on human ecology and adaptation.

The UB Law School will offer a total of two non-transitional continuing legal education (CLE) credits in the area of professional practice for those attending the Thursday panel. The Law School is certified by the New York State Continuing Legal Education Board as an accredited provider of continuing legal education in the State of New York.

Please note that CLE registration is separate from conference registration.

For further information on the school’s CLE policy, contact Lisa Mueller by telephone at 645-3176, or by email at

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