Breaking Ice

Conflicting Interests and Opposing needs in the Arctic
by Megan Hayes -- November 14th, 2014

When I should have been studying for midterms in the last week of October, I took a plane and hopped off to a remote island of breathtaking geologic features, grand histories, and small populations with fascinating ways of living. This island isn’t one you’d generally think of hopping to when the northern hemisphere is approaching the colder time of the year. I traveled to Iceland, a place with only a few indigenous animals and known as the island of Fire and Ice.

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This trip wasn’t just for playing hooky, but for the Arctic Circle Conference. The conference that is an annual interim to the Arctic Council meetings, and also an opportunity to collect all Arctic interests at one location, be it academic, industry, governmental or nongovernmental.

My interests as you know from my previous postings are in the safe use and responsible extraction of oil and natural gas resources from the arctic and marine environments.

Traveling to these regions has given me a greater perspective about the peoples, interests, and motivations of arctic exploration. Though, as I dig deeper into the issues that shroud my masters’ project, I become painfully aware that there will be no easy simple solution.

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So much so, that when a blanket statement is made by any one entity I immediately get into a highly critical mode and tear their message apart.

  • How can one group say the Arctic should be off-limits to resource extraction when their country is guilty of the same in their own lands?
  • The Arctic is a shared resource that we should all be able to enjoy for years and years to come, and yet, we often forget those that actually live in those regions. We want tourism; they want to continue in their traditional ways.
  • The arctic is an amazing and unique landscape that is a thriving ecosystem for the creatures we know the least about. How can decisions be made about the region, without the science to understand their impacts?

I do this mostly because I’ve learned that the Arctic is not just one region. There are many Arctic’s, some say two, and some say six. These regions are described and parsed apart by the resources available, the remoteness of the region, the infrastructure, the wealth, and the health of the people and environment.

While the people of Norway are some of the wealthiest and experience some of the highest standards of living above the 66th parallel, those in the US Arctic, the northern slope of Alaska, are struggling with  high suicide rates, domestic abuse, and the simple pleasures of a running toilet.

Then to add the resource curse to the irony of the Arctic paradox, as regions warm and melt greater access is given to these new petrochemical resources, which after lucrative extraction will contribute to even greater warming and even greater melting…

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These countries I’ve visited are expanding their oil and gas exploration and I can’t help but think about their own motives, and how they’re not as simple as presented by their governmental delegates while at the conference.

The political power associated with a growing economy is a tantalizing incentive.

The environmental uncertainties both current and of the future are terrifying.

Decisions we make in our everyday lives drive the global systems, and we need to come to terms with the changes to our environment and the things that we value most. In coming to terms with the conflicting incentives, tough decisions will be made. While the future is often painted as  bleak and downright depressing, I can’t help but be hopeful.

Those surrounding me at the Nic School are working for a better future. With the world in our hands, I trust things to turn out alright.

Here are some photo’s from the trip!! Hope you Enjoy!!

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  1. A Short Tale of Two Conferences | Devil Fish - […] spectacular blogs about international conferences she’s attended recently. Read here about the Arctic Circle Conference and the Centre for…

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