Add pine trees and moose to mist and rain (or just drizzle) and it sounds as if you are on Norway's west coast. It was actually Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, on Canada's Atlantic coast.
I travelled there earlier this month for the International Small Island Cultures conference. Delegates from Gotland and Tasmania, from Belfast and Auckland, joined their peers from across Canada to explore culture from island perspectives.
The meeting was intimate, with about 50 registrants. Everyone could attend all the presentations and ample time was available for questions and invigorating discussion.
The focus on culture ensured that the academic presentations of island art were interspersed with demonstrations! We participated in a 'milling frolic', sitting around a table singing Gaelic songs while pounding newly woven wool against the table in order to shrink it. Later, the conference's Swedish fiddler played while we were taught Celtic dance.
I presented on climate change, examining how islands provide key insights into how the rest of the world should deal with the looming social and environmental challenges. I emphasised the importance of learning from history to build a better development future, by applying lessons from outside of climate change.
Island communities are already showing the difficulties that climate change will bring. Low-lying atolls are vulnerable to the rising seas. Saltwater will contaminate their limited freshwater supplies that are already overused in many locations.
As the globe warms, Arctic islands such as Svalbard will experience ecological devastation. Yet tourists are already causing significant ecosystem damage.
Island environments and communities demonstrate that climate change cannot be viewed in isolation. A single-minded focus on climate change will never solve the other sustainability problems that can be as devastating as climate change.
Hope exists, though. Islands such as Samoa in the Pacific have combined climate change with other development challenges to implement locally run coastal zone management.
Islands are not just a barometer for sustainability problems, including climate change. They can also be an inspiration for the solutions.
Dr. Ilan Kelman is a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research - Oslo (CICERO).
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