Charles Wohlforth
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“The Whale and the Supercomputer: On the Northern Front of Climate Change” is an exploration of two kinds of knowledge about environmental change in the Arctic: scientific study, which uses field work and computer modeling to compile a picture of the Arctic system; and the traditional knowledge of Inupiat hunters, whose holistic appreciation of the dynamics of this system is based on a millennia of experience and community sharing. The book is also an adventure story about adaptation to the dangerous changes in a thawing world.


My slide show includes 83 images, most of them pictures I took on the sea ice during my time with Inupiat whalers. Some of these pictures have been published. The talk begins with a description of the Inupiat whaling tradition and how it was shaped by climate change 1,000 years ago. Next I discuss what the Inupiat have to teach the broader society about environmental knowledge and change. I include a brief primer on climate change and why teasing its signal from climate variation is so difficult. I show slides and discuss scientific field work that incorporates an experiential element similar to the indigenous way of knowing. Then I finish with more slides of the Inupiat and discussion of how they are adapting to changes, and suggest how their adaptation can inform the wider culture. The talk takes 35 minutes, not including questions.


I have given the talk more than 20 times in 12 cities to audiences as diverse as a group of Inupiat whalers, the Dartmouth College faculty, BP Exploration officials, and the Arctic Research Consortium of the United States annual meeting in Washington, D.C., where I was the dinner speaker. I can, of course, provide references.


I am a life-long Alaska resident and, for the last 12 years, a full-time freelance writer. After receiving a degree in English from Princeton in 1986 I worked as a newspaper reporter in Alaska. I was the lead reporter for the Anchorage Daily News on the Exxon Valdez oil spill. I have written for many publications, including The New Republic, Outside and National Wildlife, I have four books in print (mostly travel), not including ghost writing and work included in anthologies. I also served two 3-year terms on the Anchorage Assembly, representing the city’s downtown area.


Here are excerpts from some reviews of my book:


Judgment under uncertainty is a key theme in "The Whale and the Supercomputer," Charles Wohlforth's remarkable new book on climate change and the Arctic. …Never has the complicated science of climate change been presented so clearly.  --San Francisco Chronicle


In this truly extraordinary book, journalist Wohlforth, an Alaskan resident, tackles the central question of our age: how do we know about our environment? -- Library Journal


He does a magnificent job of writing about two disparate cultures—the Inupiaq Eskimos who live and hunt on the coast of the Arctic Ocean and Western scientists attempting to comprehend climate change—and demonstrating just how much they have in common. …  Moving with ease from whaling boats to seminar rooms, Wohlforth brings excitement to the quest for information about global warming. --Publisher’s Weekly


In brawny profiles of far-flung researchers, native whalers, and other way-up-northerners he details the way humans are themselves changing in the face of a mutating planet, “the adventure of surviving and thriving as human organisms in a new natural world.” --Men’s Journal