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Permafrost thaw and a rapidly changing climate: Amplifying youth voices

About half of the student group had noticed changes in permafrost in their community, while the other half replied that they 'didn’t know' of such changes. The community where the students live faces some challenges related to permafrost thaw, including issues with roads and certain houses. Once the permafrost thaws, the foundation can sink and damage the built structures it supports.
As part of the questionnaire, the students replied with an average of 6.6, indicating that they did experience an impact from the changing climate and permafrost thaw on their ability to engage in traditional activities such as dogsledding and hunting. These responses indicate that young people are indeed experiencing how the increasing temperatures are changing the Arctic, lending support to scientists' findings that the Arctic is warming up to four times faster than the rest of the globe. Young hunters also encounter this impact when engaging in subsistence activities, as explained by a young man from Arctic Canada who described how changes in the landscape have resulted in longer travel routes during hunting. 
“Erosion in rivers changes travelling routes; travel times are getting longer. Parts of river which were deep before, now they are almost dried out, making traditional hunting grounds harder to get to. Can’t really do anything about it but take the longer route.” (Young hunter in Arctic Canada, 35 years old).
In addition to the excerpt above concerning changes in traveling routes, there are also several other excerpts from interviews with young people from Greenland and the Nordic Arctic that illustrate young people’s perspectives on their future, their access to opportunities, and how they deal with the complexities of multicultural identities and cultural histories. Throughout the work of the Arctic Youth project, the focus has been on interviewing people across the circumpolar Arctic about the issues and challenges they face. Among the important issues raised by the youth are the impacts of climate change and the consequences for their future and livelihoods. In an interview, a female master's student in Northern Norway shared her thoughts on the complexity of finding ways to mitigate climate impacts:
“I think environmental things are preoccupying many people – we need to find solutions. We are given all these problems - the world is weighing on our shoulders – and we don’t know where to begin or how to look for something that looks like a solution. I am thinking about my master thesis, and I would really like to do something that is helpful.” (Female master student, 25 years-old).
In addition to the warming climate, young people in the Arctic are also concerned about other issues in their lives such as what life choices to make. For example, in an interview a Greenlandic girl explains:
”Young people in Greenland also face difficulties managing the feeling of uncertainty for their future hopes and dreams. Young people are proud of their Greenlandic identity and cultural heritage, however, there is also a concern for future possibilities to combine a traditional lifestyle with family members in the villages while also living an urban life with education and a promising career”. (Female 21-year-old).
This adds another layer of complexity. It illustrates that in addition to experiencing climate change there is also the challenge of balancing an urban life that includes education and career with the more traditional lifestyle that exists in the villages. The urge to make a difference is also present in other interviews. In Greenland a young man shares that:
“I had always believed since I was a child that I should accomplish something big - I had this energy to make a difference, but I just remember in high school where we had these history classes, we were very much into Greenland and some other countries and my dream was destroyed a lot - I just remember - it was so hard - I cried - I found out it's not easy - how much work it takes to accomplish something big” (Young male, 22 years old).
In learning about these historic events, this young male expresses how part of his hope is shattered, since the information leads to feeling a sense of hopelessness in terms of how to make a positive change for the future. The sense of uncertainty about the magnitude of the challenges and the impact of an individual effort is heartfelt and makes the young man cry. In contrast, past suppression also brings courage and a sense of being proud and today there is a wave of young people in Greenland who really want to make a statement regarding their cultural belonging. As one young female expresses:
“It is great that many people are proud of their national identity, e.g., women who get tattoos on their faces. It probably takes a lot of courage to get a tattoo on your face. After all, we have just come out of the mindset where you had to be ashamed of your identity, and then suddenly there are some individuals who turn around to show themselves” (Female 21 years old).
This sense of empowerment from facial tattoos is one symbolic action that inspires not only those who carry the tattoo but also other young people in the community. Alongside this, something that was also mentioned was the need for role models. Often, public figures such as politicians are exposed in the media, which lowers their credibility. Therefore, having someone in your community whom you trust and who can provide support in discouraging situations is something that young people emphasize as important. By supporting young people in the community, it can strengthen youth participation, which in a long-term perspective is critical for local resilience.