Charles Emmerson – The Future History of the Arctic.

Citation: Emmerson, Charles. “Consequences: Reworking Geography.” The Future History of the Arctic. New York: Public Affairs, 2010.

Argument  Uncertainty in predicting the possible costs of rebuilding after major climate events has led not to planning and certainty, but to conversations about uncertainty. This chapter takes an interesting approach in charting the international character of melting Arctic ice, from the effect that a northern route would have on trade through Panama and Suez (162); to the ice-breaker industry based in Finland (163).

Scope/Organization/Main Points: To set the stakes of climate change in the Arctic, Emmerson notes that it is not simply an Alaskan problem (he writes from and about America): “Interest in the direct economic consequences of Artic climate change is not limited to Alaska, and it’s not limited to government. Mining companies and oil companies across the Arctic – in Canada, Greenland, Norway, and Russia as well as the United States – want to understand the possible impacts of climate change on both their existing and their planned infrastructure” (153).

Perhaps this is also what is at play with Canada working at currying favour amongst Inuit peoples. In fact, there is not really a distinct line between uncertainty and possibility. “As the natural environment of the north begins to change out of all recognition, the idea of the Arctic as an impenetrable physical barrier will be overturned” (158).

Climate change might mean “improving sea access” just as much as it threatens “ice road access to mines and communities in Arctic Canada” (154), as well as increased shipping with “ice-free” summers in the not-so-distant future (160). (Interestingly, despite the popularity of a Northwest Passage for a future “transarctic shipping route,” Emmerson contends, “It’s more probable that a Northeast Passage will assume that role,” or even an “Outer Northern Sea Route, running far to the north of the Russian coastline, across the very center of what is now the frozen Arctic Ocean” (160).

There is no guarantee of knowing any results until they happen, but we can still imagine the changing of conditions that might allow for a myriad of results, from decimation of fishing stocks due to the warming conditions expected to make such stocks more accessible (157). Some scientists are predicting the opening of norther “prairies”, meaning that “global warming may yet improve the currently dismal economics of Arctic farming.” All communities, human or otherwise, “will need to be highly adaptive to survive” (157).  Emmerson notes that local knowledge has a critical role to play in anticipating an uncertain future, with one scientist arguing that including local perspectives is “the only way of matching up the natural science of climate change with the reality of how people will actually experience its consequences” (154).

Similarly, despite the persistent idea of Inuit as always-already doomed to extinction, or at least relegated to the margins of the Canadian nation-state, “there’s also the possibility that Inuit voices, once completely ignored, may at last be heard. Some hope that the experience of Inuit communities in the Arctic – and the moral authority that derives from those experiences – may draw attention to the immediate challenges of adaptation and galvanize global measures to mitigate climate change” (155).

Inuit are aware of the international effect of climate change, noting that melting Arctic ice threatens small island nations with submersion (155). These two groups are brought together by climate change – a globalizing force indeed – and they “have greater political influence than they ever could separately,” forming a group called Many Strong Voices (156) designed to strategically amplify previously unheard accounts. I find this so interesting, especially given discussions about what happens when various Inuit nations talk together, challenging the boundaries of nation-states.

Points of Importance/Interest:

  • This book includes the types of thinking that emerge and are emerging in advance of catastrophic climate change, but more specifically indicate routes that seem to open up for settler politicians vis-à-vis the promises of the Arctic.
  • Of interest for my topic paper, because I’ll need to indicate some of the reasons for Canada to recognize Inuit peoples (ie. the economic possibilities of the Arctic, while also keeping in mind Inuit’s longstanding role in developing national identity and political certainty).
  • I find the blurring of the line between threat and possibility to be really interesting. Maybe refer back to class on risk for some discussion about this?
  • How to determine if the need for on-the-ground information is a function of proximity, which is a practical matter, or a function of intimacy (experience and familiarity).

 

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