As director of the Alaska Wilderness League, Peter Winsor works to secure important policies and guidelines that protect and defend the last great wilderness in the USA. The job involves working with political contacts in Washington DC as well as Alaska’s many indigenous communities.
“We are working with about 20 organisations to try to protect the Arctic. The most important part of the job is combating climate change, monitoring how ecosystems here are affected and changing. I am very concerned about the plans to extract oil and gas in Alaska, which entail major environmental risks. The UN IPCC points out that it is unsustainable and that it exposes Alaska to great environmental risks.
“I grew up on the West Coast of Sweden and received my doctorate in oceanography from the University of Gothenburg in 2002. In the same year, I moved to the US for a postdoctoral fellowship at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. There I worked on Arctic issues for six years before moving on to Fairbanks, Alaska, and starting a large lab. Ten years later, I left my post as a professor to become Director of the WWF’s Global Arctic Department. And just recently, I moved on to become the director of the Alaska Wilderness League.
“My entire career has been built on my education at the University of Gothenburg. My background as a researcher allows me to use my knowledge when presenting arguments. It’s difficult to ignore someone who really knows what they are talking about. I work on ecosystems and links between changes in the atmosphere and oceans. In my new roles as director of a number of NGOs, I have also been involved in climate negotiations, such as the IPCC.
“I spend almost all my time outdoors in the wilderness. After 14 years in Alaska, I’ve seen climate change personally, with warmer winters and melting permafrost. I have a small cottage here that is about to tip over because of the permafrost. It’s disturbing to see it up close. My family and I have embraced the sustainable lifestyle that exists up here. We fish, hunt, gather berries, grow crops and even have beehives. This means we know where our food comes from. It’s also an economical way of living.
“Biodiversity is very important in the Arctic. Compared to a tropical area, we have far fewer species, but each species plays an important role. Losing a species here is a big blow.
“It’s wonderful to live up here in Fairbanks. It’s very cold in the winter and hot in the summer. We have an inland climate of extremes, down to minus 40-50 in the winter and up to 30 degrees in the summer. In summer, it’s light 24 hours a day and everything grows like crazy. Near Fairbanks we have some of the world’s largest wilderness areas that are incredibly important to Alaska, but also to the US and the world, in terms of fixing carbon dioxide. And we have large areas of permafrost that are under threat. From a climate perspective, these are very important areas.
“It’s hard to compare Sweden to Alaska. I was in Sweden last year, when I was still working with the WWF. It was nice to speak Swedish, eat well and have coffee with people. But southern Sweden, with all its cars and cities, can’t be compared to Alaska. Northern Sweden, on the other hand, is a bit more similar, in terms of both lifestyle and climate. Sweden is an Arctic country. I think we sometimes forget that, and it will undergo similar climate change to Alaska.”
Job: Director of the Alaska Wilderness League
Lives in: Fairbanks, Alaska
Family: Adult children and a new partner with children
Leisure interests: All outdoor activities and sports such as climbing and cross-country skiing.