Pyramiden: A Mine without the Canary
Over the last 15 years, much of my work has revolved around the pressing issue of climate change either directly or indirectly. I have spent a good amount of time at or above the arctic circle where the effects of global warming are most evident – the canary in the coal mine as it were. In 2014, I was fortunate to be chosen as a participant on an Arctic Circle Expeditionary Residency to the Norwegian territory of Svalbard, an island archipelago just 800 miles from the north pole. There, as a part of our journey, we visited the abandoned Russian coal mining community of Pyramiden. The entire population (including the canaries) left soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union – an event which was quickly followed by the severe economic consequences that shut down this mine. Everything was left in place and it is truly the most northern ghost town on the planet.
I soon realized an apt metaphor that is applicable for today as the burning of coal has caused a large portion of the increased carbon dioxide levels that have led to a warming planet with melting ice and increasing sea levels. The eerie silence and abandonment of the mine against the arctic background is quite a powerful and welcome sight as the abandonment of fossil fuels is a crucial step to mitigate the warming effects that are now unstoppable yet keenly observed in the arctic including around Svalbard.
In physics there is an often used term called "entropy" – the second law of thermodynamics - which has entered everyday language and basically states that any closed system seeks its greatest state of disorder. We are able to bear witness to that fact on Pyramiden, a part of Svalbard, in the arctic, on the sea, where the ice melts, the mining stops, the people leave, and nature, ever so slowly, reclaims.