Tag Archives: climate change

The Mediterranean at the Dawn of the Third Millennium

Where there is danger, there grows what saves

Friedrich Hölderlin, in Patmos

11.IX.2001 – 7.X.2024. The brutal attack on the Twin Towers in New York and the brutal terrorist violence of Hamas mark the dawn of the new millennium and constitute reference dates for a new era in the Mediterranean region, which is already conditioned by climate change, by the affirmation and crisis of international finance, and by growing migratory flows that have transformed the Mare Nostrum into the cemetery of a genocide produced by financial selfishness and political pettiness.

The Mediterranean is no longer the hub of the West-East conflict, typical of the Cold War after the Second World War, but a place of confirmation of the decline of the hegemony of the West. That hegemony is reduced to identifying itself in 2003 in the disastrous invasion of Iraq by a multinational coalition led by the USA with the neocolonial claim of George W. Bush jr. to impose democracy on that country after the defeat and killing of Sadam Hussein, and in recent months – after the massacres of Hamas – the shameful image of Israel reacting to terrorist violence with the massacre of tens of thousands of defenseless Palestinian civilians. And the US-EU axis appears incapable of finding diplomatic ways to reach a ceasefire, hence it passively suffers the wicked choices of the Israeli Government and the consequences of the failure of the attempts of US President Biden to stop Israel, which is responsible for what is now a genocide. It is a massacre that fuels not only hatred due to belonging to Israel or Palestine, but hatred due to religious faith.

The Netanjhau government becomes a negative symbol of the West, but is also the heaviest enemy of the people of Israel, provoking reactions to the detriment of the Jewish people in the world. And while the Jewish people, who have suffered terrible violence in the name of racial and religious hatred, deserve the utmost respect, History reminds us that it will be hard to extinguish religious hatred.

After the Second World War the West had taken on the face of a US and a Western European alliance opposed to the Soviet Union. During the years of the Cold War, “satellite” countries in the various Souths of the world were connected to either leading Western countries or the Soviet Union.

The Russian aggression against Ukraine in 2022 has once again made the decline of Western hegemony legible in the heart of Europe, posing a question that is a call to responsibility and a guilty “distraction” of the US/EU axis: Where were the US and EU in 2014 when pro-Nazi Ukrainian militias (recognized by Kiev and trained by NATO instructors and still used today by Kiev and the West) operated in Donbass, killing defenseless citizens? And the West, incapable of promoting solutions and paths to peace, today finds itself mired in a war destined to have no end or to record the military victory of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Again, with more specific geographical reference to the Mediterranean, the brutal massacres of 7 October 2024 by Hamas posed the same question, which is a call to responsibility and guilty “distraction” of the USA and the EU: Where were the USA and the EU when, for decades, Israel militarized the Gaza Strip and persecuted defenseless Palestinians in defiance of human rights and United Nations resolutions?

And, again in reference to the Mediterranean, a similar question can be asked about the continuation of an unacceptable Western neocolonialism to the detriment of African peoples, which is confirmed by an unstoppable instability of the current regimes and makes Africa a place of Russian and Chinese neocolonialism.

Climate change produces already massive desertification and hunger, unstoppable migrations, while the financialization and globalization of the economy, with their recurring excesses and crises, facilitate genocides, wars and terrorism, to the detriment of defenseless and migrant populations, and new forms of colonialism thus find in the Mediterranean area a breeding ground made up of fragmentation, conflicts and conditions of institutional confusion. Concomitantly, there is a progressive loss of spirituality, or, even worse, the instrumental use of spiritual values: fanaticism and violence are thus championed from time to time by devious interests, as well as fears, and mixed racial and religious references.

In this context, new protagonists emerge such as India and China, who “hide” their military apparatus, making the numbers of their respective populations weigh – each of the two countries with over a billion inhabitants – as well as their financial and planning resources, the construction of infrastructural works, and their potential for corruption to the detriment of hundreds and hundreds of millions in absolute poverty. China, in particular, is characterized internally by systematic violation of human rights, while still keeping capitalism and communism within itself, and hence conditions that are typical of the global South and conditions typical of the North interact, from time to time presenting a different and captivating face, i.e., with communist or capitalist realities, from the North or from the South of the world. A heavy neocolonialism without the display of armies follows, which appears less unacceptable (but is equally heavy) than Western neocolonialism with its historical burden of military violence.

It may seem off topic that I refer to spirituality, understood as a vision inspired by respect for the human rights of each and every one. Yet, spirituality today means for me democratic brotherhood, beyond the traditional contrast between the primacy of freedom over equality or the primacy of equality over freedom. And I am convinced that the present, and even more future, condition of the Mediterranean is so serious as to require a radical change of spiritual perspective, through the research and choice of fundamental principles that, moreover, are widely codified in Universal Declarations and Conventions on human rights, and call for the consequent coherence of economic, cultural and political actions.

My proposal is to return to placing at the center of attention and reread, in the light of the times in which we live, values and references such as Race, Identity and God, all of which have been widely manipulated, obscured, considered instrumentally at the service of partisan interests and neocolonial claims starting precisely from the Mediterranean.

The first part of this proposal is to reject the belief that identity depends exclusively on the blood of parents and, instead, acknowledge that identity is an unrepeatable and individual act of freedom and personal experience. Approximately 8 billion human beings coexist on our planet and each has a different identity, differently composed. As many human beings as there are, as many as there are identities.

The second part of this proposal is to defend the one human race. Anyone who distinguishes men and women on the basis of a plurality of races prepares marginalization, intolerance, genocide.

In the Mediterranean, these last two propositions lead to the denial of the category of so-called, i.e., closed in itself. “migrants”: we are all human beings, belonging to the same race, all equal and all different without any discrimination between those born in a given reality and those who find themselves living in that reality.

A final part of this proposal for a radical change of perspective concerns God. Whoever believes that God is one (and I believe that God is one) will have to accept that someone meets God in the square of Allah, someone in the path of Jesus Christ, others in the avenue of Yahweh, but also in the paths of Shiva, Buddha or Confucius as well as in the path of reason. It is necessary to reject religion used as the “opium of the people” and respect religious faith as an impulse and choice for the liberation of every human being.

The Mediterranean, rich in history and cultures, faiths and languages, can be an extraordinary miscellany, a mosaic of civil coexistence, an interdependence experienced as an alternative and against intolerance and conflicts. Is this, just mentioned, an abstract and simplistic response to such a complex and concretely violent reality?

Yes and no, at the same time.

The answer depends on the will and ability to contribute – from the world of schools to that of information, from the world of economics to that of finance, from the world of the family to religious and even artistic realities – behaviors, concrete actions, lifestyles. All this is certainly difficult; and it alone is not enough. It is essential that this change of perspective becomes widespread awareness, but it is equally and completely necessary that this radical change of perspective becomes political action, a compass of orientation for States and international organizations.

This vision, this change of perspective in the politics and in the policies of the many States, is struggling to manifest itself, despite the many strong calls from artists, intellectuals, associations of citizens and spiritual leaders (from those condemned to the torture of migrations and dictatorships to artists and Nobel Prize winners, from isolated prophets of a new time to religious leaders such as Pope Francis). The European Union’s political choices currently appear not to be adequate to the ambitions and potential of the EU, which is itself one of the most extraordinary democratic institutional innovations of the history of humanity. And today, everyone understands that the role of European Union is essential for the future of Mediterranean and for peaceful international coexistence.

Climate Change and Underwater Cultural Heritage. Utilizing international law to empower communities to protect their coastal sacred sites and sea-level rise

Sacred sites in the Arctic are under threat from a number of external factors. In addition to land uses such as mining, climate change poses a major threat. Already today, climate change is leading to the melting of permafrost, coastal erosion and sea-level rise. While parts of the European Arctic continue to experience post-glacial land uplift, coastal communities across most of the Arctic will have to consider the impacts of sea-level rise on their communities already today. This includes sacred sites. International law can be utilized to protect sacred sites that are or will be located under water as cultural heritage. Sea-level rise will make access to many coastal locations more difficult, but barring destructive effects of climate change, such as erosion, these sites will still exist as locations.

Cultural heritage sites, including in particular sacred sites, are locations valued by cultures and groups around the world and throughout history. This is reflected in the respect that is given to cultural sites even by persons who have not been affiliated with a specific culture. In sacred sites we see this in the protection that churches, mosques and other places of worship enjoy for example during times of armed conflict. Sacred sites are places for societies to come together, places where people connect to each other and to earlier generations.

Climate change also threatens sacred sites. Among the most notable consequences of human-made climate change are rising sea levels. Sea level rise is felt already today by coastal communities. Coastal erosion is a major challenge for the safety of coastal communities, for example along the northern coast of Alaska. Sacred sites that are located at coasts today might well be located under water within a few generations. A large portion of the human population lives along and nearby coasts and it seems likely that sacred sites of different cultures, indigenous and non-indigenous, will be threatened by sea level rise as a consequence of climate change. Local communities can utilize international law by and when making claims against their state with regard to the positive duty of the state to protect human rights.

Cultural rights are human rights that are protected through several international human rights treaties. International human rights law contains not only an obligation on the part of the state to refrain from taking actions that harm human rights, it also contains obligations of a positive nature, requiring States to take actions that are necessary to protect human rights. Cultural rights are usually realized step-by-step, over time, in accordance with the ability of the state. But this does not mean that there couldn’t also be a positive dimension to cultural rights. Looking at the intersection of international underwater cultural heritage law and international human rights law, in particular cultural rights, it will be shown that the positive dimension of human rights law can be made useful for the protection of underwater cultural heritage. In this presentation, two strands of international law that might seem distant from each other, but that at the end of the day are closely related, both serve the purpose of protecting rights of communities, and will be brought together and it will be shown how international law can be used locally to protect sacred sites that are threatened by climate change and sea level rise.

Adaption to climate change is becoming inevitable already while efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change continue. For affected communities, this can mean planning ahead for a future when sacred and cultural sites that are located at the coast and that cannot be moved will be under water. This presentation will give the audience first information on how to prepare for these futures, utilizing already existing legal tools.

Edward H. Huijbens, Developing Earthly Attachments in the Anthropocene (London: Routledge, 2021)

Letting the proverbial genie out of the bottle is bad. Killing the genie after it has leaped out of the bottle is even worse. Now, and perhaps forever, the bottle is going to be empty. Our culture, to a significant extent, is a thoroughly disenchanted one. Apart from a passé and largely passing minority, notions of sacredness and divinity have mostly disappeared from the leading conceptual horizon. As Nietzsche famously asserted, God is dead—and it was us who killed Him. Academia, for one, cultivates a veritable graveyard of past ‘irrationalities’ and serves as an imposing bastion of practical atheism, especially in the Nordic countries, where the intellectuals’ secular outlook is part and parcel of the broader conventional wisdom. On Sundays, people no longer go to church. Instead, they go to the shopping mall.

Yet, hence joining a growing chorus of perplexed educated wanderers (e.g., Arne Næss, Lauren Greyson, Brendan Myers), Huijbens’ latest book reveals a thinking and feeling man who, faced with the depths and the vastness of the life-destruction brought forth by the ongoing human-made climate crisis, rediscovers a genuine sense of desecration and with it, hidden spiritual urges and half-grasped religious insights. His picture of the current state of the world is, in point of fact, worthy of the Apocalypse:

[W]e are all caught up in the climate crisis together and through globalised capitalism a veritable race to the bottom is unfolding where the rich simply float on top of the vortex funnelling the rest to a future of climatic ruin with no safeguard in the Enlightenment promises of technological fixes, public provisions of welfare or other promises of the Modern era. (119)

His picture of the correct relationship between humankind and Earth is, for its part, worthy of some time-honoured indigenous tradition, or of a younger New-Age creed:

“[A] non-social and more-than-human entity is making itself felt and heard: our planet Earth.” (152)


“In our continual conativity with nature through the solutions we propose, we support nature’s immanence. Adding deep time and the Earth itself as immanent to us, life on Earth becomes truly humbling.” (153)


“Being kind to earth is for me not about reversing progress and that which has been gained by the human technological acumen. We need to judiciously build on the past, but at the same time make space for an expanded repertoire of reason, science and humanism, and moreover the Earth itself.” (159)

As Huijbens himself admits:

“[O]ur current imagination and vocabulary betrays us. Therefore we need to reinvent the shamans of old, killed by the Moderns.” (110)

Most of the book comprises a vast array of loose reflections about insightful theoretical influences and inspiring personal anecdotes (or “vignettes”) explaining, at least in part, how Huijbens has come to think about the Anthropocene and the future of our suffering planet in ways that rub rather cruelly against the received categories of contemporary science, his own field of geography included. As Huijbens notes:

“The language of science and technology tends to obfuscate th[e human] connection [to Earth], or shroud it in darkness through the violence of abstraction and compartmentalisation of the challenges to be addressed.” (111)

Thus, Chapters 1 and 3 list and discuss a plethora of learned suggestions (e.g., Latour, Olsson, Deleuze, Žižek and Eco) that can make us think of the human condition in the natural as well as cultural world that we inhabit, both individually and collectively, as a matter of “fluid being” or, paying due homage to some trendy ‘-isms’ of our day, “post-humanism” (9 et passim) and fancy new forms of “empiricism” (21 et passim). As Huijbens writes:

“[W]e are very much creatures of the making of the strictures imposed upon us by a long history of decisions and things settled and seemingly fixed. Revealing their inherent fluidity does indeed provide ‘wiggle room’ and places emphasis on the moments of encounters, the abysmal lines where one becomes other or something else through our practices of naming and pointing and being believed in doing so.” (31)

Icelandic echoes of this fluid conception of being constitute the bulk of the materials gathered in Chapter 2 and, to a lesser extent, Chapter 4, both of which emphasise how geology itself is indeed very mobile in Huijbens’ country of birth, and how substantial human progress can be obtained without devastating the planet, e.g., by harvesting clean energy sources and by promoting “slow tourism” (104).

The fundamental challenge to the positive Icelandic experiences, and to life on Earth in general, is identified and debated in Chapter 4. The challenge being, perhaps unsurprisingly, the neoliberal institutions that pervade our world, both in tangible terms (e.g., the copious amounts of advertised junk around which orbits much of the world’s economy) and in intangible terms (e.g., the acquisitive and emulative mentalities cultivated by our cultures and exacerbated since the times of mass consumerism).

Chapter 5 adds to the mix the positive experiences coming from another European country, where Huijbens is currently active as an academic: the Netherlands. With its long and complex history of transformation and protection of the land, this nation shows how destructive peat-mining turned into a bucolic bliss of sorts, protected by technologically innovative windmills “to propel pumps that would drain water” and avoid flooding (124), and now inspiring clean-energy transformations that, like the ever-present bicycles, are significant examples of a frequently sensible approach to the environment, both materially (e.g., as means of transport that do not require fossil fuels) and immaterially (e.g., as cultural symbols of successful political campaigns for a greener way of life).

Chapter 6 concludes the book by attacking once more the aforementioned fundamental challenge to life on Earth:

“Roughly framed ‘neoliberal discourses’ have been adept at naturalising environmental degradation as a collective responsibility that demands individual, privatised responses mostly to be attained through consumptive choices. According to dogmatic market logic it is up to me to seek out the ‘earth-friendly’ chocolate and if enough of us do, it will earn its place at the supermarket checkout.” (142)

Much more is needed, as a matter of fact, according to Huijbens, who reviews and assesses a number of proposed solutions to the ongoing climate crisis. In particular, Huijbens expresses his genuine doubts about “green ideas” that do not aim at “reducing our consumption or any kind of slowing down or reduced demands.” (145) Au contraire, he advises “a further and deeper reorientation of our valuing and mindsets, rather than a simple redistribution of wealth and social egalitarianism.” (152)

Like a river of lava, or a glacial flood, Huijbens’ prose is far-reaching, unstoppable, and “meandering” (78). The logical structure and argumentative progression hereby reconstructed are certainly present in the book, but they require a fair amount of careful reading and patient ingenuity in order to be grasped. The book is, if anything, a very personal and uncommonly free-flowing account of how a secular Nordic geographer may come to realise that we need to show “responsibility, kindness and care” (162) towards Mother Earth, yet without possessing theological (e.g., siblinghood in God-the-Parent) and/or philosophical categories (e.g., life-value onto-axiology) that allow for the conceptualisation and clarification of the sacred and/or spiritual domain, to which Huijbens’ concerns truly belong.

Without categories of this ilk, it is unlikely that Huijbens may ever ground successfully powerful universal normative and axiological claims such as the following: “at our current juncture we can well afford to prioritise the wellbeing of others. How well we can do that will indicate to what extent we can be true to the Earth itself.” (158) Perhaps, this book is a first step in a much longer and much more complex journey.

Ecological Feedback Effects Affecting Arctic Biodiversity in Response to Glacial Melt

A changing Arctic

The Arctic is a geographic region situated in the northernmost part of earth. It marks the latitude above which the sun does not set on the summer solstice and does not rise on the winter solstice. The Arctic is considered an area within the Arctic Circle that draws an imaginary line that circles the globe at 66° 34′ N. The Arctic Circle region includes the Arctic Ocean basin and the northern parts of Scandinavia, Russia, Canada, Greenland, and the U.S. state of Alaska. This region is characterized by its distinctive polar conditions caused by the angle of the Earth to the Sun, which creates strong differences in climate and photoperiod between long, dark, cold winters and the short, cool summers with a period of continuous daylight.

The Arctic is made up of several different ecoregions that support different communities of plants and animals. These include permanently frozen tundra, grasslands, wetlands, boreal forest, and glaciers and ice sheets (AMAP, 2016). Even though most of the Arctic is covered by water, the Arctic Ocean is the world´s smallest ocean, accounting for just 1% of the world´s ocean water (AMAP, 2016). This is due to the fact that most of the water in the Arctic is freshwater. The Arctic accounts for about three-quarter of the world´s total freshwater resources and the majority of this water is found in a frozen state (Reinwarth & Stablein, 1972).

Arctic freshwater systems are undergoing abrupt changes associated with global warming. The responses to these variations are, in turn, interconnected with many other processes, producing a rebound effect that ultimately has consequences that affect the whole world as we know it.

In this paper, we will present an overview of the various environmental effects caused by climate change and how they interconnect, with the aim of raising awareness of the gravity of the consequences that follow these cross-related processes and the importance of maintaining the stability of the ecosystems.

Ice bodies in the Arctic and their formation

When we talk about the melting of ice, we are referring to all perennial surface ice on land, which includes ice sheets or continental glaciers, sea ice, ice shelves, glaciers, and ice caps (UNEP, 2008). Ten percent of the total world´s rivers flow into the Arctic Ocean. The high amount of freshwater flowing into this ocean forms a less saline water layer that sits on top of a denser saltwater layer. The surface layers freeze and, in this way, sea ice is formed (AMAP, 2016). There are also other types of freshwater bodies that have different formation processes, such as ice caps and ice sheets, cirque and alpine glaciers, or valley and piedmont glaciers.

A glacier is defined as a persistent large body of ice that moves slowly over land, propelled by its own weight. Glaciers can move down a slope or valley or they can spread outwards on a land surface. They are dynamic stores of water which vary greatly in size and are constantly exchanging mass and energy with the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and other parts of the earth system (Benn & Evans, 2010).

Glaciers are formed when the snowfall accumulation far exceeds the melting and sublimation in a certain area over a period of time. They begin as snowflakes that start to accumulate and gradually, as the snow becomes denser, the weight of the accumulated snow buries the older snow and compresses it. The seasonal snow gradually densifies and becomes more tightly packed. The dense grainy ice that has survived a one year melt cycle is called firn (Paterson, 1994). When the ice grows thick enough, the firn grains fuse and the interconnecting air passages between the grains are closed off, turning into a huge mass, called glacial ice (Paterson, 1994).

The fact that they are created by snowfall means glaciers are primarily composed of fresh water. Over 68% of the world’s freshwater is held in ice caps, ice sheets, and glaciers (Shiklomanov, 1993) and out of that percentage, 20% comes from glaciers and icebergs that are in the Arctic region (National Geographic Society, 2016).

Glaciers are not static despite their appearance. When the ice reaches a certain thickness, there are constant pressures acting on it and varying levels of heat, molecular actions, and movement are produced within the glacier (Paterson, 1994).

The ice mass flows under the influence of its own gravitational weight, chemical changes in the surroundings, and the Earth’s own natural movements. It moves to lower latitudes, where it undergoes extensive loss by melting; these areas are known as ablation areas (Benn & Evans, 2010). The total glacier mass evolves through time depending on the balance between accumulation and ablation, which depend on climate and local topographic factors (UNEP, 2008). Accumulation and ablation areas are separated by the equilibrium line, where the balance between gain and loss of mass is 0 (UNEP, 2018).

Arctic’s shrinking cryosphere

Some parts of the Arctic Ocean remain ice-covered all year-round, but the edges of the ice cover melt in summer, causing the ice to break off and float away with the ocean currents. Each year, Arctic sea ice follows a general trajectory, growing late September through April, and melting from April through mid-September (NSIDC, 2020). There is three times more ice in winter than in summer (Thomsen et al., 2016). However, recent years have experienced lower extents in all seasons, especially summer and early autumn, although the shape of the yearly trajectory has not changed. The most dramatic collapse in the satellite record occurred in September 2012, where the average extent for the entire month of September was 3.57 million square kilometres. This is a highly unusual drop from the previous years (NSIDC, 2020) and covers less than half the area that was occupied decades ago. In the 1970s, before the Arctic sea cover started to melt, it would average 8 million square kilometres a year (Raj & Singh, 2013).

The floating sea ice cover of the Arctic Ocean is, without a doubt, shrinking. Snow cover over land in the Arctic has decreased, notably in spring, and glaciers in Alaska, Greenland, and northern Canada are retreating. In addition, permanently frozen ground in the Arctic, known as permafrost, is warming and in many areas thawing (NSIDC, 2020).

Raj and Singh report in a new study that the radial decline in sea ice around the Arctic is at least 70% due to human-induced climate change. Climate change induces complex responses to the Earth’s cryosphere (Bamber & Payne, 2004) because there is a complex chain of processes linked to climate change; changes in atmospheric conditions, such as solar radiation, air temperature, precipitation, wind, cloudiness, etc. (Kuhn, 1981). This means that the increase in glacial melt is related to the fact that the earth’s average temperature has been increasing dramatically for more than a century. Since scientists first started to see evidence of changes in Arctic climate, the changes have only become more pronounced. Nowadays, glaciers and ice caps are used to act as indicators of climate change and global warming (UNEP, 2018).

The Arctic is changing faster than any other place on our planet. In fact, the global warming rising temperatures have been twice the global average over the past 30 years. This phenomenon is known as Arctic amplification (NSIDC, 2020; IPCC 2007). Most glaciers around the world are presently retreating; the ice is declining by more than 10% every 10 years (Dyurgerov & Meier, 2005). However, The Fifth IPCC Report (2013), shows that areas in the Arctic, such as Alaska and Northern Canada, are among the areas where glaciers have lost most ice mass over the past decade. Continued sea ice declines are expected and a seasonally ice-free Arctic is predicted to occur well before the end of this century (Kwok et al., 2009).

Glaciers play a huge role in Earth’s water cycle and condition in all Arctic ecosystems. As the ice cover shrinks, balance between all of the interconnected factors that make up the ecosystems is lost. All of the processes are cross-related and when they are subject to changes, they have repercussions on other processes that in turn cause responses on others, creating feedback loops that lead to further warming. This feedback is the reason climate change affects the Arctic more and faster as we move forward in time. As crucial biological and biogeochemical processes suffer variation, ecological regime shifts associated with possible losses of biodiversity are induced (Agustí & Duarte, 2010). The rapidly diminishing ice cover has also unlocked opportunities that set even more pressure on the biodiversity of the Arctic ecosystems, such as the exploitation of natural resources that were unreachable until now, increased tourism, as well as new transportation and shipping routes (Michel et al., 2012).

Glacier retreat compromises glacier ecosystems and the loss of a pool of genes adapted to the cold that live only in these ecosystems (Vincent, 2010). These changes are linked through different atmospheric, marine, and terrestrial systems and they cascade through the entire food chain, from small ice-associated species, such as microbes, to megafauna and marine mammals (ACIA, 2004; Mueter et al., 2009). It also affects terrestrial species and overall all ecosystems, landscapes and environmental systems because it brings climate feedbacks that cause major changes to the earth surface (Ims & Ehrich, 2013).

These changes impact processes that set the framework for the global climate system, influencing regions all over the world (White et al., 2010). Some of these changes are well understood, while there is a considerable uncertainty around other projected changes. The impacts it will have on human society range from the decrease of water that will be available for consumption and irrigation because of long-term loss of natural freshwater storage in frozen form, effects on hydroelectric energy generation capacity, to the emergence of new diseases, parasites and contaminants (Kutz et al., 2005; Sommaruga, 2014).

As climate change leads to glacial melt and feedback loops conducive to further warming are created, all ecosystems are being affected. In this paper the cross-related processers caused by climate change are linked to one another in order to explain the consequences this has on ecosystems and the biodiversity that we rely on. Biodiversity keeps the ecological system we live in working. Changes in the Arctic ecosystem affect our resources directly and indirectly, having an impact on our society as we know it. These ecosystems ultimately influence us by conditioning science, development, management, recreation, economy, religion, cultural heritage, and resources for the maintenance of human livelihoods.

The goal is to raise awareness about the importance of this biodiversity that is being destroyed and to gain consciousness on how important it is to cooperate in implementing a conservation management plan that relies on sustainability and makes ourselves responsible for the alterations to the earth that we are causing.

Biodiversity and Climate Change

Biodiversity in the arctic
The Arctic is made up of a number of different communities of plants and animals supported by specific ecoregions; permanently frozen tundra, boreal forests, grasslands, wetlands, and ice sheets and glaciers (AMAP, 2016). Arctic biomes are often defined by how water moves through or is stored within them because they are characterized by a variety of freshwater ecosystems. As the Arctic water cycle changes, the biomes and their ecosystems are changing as well.

Without taking into account the microorganisms, the Arctic ecosystems support more than 21,000 species of plants, fungi, and animals, or even endoparasites (Barry et al., 2013). This is without taking into account that many species remain yet undescribed or undiscovered (Bluhm et al., 2011). If we compare this to other areas, the Arctic has relatively few species, but even though they are less rich in species, the Arctic region contributes significantly to global biodiversity. This is because Arctic ecosystems are recognized for their highly adapted, extreme environment-resistant species that fill multiple unique ecological niches.

According to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the term “biodiversity” means the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine, and other aquatic ecosystems and ecological complexes of which they are a part. This includes diversity within species, between species, and of ecosystems.

Biodiversity is important because it refers to the variety of life on earth that keeps the ecological system we live in working. Each species has a unique niche or role to play in an ecosystem since living creatures depend on each other to survive. The strong interaction between species leads to cascading impacts from one species to another, which is why the loss of specific species greatly conditions the survival of others that benefit from the previous.

This polar region is recognized for its cold-adapted species that have developed genetic diversity, reflecting great adaptation. The pool of genes developed in the Arctic is therefore unique and contributes greatly to planet biodiversity. In addition to these distinctive genes, the Arctic ecosystems indirectly contribute to shaping global biodiversity because of the impact it causes on the rest of the Earth’s climate and ecosystems (Michel et al., 2012).

Glacial ecosystems
Anesio and Laybourn-Parry (2012), argue that the cryosphere is a biome even though it isn’t characterized as a biome in most textbooks. Although they haven’t always been given this credit, glaciers and ice sheets are Earth’s largest freshwater ecosystems and they comprise several biodiverse habitats. Glacier ecosystems occur on the ice, in the ice, and under the ice and they can be divided into supraglacial, englacial, and subglacial ecosystems (Hodson et al., 2008). The biome they form is very distinct from others and it is dominated by microorganisms, both autotrophs and heterotrophs (Hodson et al., 2008; Anesio & Laybourn-Parry, 2012).

Cold-adapted (psychrotrophs) and cold-loving (psychrophilic) microorganisms that are actively metabolizing on glaciers and ice sheets have a range of unique genes and adaptations. They have the ability to produce anti-freezing proteins, cold-active enzymes, and exopolymeric substances that provide cell protection against the damaging effects of the cold (Anesio & Laybourn-Parry, 2012). These microbial communities also play an interesting role in biogeochemical transformations (carbon fixation and respiration, iron cycling and methanogenesis) with implications that reach global scale (Hodson et al., 2008).

We have relatively little information about the functional diversity of glacial microbes, and their role in biogeochemical processes, but we are aware that they are valuable organisms able to adapt and thrive extreme habitats and, as explained in Green´s et al. (2008) paper, studying these organisms can offer us possible responses to climate change. Climate change compromises the survival of this pool of distinctive genes and conditions biodiversity as alterations to glaciers and ice sheets translate to surrounding ecosystems that, at the same time, have repercussions on the rest of the world. It is not just about the loss of the polar hemispheres, but about how this conditions the world as we know it.

Terrestrial Ecosystems
The Arctic terrestrial ecosystem is normally saturated with water as a consequence of always being covered in snow, excepting the warmer months of the year. Moreover, permafrost lies underneath the tundra, also helping to keep moisture, as well as nutrients, during the summer months (Callaghan et al., 2005).

Tundra plants survive by adapting to extreme conditions. In the winter, they are protected by the snow that covers them (Callaghan et al., 2005). In the spring, plants come alive by obtaining warmth from the soil, keeping moist and unexposed by growing in mats close to the ground.

The arctic terrestrial ecosystem is recognized for its low primary production and plant biomass (Schmidt et al., 2002). The low production is a consequence of the fact that the area of available tundra is small. In addition, there is a short growing season due to the temperatures, snow cover, permafrost, and the high proportion of photosynthetically less efficient cryptogams in the plant communities (Shaver & Jonasson, 2001).

There is an accumulation of organic matter, as a result of the higher production than decomposition rate, caused by the temperature dependence of microorganisms. This leads to a high food supply that diverse species, such as saprophagic arthropods as well as vertebrates, come to take advantage of (Jonasson et al., 1999). In addition, plants are generally nitrogen- and/or phosphorus-limited (Schmidt et al., 2002) and compete against microbes for nutrients, resulting in a high proportion of biogenic salts being microbially fixed (Jonasson et al., 1999; Shaver & Jonasson, 2001).

Marine Ecosystems
The Arctic Ocean is a young ocean with an evolutionary origin of seaweeds, marine invertebrates and mammals that dates back to 3.5 million years ago (Adey et al., 2008). The seasons without ice date to the last 10,000 years, which means that ecosystems belonging to Arctic coastal waters are even younger (Weslawski et al., 2010). The fact that it is a young ocean causes it to have lower biodiversity compared to marine ecosystems that are found at lower latitudes (Adey et al., 2008; Michel et al., 2012). Even though there appears to be a comparatively smaller number of species that support the marine food web, these species are of great complexity and diversity and they can be found in abundant biomasses. These species hold an immense ecological importance since they are essential to maintain diverse trophic pathways within Arctic marine ecosystems.

As stated in Michel’s et al. (2012) paper, the current biodiversity estimates suggest that, while there are many species yet to be discovered, the marine Arctic includes several thousand species of microbes and protists, over 2000 species of algae, and 5000 animal species, including hundreds of zooplankton taxa dominated by crustaceans and thousands of unicellular and multicellular benthic taxa.
The Arctic ecosystem is considered phagophyllic, which means it is associated with seasonal ice and the functioning of marine arctic ecosystems is linked to key physiographic and hydrographic features of the Arctic Ocean, which include temperature, salinity, stratification, connection to other oceans, etc. (Michel et al., 2012). Fluctuations in these features affect the organisms that are conditioned by them. The Arctic ecosystem is based around algae which is one of the most abundant organisms and depends on this sea ice and is at the bottom of the food chain, supporting all other species (Barnes & Tarling, 2017). These organisms are found in such considerable biomasses that they create clear, nutrient-free water in the winter months and intense blooms in the summer (Smetacek & Nicol, 2005; Barnes & Tarling, 2017). In the summer, production becomes high due to 24 hours of sunlight that allows continuous photosynthesis to be possible. There are also high near-surface nutrient concentrations due to vertical mixing through a combination of wind-mixing and upwelling. Diatoms, which are very efficient producers, are dominant in these conditions (Dunbar, 1982).

Marine organisms are distributed unevenly in the ocean because of the uneven mixing and the upwelling (Stempniewicz et al., 2007). Regions such as glacier fronts, marginal ice zones or estuaries, where different water masses mix, are often rich feeding sites (Dunbar, 1982). Continental shelves are highly dynamic environments where most of the biological production in the Arctic Ocean takes place and a broad range of biodiversity is found. They are habitats that support unique communities of organisms because there is a wide range of environmental conditions on these shelves. The conditions go from gradients in temperature, salinity, and nutrient concentrations to changes in the biogeochemical cycling of carbon caused by the influence of the annual sea ice (Steffens et al., 2006).

Climate change impact on the biodiversity in the Arctic

Effects on the different Arctic ecosystems
The ice that covers the poles has a high albedo, which means that it can reflect solar radiation, helping to cool the earth. As this ice cover shrinks, the albedo effect that cools the poles and essentially refrigerates the earth is being eliminated (IPCC, 2007) because snow and ice have a greater albedo effect than the bare or vegetated ground that is replacing it. Surfaces with a lower albedo that are getting exposed, absorb more heat, contributing to even more warming (Raj & Singh, 2013). Less sea ice covering the ocean exposes more of its surface to solar energy and also wind. This causes a higher evaporation which increases air moisture. The warmer the atmosphere, the more moisture it can hold, which implies a feedback effect. Water vapor is a greenhouse gas, therefore more moisture also contributes to rising temperatures, thus creating an additional feedback effect that leads back to the melting of ice. Higher winds caused by the lack of sea ice ‘’protecting’’ the water provide a rise in the mixing of surface layers with underlying waters. Because deep water in the Arctic is warmer than surface waters, heat is brought up from lower depths, which results in further water temperature variations (AMAP, 2011a).

Moisture in the atmosphere contributes to more precipitation in an increasing proportion as rain, which at the same time contributes to more defrost. In addition, climate change is also leading to the transport of more moisture from lower latitudes towards the pole (AMAP, 2016). Increased precipitation, river flow, and discharge from melting glaciers and ice sheets are all channeling growing volumes of freshwater into the Arctic Ocean. This also contributes to rising sea levels. According to NSIDC (2019), if all land ice melted away, the sea level would rise by almost 70 meters with the Greenland ice sheet contributing to a rise of about seven meters, and thus submerge many of the world’s greatest cities (IPCC, 2007).
Melted fresh water causes less dense water on the surface and an increased stratification, which results in higher surface water temperatures and lower biological activity because phytoplankton can be isolated from deeper layers that are richer in nutrients (Oliver et al., 2018). Warmer water in the surface absorbs less carbon dioxide which then stays in the atmosphere and further warms the earth (Oliver et al., 2018). Alternatively, a longer open water period can also be linked to increased primary production (Arrigo et al., 2008) due to the higher wind mixing rates that create favourable conditions for upwelling of nutrient-rich waters (Michel et al., 2012). In addition, phytoplankton receives more light in the open water (Arrigo et al., 2008). This means that, as explained in Oliver’s et al. (2018) paper, depending on local conditions, sea ice losses can enhance or reduce primary production.

The layer of permafrost covers approximately 25% of the land area in the Northern Hemisphere (Yang et al., 2010). It is a significant carbon store that contains remnants of plants and animals accumulated over thousands of years; by some estimates, it contains twice as much carbon as there is currently in the Earth’s entire atmosphere (AMAP, 2016). Observations and measurements show that the temperature in the permafrost has risen by up to 2-3°C in most places in the last 40 years (IPCC, 2007). The total area of the northern hemisphere with surface permafrost is expected to decrease as much as 80% by the end of this century (IPCC, 2007). Thawing permafrost contributes to the release of greenhouse gases (mainly methane) that are currently stored in the ground which leads to the previous effects and allows microbes to break down this organic matter, producing greenhouse gases. Furthermore, when permafrost thaws, water from small lakes and tarns is drained away, affecting the hydrological cycle in the area (AMAP, 2012). Permafrost melt allows plant growth but can also cause areas to experience perennially waterlogged conditions, suppressing forest growth (AMAP, 2016).

There are important warm ocean currents, such as the Gulf Stream that brings warm water from the Gulf of Mexico into the Arctic pole. In the North Atlantic the water brought from warmer lower latitudes will be cooled. As the warmer water flows in, colder, denser water sinks below and begins flowing outwards from the Arctic Ocean and moves south. These currents circulate within the Arctic marine system, and then flow southwards, having an important role in driving global ocean circulation. Increased flows of freshwater and changes in salinity could disrupt this mechanism that plays a key role in global climate regulation and is known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) (Palter, 2015). Disturbances in the Gulf Stream can dramatically impact the weather on land.

Ocean currents and rivers also play a big part in supplying nutrients that form the basis of marine food webs of global importance (Palter, 2015). For example, extensions of the Gulf Stream, such as the North Atlantic current, have branches that are warm-water currents that carry small calanoids that impact Spitsbergen. Other currents like the Sørkapp Current, influence Spitsbergen by bringing cold, Arctic water from the northeast with a zooplankton community (Stempniewicz et al., 2007).

The jet stream is a high-level airstream that circles the globe at mid-latitudes and affects the track of pressure systems and storms over North America, Europe, and Asia (Raj & Singh, 2013). It can also be influenced by glacial melt because it is driven by the difference in temperatures between cold Arctic air and warmer air from the south.

When the ice melts into freshwater and precipitations increase, there is plant growth (Callaghan, 2001). A surface covered by plants has a lower albedo and, therefore accentuates climate change and leads to some of the effects we explained previously. In the ocean, the lack of cover provided by the ice, will also result in new habitats available for seaweed colonisation in the ocean (Weslawski et al., 2011).
In both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, more plants mean more photosynthesis. This could be counterproductive due to an enrichment in nutrients and minerals from permafrost and the enhanced flow of water that could potentially support excess heterotrophic activity and cause eutrophication. As explained in Agustí et al. (2010), a transition towards an ecosystem with a reduction in export matter that causes an increased heterotrophy is taking place (Agustí et al., 2010). The shifting of the net metabolism of the Arctic Ocean from autotrophic to heterotrophic implies a change from a net sink to a source of CO2 (Agustí et al., 2010).

In terrestrial ecosystems, this can alter local food webs and the range of wildlife supported by an ecosystem (Zarnetske et al., 2012). It also leads to an abundance of commensal species impacting Arctic endemics, such as predators or competitors and outbreaks of insect herbivores and plant pathogens (Ims & Ehrich, 2013).

In aquatic ecosystems, this leads to blooms of algae that reduce water quality, crowd out other species, and are toxic for animals. Cloudiness can block the light needed for photosynthesis and potentially clog filter-feeding fauna (AMAP, 2016). The supply of clean water is also an important service provided by natural systems. Again, toxic algae blooms caused by excessive nutrient inputs can affect drinking water quality.

Other changes being experienced in the Arctic tundra are small variations in nitrogen (N) and phosphorous (P) The Arctic tundra is dominated by plants that have low nutrient requirements (Jonasson et al., 1999). Small variations in N and P cause a strong increase in plant productivity (Shaver & Jonasson, 2001), which is why changes in the cycling of nutrients will bring changes to the community structure (Stempniewicz et al., 2007).

As explained on the Arctic Biodiversity Assessment (Barry et al., 2013), changing landscapes and vegetation will bring loss of unique animal species from certain areas of the Arctic. Species rely on seasonal indicators that are changing, and they have different ecological responses to these variations. Changes in the sea ice or sea ice surface generates the direct loss of habitats. Fluctuations in stratification, light attenuation, and nutrient availability indirectly affect unique communities of organisms, such as pelagic and benthic communities. These communities support associated food webs having repercussions on higher trophic levels and also impact the reproduction and foraging success of ice-associated species (AMAP 2011; Michel et al., 2012).

While it is hard for specific species to adapt to these gradual changes in the timing of the seasons, new species from the south that are already accustomed to those parameters can expand their breeding ground and have access to places they could not before (Jensen et al., 2008). The pattern that will be most often repeated will be that milder environmental conditions in the pole may provide new habitats for temperate species that may outcompete polar species and disrupt the ecosystem (Michel et al., 2012). Replacement by subarctic species that have extended their distribution range northward have been observed in the last 30 years for different animal species (Michel et al., 2012). Increased human activity in the Arctic also contributes to bringing invasive species (Kortsch et al., 2015). There will also be alteration to the predator–prey interactions because of the change in habitat and seasonality. Many species depend on sea ice for their dispersal and access to feeding (Descamps et al., 2017). Although these species could have a short-term benefit because there will be higher prey densities gathered in smaller ice-covered areas, in the long term it will result in their extinction (Thomsen et al., 2016; Descamps et al., 2017).

Variations in diversity are taking place, with a trend towards a community of smaller cells, such as bacteria, small algae, and zooplankton. If these organisms, which are a strong determinant of trophic pathways and carbon fluxes in marine ecosystems, continue having a competitive advantage, it can lead to reduced biological production at higher trophic levels (Li et al., 2009). Changes in the size and energy content of key zooplankton prey affect energy transfer in the pelagic food web having important consequences for the animal species that tap into this food base (Weslawski et al., 2000).

An increase in bacterial respiration which is also supported by an increase in temperatures, increased inputs of carbon, and the strengthening of the pycnocline, also means a challenge for the capacity of the Arctic Ocean to act as a sink for CO2 (Cai et al., 2010). The dominant microbial loop in the upper water column will lead to decreased exports of biogenic material to the sea floor. This will again help the planktonic ecosystem shift from a CO2 sink to a CO2 (Agustí et al., 2010). Bacteria and other microorganisms will have a higher supply of organic matter that they can convert to carbon dioxide and the ocean can experience a reduction in calcium ions and higher ocean acidification generated by an increase in carbon dioxide. The ocean also absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere which will be at higher concentrations. This means more dissolved CO2 in the ocean which is a threat to calcareous organisms and may have cascading impacts on marine ecosystems, biodiversity, and fisheries. Calcium ions and carbonate are used to build shells and skeletons which species rely on (Barry et al., 2013; AMAP, 2016). Studies have detected an undersaturation in aragonite which is essential for the formation of the shell of an important plankton species in the Arctic caused by ice melt (Yamamoto-Kawai et al., 2009).


The Arctic is undergoing crucial changes in many of its elemental physical components. These alterations have important impacts on the chemical and biological processes, having repercussions that are coupled with many ecological feedback processes and will cause unpredictable reorganizations of ecosystems in the region and potentially on a global scale.

Loss of biodiversity is one of the effects we are already experiencing due through climate change and we need to be aware of why this is so severe. Biodiversity keeps the planet healthy since it keeps a balance. If there is a big change and functioning ecosystems disappear, then the earth might not be able to ever recover from this loss of balance. It is not just for the wellbeing of other organisms, but our own wellbeing is affected, too. They are just the first to experience it. It also impacts our lives in a direct way because less biodiversity compromises the resources that we take advantage of. Since we need these resources to survive, we must learn to take care of them. That is why it is of great importance that we combine our interests with sustainability, promoting an innovative and respectful society that is dependent on stability and well-functioning cooperation. There are ways to use our knowledge in technology, but the upcoming efforts to preserve Arctic biodiversity and resources must be as innovative and wide-ranging as the unknown stressors that are being experimented by Arctic ecosystems now. The impacts of climate change will give rise to coordination challenges among nations, as well as for regional levels of government.

The Arctic offers major opportunities for development with multiple sectors that have a great potential for economic growth and requires a management plan based on sustainability that takes account of environmental and social considerations. The fact that the Arctic is an unexplored source of unique resources joined with the current situation that demands solutions to remediate global warming, makes research related to new industries, such as marine bioprospecting, indispensable. Science plays a crucial role in the adaptation and mitigation of climate change since it has the ability to positively reduce the effects that have been explained. The upcoming efforts to preserve Arctic resources and ecosystems, as well as to study and understand them, must be as novel and expansive as the unknown challenges that are being experimented by the Arctic region now.

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Climate Change and Mental Health: A Snapshot of Arctic Indigenous People’s Resiliency and Suffering as the World Transforms

For years, the Arctic region, home to 4 million people, ten percent of whom are indigenous, has provided an example of rapidly changing climate patterns impinging on human ability to adapt to the change (Arctic Centre, University of Lapland). The Circumpolar region has experienced warming at a rate roughly two to three times greater than the rest of the world (AMAP, 2021). As the environment changes, the region’s economic prospects also change, both positively and negatively. But to understand the full extent of the Arctic as a region experiencing rapid climate change also requires examining the human toll—the emotional toll—this transformation causes. Duane Smith, President of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference Canada and Vice-President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, points out in the UN Chronicle that the sacred knowledge of the world passed down through generations in Indigenous communities is becoming less accurate as Arctic ecosystems change with the climate. As a result, traditional ways of life are less viable for Arctic Indigenous peoples (Smith). Many Indigenous people have begun to feel like strangers in their own lands (GreenFacts Scientific Board, 2021). These communities have shown incredible resilience thus far, but that forced adaptation is also costly. Take for instance, the fact that Circumpolar people, specifically the wellbeing of adolescents, is worsening with not enough solutions in sight. Suicide is on the rise among Indigenous adolescents in the Arctic, especially in Greenland (Bjerregaard & Lynge, 2006). In the Arctic region, Greenland is the world’s largest island with a population composed primarily of Inuit people (Rasmussen, 2021). The island is also home to the world’s second-largest ice sheet, which is vital to global climate patterns (National Snow and Ice Data Center, 2020). Much like rapid modernization and cultural identity deviation, climate change impacts and melting Arctic ice are also contributing to this region’s worsening mental health crisis (Barrett, 2019).

As Indigenous cultures and their relationship to the ice struggle to endure, they are vulnerable to underrepresentation in the face of globalization and modernization. If their unique needs and experiences are not recognized, they will suffer disproportionately from the impact of global climate change. Their experience could prove to be a warning sign for many cultures in the coming decades.

Mental health is a key area of concern, especially among younger generations in Greenland. Greenland has the highest suicide rate of any country in the world, almost to the point where suicide is a normal part of life. Every Greenlander can say they know someone who has died by suicide (Hersher, 2016). As the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework is being deployed across the globe in accordance with its 2030 agenda, it’s essential this region and its communities are not left behind. One way to do this is to mobilize the recommendations of the UN’s Goal 3 (Good Health and Well-being) by investing in improved mental health infrastructure for Arctic native people.

The Inextricable Link Between Environmental and Mental Changes for Arctic Indigenous People

According to recent reports by the UN, 2019 was the second-hottest year on record within the hottest decade recorded (2020). For the Arctic, this reality has been unmistakable. Glacier ice, sea ice, and permafrost are melting at alarming rates in this region, creating devastating impacts on the world’s cryosphere (National Snow and Ice Data Center, 2020). According to predictions, the Arctic will be ice free for at least part of the year before this century ends. It might even be ice-free by the middle of the century (Scott & Hansen, 2016).

The UN recognizes Indigenous people as “inheritors and practitioners of unique cultures and ways of relating to people and the environment” (United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs Indigenous Peoples). And, with more than 40 different ethnic groups, the Circumpolar Indigenous people have called the Arctic home for thousands of years (Arctic Centre, University of Lapland).

Ford and others explain that Indigenous people have strong cultural and spiritual ties to their lands and “also have a central role in detecting and managing change due to [those] deep connections to the land and seas” (Ford, 2020). As industrialization and social and climate change erase Arctic ice and change weather patterns, the foundational continuity for indigenous traditions, livelihoods and culture are threatened (Arctic Centre, University of Lapland). This is leaving the Arctic’s native people more vulnerable than ever, impacting their housing, infrastructure, and transport connections to the point of necessary relocation (Arctic Centre, University of Lapland). One example from the National Snow and Ice Data Center shows that slower fall freezes are leaving Indigenous peoples without access to hunting, other communities, and health care (2020). “As a result, the livelihoods connected with hunting, fishing, and herding are under threat. Indigenous peoples have an especially strong bond with nature and the changes in harvesting activities may have implications for the economy, society, culture and health” (Arctic Centre, University of Lapland).

Relative to these people’s ancestral lineage on this land, the impacts they are seeing now from climate change are very disruptive to what they have always known. We know that disruption causes mental health challenges and suicidal risk factors like family collapse, increased alcoholism, and child abuse and neglect (Hersher, 2016). One example of widespread community devastation and rapidly forced adaptation happened in New Orleans, Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. A study found that serious to moderate mental illness nearly doubled among survivors of one of the deadliest hurricanes on record, forcing 500,000 people to relocate from their homes (Kessler, 2006). Another example of how climate change is devastating homelands, and by extension the mental health of its residents, comes from a 2016 wildfire at Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada (AMAP, 2021). A mental health status assessment of young adolescents showed triple the rate of depression and double the rate of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (AMAP, 2021).

While change in the Arctic has been more gradual than a single natural disaster event, considering mental health and psychological theory shows how this disruption of ecosystems and livelihoods can adversely affect mental health. Psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner developed an ecological paradigm that shows how a person’s development, interpersonal relationships, and overall well-being are influenced by the interconnected relationship between various ecosystems, from an individual to a macro level, and vice-versa (Guy-Evans, 2020). The work of Bronfenbrenner illustrates how interconnected human beings are with their environments and cultures. This is especially true for Arctic Indigenous people. Livelihoods, cultures, and support systems, all of which are under threat in the Arctic Indigenous communities, play an important role in identity formation, life fulfillment, and resilience to stressors. When people’s ecosystems are threatened or out of balance and interpersonal relationships are strained, mental, physical, and spiritual vitality wane. That can be a catalyst for isolation and mental illness.

Mental health literature also demonstrates what can happen when basic needs become more challenging to meet as a result of disrupted ecological systems. One of psychology’s most influential theorists, Abraham Maslow, asserts that human needs exist in a hierarchical schema where low level basic needs like food, water, shelter, safety, and security must be accomplished before higher level, self-fulfillment needs like a sense of belonging, fulfilling one’s full potential, and creative innovation can be satisfied (McLeod, 2014). If the lower-level basic needs go unmet, or are disrupted, it creates a substantial impact on a person’s mental health.

Some of the higher-level needs for the Arctic Indigenous, in particular, are currently under threat and often overlooked in health care systems. According to the Arctic Human Development Report, Arctic Indigenous people emphasize the importance of three key factors of human development not found in the Human Development Index. These include fate control (controlling one’s own destiny), maintaining cultural identity, and living close to nature (Larsen et al., 2014). Unfortunately, large gaps still exist for the Arctic Indigenous populations when it comes to meeting their lower-level, basic survival needs making it that much more difficult for them to realize these higher-level needs they hold as sacred and necessary for well-being.

The unsustainable burden climate change puts on the Arctic Indigenous people is playing out most uniquely for the future generations. These future generations are being raised by parents who have long been coping with ecological disruptions and unmet needs. Now, these parents are suffering with mental illnesses such as substance abuse and depression as a result of traumatic assimilation demands and rapid modernization. This increases mental health risk factors for their children (Barrett, 2019). As these parents are then looked upon to manage the burden of past and present circumstances, they are also managing the path forward for their children. This begins to illustrate what can happen when a culture and its needs are substantially eradicated within the span of a generation or less. In Greenland, for instance, many young people feel cut off from the older generations while also not really belonging to the new one (Hersher, 2016). The Indigenous youth are caught somewhere between a demand for modernity and new ways of living and a sacred duty to honor the culture of their ancestors as they find a way forward amid the far-reaching impacts of climate change.

Suicide Among Greenland’s Indigenous Adolescent

According to Chow, “Inuit Indigenous peoples make up 89% of Greenland’s population which means that mental health issues are particularly prevalent in Inuit communities” (2019). Of that 89%, the most alarming mental health concerns come out of the adolescent population.

“Inuit suicide rates per 100,000 for Greenland, NWT and Alaska with their national averages for Denmark, Canada and US by age group 1980-89 (8)” (Einarsson et al., 2004)

The above image indicates the vast disparity in suicide rates across the Arctic’s Indigenous youth. “Youth suicide rates are alarmingly high in many parts of the Arctic, particularly in Greenland [where] the suicide rates were around two to 10 times higher among Indigenous youth” (Lehti, Niemelä, Hoven, Mandell, & Sourander, 2009).

Additionally, youth suicides follow unique patterns. They tend to occur in clusters meaning for every suicide, there are many more attempts and instances of people experiencing suicidal thoughts and ideations creating catastrophic impacts on their communities (Larsen et al., 2014). This ripple effect of youth suicides can be devastating in small communities with nearly 60% of adults and roughly 33% of adolescent Greenlanders having lost a loved one to suicide (Larsen & Huskey, 2010). Suicidality at this level perpetuates the mental health crisis in this region as families take on more stress and coping responsibilities due to losses and grieving.

In the Arctic, male Indigenous populations are even more disproportionately affected by suicide when compared with populations as a whole (Einarsson et al., 2004). One reason for this among Arctic Indigenous males could be the effect climate change is having on traditional Indigenous male roles. The image below indicates such rates across the Arctic with the highest numbers occurring in Greenland (Larsen, 2014).

(Larsen, 2014)

Not only is risk of suicide significant in the Arctic’s Indigenous communities, but it is also directly tied to globalization and climate change. Greenland’s suicide wave has followed historical patterns and is indisputably linked to the rapid changes in Greenlandic ways of life (Larsen & Huskey, 2010). Youth is meant to be a time of growth, learning, and hope for the future, not a period of time marked by so many hardships and barriers that a person takes his/her own life. In order for these adolescents to have the best chance at a good future, they need mental health resources.

It’s important to note that it’s not just environmental changes that are impacting the Arctic Indigenous adolescents’ mental health. Social-political changes like forced assimilation can lead to loss of traditional practices and beliefs, displacement, loss of lands, and acculturative stress (Kvernmo, 2006). The intersectionality of acculturation demands and challenges due to climate change leave the Arctic’s Indigenous populations uniquely vulnerable to mental illness amid a lack of mental health resources. Climate change is resulting in food and water insecurity and impacts on health care infrastructure thus having a profound impact on human physical and mental health resulting in suicide and domestic violence, among others (Larsen et al., 2014). Mental illness can be shrouded in stigma and desires to avoid addressing the issue can run deep. Mental illness is often a difficult problem to face with no clear cut solution. Healing requires empowerment, hope, and thoughtful, intentional resource allocation.

In order to control their fate, the Arctic Indigenous people must have agency and resources. Unfortunately, large gaps still exist for the Arctic Indigenous populations when it comes to decision making opportunities, especially in regard to health systems. Many Indigenous people see the inclusion of local values as foundational to any healing system, therefore, making it important to broaden our ideas about what constitutes cross-cultural healthcare services and create new approaches to solving old problems (Einarsson et al., 2004). Acknowledging what is happening to the people in these communities begins to illustrate how this fate could befall others if more isn’t done to mitigate the risk factors.

A Case Study for Populations Everywhere

Research proves that when people are supported by mental health resources, they are more resilient, can take better care of their families, can participate more fully in society, and have the freedom to innovate and the world needs more of this (World Health Organization, 2013). By paying attention to the quality of life and adaptability among its vast and varied interconnected ecosystems and people, any region stands to gain a better understanding of itself and how it, too, might adapt to the changing environments. The Arctic Indigenous communities are currently some of the hardest hit by climate change, but they won’t be the only ones. They offer a clear example of why mental health needs to be a priority in implementing the UN’s Goal 3 and the allocation of resources.

Bolstering this community starts by creating more mental health infrastructure for the Arctic’s Indigenous people and their youth. This would broaden the community’s capacity to live at their fullest potential, to thrive, and to innovate. However, it’s important to consider the many barriers to mental health care services that often exist in rural areas. These include stigma around mental health, stigma toward those who have a desire for care, lack of anonymity when seeking mental health treatment, lack of mental health professionals, lack of affordable culturally competent care, and lack of transportation to care (Rural Health Information Hub, 2019). These are barriers that must be overcome.

Research shows that societies greatly benefit from more investment in mental health resources. One study looked at the effectiveness of implementing mindfulness-based practices into mental health care for Native American youth for suicide prevention. The results indicated the mindfulness approach, in collaboration with an indigenous research framework, improved their self-regulation and reduced suicidal thoughts (Le & Gobert, 2013). Another example of the positive impact mental health resources can have come out of Germany. In a study where interventions for depressive disorders were implemented, there was success in reducing suicidality, and this approach is currently being implemented in several other regions across Germany (Hegerl et al., 2006). Though the implementation of mental health resources is often costly and challenging, these studies indicate that it is a necessary and worthwhile priority.

Currently, there are numerous examples of resilience and evidence that Indigenous people are having some success coping and adapting to rapid change. They are improvising, adapting technologies, altering knowledge systems, and learning how to navigate challenging new environmental and social realities (Ford et al., 2020). While their resilience is evident, it is in response to great suffering that continues to escalate. That is why investment in mental health resources is urgently needed to allow the Arctic Indigenous people time and space to preserve their vibrant cultures in a changing world. No one knows better what the Arctic Indigenous people need to heal and to prosper than themselves. Providing them with the resources they need could allow them the space to do just that.


The melting Arctic ice and the rapidly changing environmental and economic landscapes of the Arctic regions are creating a trickle-down effect that is impacting every facet of Indigenous life, right down to the mental health of youth. Creating a healthier, more sustainable path forward for the next generation of Arctic Indigenous livelihoods, cultures, and health will require innovative changes ranging from environmental sustainability to responsible business practices to increased mental and physical health resources. The UN’s Goal 3 calls for global good health and wellness (United Nations Development Programme, 2020). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), world leaders are now recognizing a need for the promotion of mental health and well-being as health priorities within the global development agenda (2016). One compelling reason is the direct impact mental illness will have on the global economy. As Chisholms writes, The World Economic Forum estimated that the cumulative global impact of mental disorders in terms of lost economic output will amount to US$16 trillion over the next 20 years, equivalent to more than 1% of global gross domestic product (GDP) over this period. (2013). As the world works to implement changes in response to Goal 3, investment in mental health care will be needed in order to reduce suffering and unnecessary loss of life in the global health paradigm.

Climate change will continue to impact more and more populations and cultures, and we must be ready to support the emotional, and not just physical or economic needs, brought on by our changing environment. True sustainability is not just about protecting the environment, it’s about protecting people and human rights as well. When looking at the compelling evidence for global mental health investment, the WHO states, “for each year of inaction and underinvestment, the health, social and economic burden will continue to rise. Doing nothing is therefore not a viable option” (Chisholm, 2013). What the Arctic region proves is that there is work to be done in supporting mental health in order to foster resilient societies in the decades of transformation to come.


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Glacial Water Melt in Greenland: Resource for the Future


Research into the cause and effect of increased thawing in permafrost areas and rising sea level has led to the conclusion that without extensive decrease in carbon emissions, future generations may be presented with severely different global conditions (IPCC, n.d.). This condition could make populated areas uninhabitable and leave others with limited possibilities for agriculture and other activities vital for human survival.

However, the increasing melt rate of Greenland’s glacier may present an opportunity to harness more energy for electrical generation than is currently being done today. Such a project could prove beneficial for Greenland’s economy and may possibly attract the interest of various energy demanding industries, which may in turn present various employment opportunities and infrastructure investments for the benefit of the indigenous people of Greenland.

Hans Stauber studied the potential of the glacial meltwater of Greenland’s glacier in the 1930’s (Alther et al., 1981). His study outlines the methodology for harnessing the meltwater by using the elevation difference of the glacier, utilising the Nunataks for creating reservoirs and transporting the energy.

This research paper will focus on the feasibility of a large-scale hydropower project in Greenland, presenting examples from Iceland and Norway, and paying careful attention to the current global conditions, modern applicable parameters, and the potential benefits of large-scale hydropower investments in Greenland.

Hydropower Background

Since the development of the Francis, Pelton and Kaplan turbine, hydropower has been a vital contributor to economic growth. The world’s first large scale alternating current hydropower plant was built in the USA. It harnessed the energy from the Niagara Falls in New York, coming into production in 1895. By the beginning of the 20th century, hundreds of small hydropower plants were installed across the world. In 1940, the United States accounted for around 40% of the electric generation after completion of The Hoover Dam and the Grand Coulee dam finishing in 1942. The Itaipu dam in Brazil was finished in 1984 and was the world largest hydro power plant until the Three Gorges dam power plant was finished in 2012 (“History of Hydropower”, 2018) (Bank, 2013) .

Hydropower in Norway
The power production in Norway is divided among hydropower, wind, and thermal power, with the vast majority coming from hydropower. The total annual energy production on an average wet year is 151 trillion watt hours (TWh), with hydropower production at 90%, wind power around 7.5% and thermal power producing the rest. Currently, Norway has around 1671 hydropower plants, 52 wind power plants, and 30 thermal power plants across the country, with the majority situated along the coast (NVE, 2019). Norway’s history of producing electricity by hydropower dates back to the 19th century as plants were built to energize chemical and metallic production. This heralded the start of economic and technological growth in Norway. The majority of the hydropower plants built during the 20th century are still running today, with only maintenance and minor modifications required. The oldest hydropower plant currently running is Hammeren which was built in the year 1900.

Hydropower in Iceland
Iceland’s terrain and position offers the unique opportunity of being able to utilise both geothermal and hydropower energy sources. Geothermal energy contributes 28.9% of the total energy generation, hydropower contributes 71%, and 0.3% are gained from wind energy (NEA, n.d.). Iceland’s location on the Mid-Atlantic ridge offers geothermal possibilities, but not without some complications. Iceland has multiple active volcanoes and a history of violent eruptions which have had severe effects both inland and abroad. For example, the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010 disrupted a large portion of the air traffic in Europe.

In 2015, Iceland’s electricity generation was 18.798 GWh (GI, n.d.), but a recent study by David Finger points out that there is still unexploited hydropower potential in Iceland (Finger, 2018).Hydropower electrical energy in Iceland began in the 20th century when the main power station located in Elliðaár was built in the year 1921. This power station is still in partial use today. A further complication is that Iceland’s glaciers cover around 11% of the land, with Vatnajökull covering 7900km2 (NI, n.d.). Because Iceland’s glaciers hold a mass of 3600 km3, they could raise the global sea level by around 10 mm if melted (of Earth Sciences, 2020).

Hydropower in Greenland
Greenland is the largest island in the world. Located 740 km from the North Pole, with Kap Farvel having the same latitude as Oslo. Greenland’s total area is 2.166.086 km2 with 81% permanently covered by icecap (Nunatsiaq, 2016). Buksefjord, Greenland’s first hydropower plant was constructed in 1993. Today, Greenland utilises five hydropower plants which supply six towns with electricity used for domestic use and heating (Nunatsiaq, 2016). Greenland relies partly on imported oil, even though they are increasing self-production and utilising heat from waste incineration. The Co2 emission of Greenland in 2013 reaching 555Kt with 94% of the emission originating from energy consumption (Nunatsiaq, 2016).

Indigenous People
Greenland is part of Denmark’s kingdom, but has had a self-government since 2009 and “has had exclusive responsibility regarding extractive projects on the territory and in surrounding maritime zones” (Johnstone and Hansen, 2020). A great deal of attention is currently being paid internationally to Greenland’s pursuit of independence from Denmark as a sovereign state (Johnstone and Hansen, 2020). The Indigenous people of Greenland view extractive industries as a means to increased stability, improved living conditions, and good employment opportunities which among other factors could lead to an increased standard of living. From an outsider’s perspective, enabling extractive industries in Greenland is a stepping stone towards independence from Denmark. But as the study depicts, the Indigenous people place more importance on the benefits of increasing economic independence by allowing the extractive industries, rather than seeking political independence. “Exploration and exploitation of natural resources is known to contribute to major changes at individual, community and national levels” (Johnstone and Hansen, 2020). Greenland’s Mineral Resources Act states how developers are required to conduct an environmental impact and social impact assessment (SIA). The government often requires a social sustainability agreement, i.e. Impact and Benefit Agreement (IBA), to promote equitable development. “The provisions in the Mineral Resources Act on EIA and SIA are brief, but are developed further in a number of topic-specific Guidelines. Although the latter are not legally binding in a formal sense, it is unlikely that the government will grant a license in cases where the developer has not met, if not exceeded the requirements in the Guidelines.” (Johnstone and Hansen, 2020).

Technical details
Greenland’s glaciers theoretical energy potential is, according to the Geological Survey of Greenland (GEUS), 470 Twh per year. “This estimation gives results far from the real available hydropower energy, which can be applied only when the water comes into hydrological catchment areas where hydropower plants in reality can be constructed” (Nunatsiaq, 2016).

Figure 1: Hydropower potential locations in west Greenland (Højmark, 1996). “Blue areas indicate hydropower basins, black squares possible localities for hydropower plants and black circles are observation localities for water flow estimates operated by GEUS. (Geological Survey)” (Nunatsiaq, 2016).

An estimate based on multiple years of research work determines 16 catchments areas with a combined energy of 14 Twh in the western of Greenland (Nunatsiaq, 2016).

Energy Exportation
Exporting the energy from Greenland could be achieved by hydrogen generation through electrolysis. Additionally, ammonia could be used as an energy carrier with water and air combination (Alther et al., 1981).

Figure 2: Distance between Nunavut and Nuuk (Nunatsiaq, 2016).

With distances between countries contributing greatly to the cost of an energy exportation project, there are locations within reach of Greenland which may present opportunities to transfer electric energy to other countries. Studies reveal how energy could be exported to the west, to Nunavut in Canada since Nunavut is only 800 km from Greenland’s capital, Nuuk. Currently Nunavut has a population of 23,000 people and requires more electric energy (Nunatsiaq, 2016). Additionally, the western part of Iceland could possibly utilise electric energy from Greenland (Nunatsiaq, 2016).


A study from 1981 presents a methodology for harnessing the meltwater of Greenland by utilising electric power transportation stations with reservoirs at different elevations.

Figure 3: “Schematic illustration of a glacial power station in Greenland. 1 = Inland ice. 2 = Firn. 3 = Snow cover. 4 = Melt water channel. 5 = Bedrock. 6 = Upper reservoir. 7 = Lower reservoir. 8 = Natural dam (Nunataks). 9 = Pipe shaft. 10 = Iceberg.
(After kollbrunner and Stauber, 1972.)” (Alther et al., 1981).

Perpendicular channels which are cut into the bedrock guide the meltwater to the reservoirs with minimal loss. From the reservoir flows water through pipelines to a lower reservoir (7), where the natural dams (Nunataks) serve as a dam wall (8). “These Nunataks provide a natural drop of some 2000 m from the terminus of the ice cap to sea level.” (Alther et al., 1981). Which in turn is guided through pressure pipeline and turbines.

Natural forming reservoirs may be created by distributing coal dust or other heat absorbing material to enable the ice in that area to melt faster than normal during the summer months; this procedure would only serve to initiate the process. This formation could be enlarged and altered as needed and channels made as required by each reservoir at any given time (Alther et al., 1981).

Hydropower Development in Norway

The integration of hydropower in Norway had a large impact on the country’s economic development. The first hydropower plant in Norway, was built in Hamn, Norway in 1882, where the power was used by a nickel production plant (Vasskrafta, 2019a). In the late 19th century and well into the 20th century, the chemical industry developed where hydropower energy was available, mainly because long distance energy transmission was not feasible at that time. An industrial company named Borregaard was established in 1889, to produce biochemical products. Borregaard later developed the hydropower plant Borregaard kraftverk in 1898. This was the beginning of multiple other industrial developments, such as Norsk Hydro, the largest industrial establishment and hydropower developer. Norsk Hydro was the first company to develop synthetic nitrate fertiliser and used hydropower energy and water for this production. In 1907 Norsk Hydro developed a hydropower plant in Notodden named Svelgfoss 1, which was Europe’s largest hydropower plant and the world’s second largest hydropower plant at the time. By 1911, Norsk Hydro had completed Vemork hydropower plan, the world’s largest hydropower plant with an installed capacity of 108MW (“Kraftverk: Vemork”, 2016). Furthermore, the development of Solbergfossen hydropower plant had excessive technological and historical importance for Norway. It was developed during the First World War after the completion of the hydropower laboratory at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). The cooperation among contractors, developers, and NTNU managed to increase the efficiency of the turbine by more than 10% using Norwegian contractors, thus ensuring the country’s competence comparable to an international level. This is historically important as construction started in 1913 and finished in 1924, a time period when political forces wanted to use and develop Norwegian technology (“Kraftverk: Solbergfoss”, 2016) (Vasskrafta, 2004) (NTNU, 2019). Development of Glomfjorden kraftverk, a hydropower plant using two of what was in 1920 the world’s largest turbines, laid the fundamentals of an important industry in Glomfjorden and also bureaucracy in Norway. The project development contributed to the decision to develop NVE, the Norwegian regulators of hydropower (“Kraftverk: Glomfjord”, 2016) (Vasskrafta, 2019b).

Hydropower Development in Iceland

Iceland’s incentives to create its first large scale hydropower plant came in the 1960’s when the company Alusisse showed interest in constructing an aluminium plant in Iceland (Energy, 2019). Afterwards when Iceland had been attracting high energy demanding industries, the national power company of Iceland was established (Landsvirkjun). Its first task was to administrate the construction of Búrfell hydropower plant which came into operation in 1969 with the capacity of 210 megawatts (MW). Iceland has since become a large aluminium and ferrosilicon exporter, with increase in demand through the years, which in turn has increased the energy need and prompted further the construction of more hydropower plants (Energy, 2019). The effects of the construction of hydropower plants to satisfy the industrial energy demand has had a large effect on Iceland’s infrastructure, both economic and social, with the construction of the plants and employment from the industry.

Incentives for Greenland

Using Norway and Iceland as an example, there are two proposals for Greenland to proceed with its hydropower development:
Generate interest from high energy demanding industries by proposing access to sustainable clean hydropower electric energy with a comparable geological location as Iceland. Private equity firms and industries could be involved in the construction of a large scale hydropower plant.
Construct a hydropower plant with the aid of Denmark for the future prospects of energy exportation, providing the necessary foundation for large scale industries to operate in Greenland.

Greenland could benefit greatly in terms of economic development and social effect. Greenland could possibly satisfy all of its energy demand and become completely carbon neutral. In the near future a shift in emphasis of the transportation and mobility sector is almost certain. Such development and the ever growing demand for industries to implement sustainability in their manufacturing process, will broaden the market for clean energy and Greenland could be in a position of being able to supply sustainable electric energy for industries willing to offshore their operations to Greenland. It can be said that Greenland certainly has the building blocks to reach similar development as Iceland by harnessing the glacial meltwater and being able to provide sustainable energy for many years to come. Metallurgical processing, used in industries such as copper electrolytic refinement and aluminium, could utilise the meltwater generated electric power (Alther et al., 1981).

International collaboration

For a project of this caliber, international collaboration would be necessary for design and supplying equipment such as excavators to Greenland. With such a collaborative effort the project should be achievable in 15-20 years (Alther et al., 1981). According to The cost estimate for the power scheme would be around $275 – $320 per kilowatt (Partl, 1978). With considerations to transportation facilities as gas pipelines or AC/DC rectifiers / inverters, the additional cost could amount to $220 – $430 per kilowatt hour. Disruptions to local population would likely be minimal, but would be different between energy harnessing locations since the population is fairly small and dispersed in comparison with Greenland’s geographic size. The effect on the environment should be minimal (Alther et al., 1981). If H2 spillage did occur, such as by the bursting of gas pipelines, the effect on marine life would likely be insignificant.

LCA of Industrial Project

As a requirement to uphold Greenland’s clean reputation and to fulfil environmental require- ments regarding emission standards and pollution, industries that show interest in relocating to Greenland should do a full life cycle analysis (LCA). This would need to be approved by Greenland’s and Denmark’s governments and abide to their requirements.

Social Economics Benefits in Norway

Electricity has increased the welfare of the Norwegian population. The development of effective transmission lines enabled industries to grow and make electricity more available. In the 1920’s the majority of people living in Oslo had access to electricity, but in the 1940’s, 80% of the entire Norwegian population had gained access to electricity. Since the Second World War and up to the 1990s, there have been large investments in the electrification of Norway and in 1965 nearly every house had access to electricity. This development has been a driver for the continued economic growth and increased welfare in Norway (norske leksikon, 2020).

Social Economics Benefits in Iceland

Since the 1960’s Iceland’s population has grown from 175,000 to over 340,000 (Worldome- ter, 2021). Its gross domestic product (GDP) has increased from 1400$ to over 66000$ per capita (Commons, 2019), with a large portion in direct relation to the industrial development that followed the construction of the hydropower plants and the accessibility to electrical energy. The infrastructure of Iceland relies on the energy-demanding industry and seldom has any single industry had such an impact on one country. With employment opportunities and increased quality of life, population is able to grow and other industries can emerge.


“Climate change will further exacerbate the unique applied glaciological challenges associated with the proglacial mining described above. Rising atmospheric temperatures are expected to increase the meltwater runoff from the ice sheet by a factor of five by the end of the century” (Colgan et al., 2015). Greenland’s glacial meltwater hydropower potential could become more feasible as the global conditions become more severe due to global warming. Emissions from electricity generation using coal and other environmentally polluting methods may be decreased substantially by harnessing Greenland’s glacier meltwater. This project might prove to be much more beneficial than anticipated as we witness the growing demand for sustainable electric energy.


As Greenland’s glacier melts and opportunities emerge for hydropower, it is these authors’ opinion that Greenland should proceed with large-scale projects that keep the best interests of the Indigenous people of Greenland in mind and, at the same time, create an incentive for industries to relocate their operations to Greenland. This may in turn stimulate the economy through employment opportunities and provide Greenland with the incentive to invest in its infrastructure to accommodate this development. With the hydropower developments in Norway and Iceland, and with Greenland sharing similar geological location as Iceland, Greenland should consider this opportunity while it is still a possibility.

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The Legal Protection of Sea Ice Areas and the Triple Bottom Line Approach to Mining Management in the Arctic

2020 is the year when 40% of the 4,000-year-old Milne Ice Shelf, located on the north-western edge of Ellesmere Island, caved into the sea. 2020 is the year when the Greenland Ice Sheet has already passed the point of no return. 2020 is the year when human presence in the Arctic Ocean fell dramatically due to the COVID-19 outbreak. And at the same time, 2020 is another year when the dispute between the economic profit from mining in the Arctic and environmentally sustainable future was not resolved. Environmentalists are afraid that, as the sea ice melts, the Arctic Ocean will become more available and accessible for mining and navigation. Economists are afraid that mining activity in the Arctic Ocean will become less available as shrinking sea ice areas get international protection measures. Existing legal measures are not able to address the problem of melting in the Arctic adequately. The common problem of environmental protection measures and mining regulation measures is considering sea ice as “part of something.” There are no ice protection regulations as a separate natural object, only as a Natural Park as in Canadian and the United States legislation, and there are no international protection measures that consider sea ice as “sui generis”. Initiatives to invent glaciers protection legislation meet the strong opposition of mining supporters, as it was in Chile and Argentina. The main question of our research about potential sea ice protection legislation concerns the concept of “sui generis”: is it possible to create legal measures based on the fact that sea ice areas are “one of a kind” that require their own, unique, protection? We will check existing legal protection systems and analyze current mining practices through the triple bottom line approach to answer this question.

Sea ice and the environment

Nowadays, Polar vortex-increased heat waves, and the unpredictability of weather caused by ice loss are already causing significant damage to crops on which global food systems depend (Hancock, 2020). Furthermore, but no less critical, the melting of the Arctic ice pack affects sea level in the Arctic Ocean, sea surface temperature, and wildlife populations, like beluga whales, narwhals, and bowheads. Moreover, these species would require additional protection measures and flexible measures adapting to the consequences of melting. In the first section of our research, we would like to pay attention to the significance of sea ice protection from the environmental perspective. Melting Arctic sea ice opens up this once frozen frontier to new interests, such as fishing, shipping, and resource development. Increased human presence in the Arctic Ocean could potentially affect many sea ice patterns and local marine biodiversity. We will answer the following questions to understand how to make shrinking ice areas environmentally safe: Who has the rights to “sea ice”? Who has the rights to fish and tap the minerals that potentially may be found underneath of sea ice areas? And is it possible to protect flora and fauna?

Who has the rights to sea ice? Sea ice areas located within national jurisdiction are regulated by the legislation of the coastal state. Coastal states may adopt non-discriminative legal measures to protect these areas from pollution, according to Article 234 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) (United Nations, 1982). In the case of sea ice areas located beyond national jurisdiction, we need to define the legal concepts of res and terra, communis and nullius. The main feature of the nullius concept is that something belongs to nobody and can be taken by the first taker, and terra can be occupied in a real or effective way. The concept of communis means that something belongs to everybody and cannot be occupied by somebody. In the case of sea ice, we question whether it is possible to effectively or really occupy and establish sovereignty over sea ice. The most common opinion is that it cannot: sovereignty can be established over the territory possible to transform for further effective use. So, those Arctic sea ice areas, located beyond national jurisdiction, may be considered as res communis: territories belonging to everybody and exploitable by those who wish to and are capable of doing so. However, fish located underneath sea ice is res nullius and appropriated by taker in the amount of completed catch.

The situation with mineral resources that potentially may be discovered underneath is different. Extraction of minerals explored underneath the sea ice areas, potentially on the seabed and ocean floor, is regulated by Part IX, Section 2 of UNCLOS, since the seabed and ocean floor located beyond national jurisdiction falls under the definition of “Area” provided in Article 1 section 1 of UNCLOS and in Agreement relates to the implementation of Part XI of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982. Article 136 of UNCLOS and annex to Agreement reaffirm that all mineral extraction on the seabed and ocean floor is implemented under the principle of the common heritage of mankind (Agreement, 1982). Following legal regulations mentioned above, we can conclude that the most applicable legal concept for minerals underneath is res communis. Notwithstanding, we need to pay attention to the fact that the United States (US) is not a member-state of UNCLOS and Agreement, so the linkage of mineral extraction with the concept of the common heritage of mankind would be ineffective from the US’s perspective.

Access to fish and mineral resources may be limited, but limitations should be justified by reasonable ground. Today, the most reasonable ground for imposing limitations on access to natural resources is global warming and sea ice melting. Consequences of melting, which is especially fast-paced, will lead to Arctic marine ecosystem changes. These issues need to be addressed. Protection measures from human activities would apply to sea ice areas with an average thickness less than 1.5 meters or ice temperature from -20 to -10℃, since human activities can accelerate shrinking (see for example: polarportal.dk/en/sea-ice-and-icebergs/sea-ice-thickness-and-volume/). As an example of existing biodiversity protection measures of areas where sea ice will probably melt and increase accessibility and availability, we would like to point out the Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean. Thinking of fishing as two types – for commercial and exploratory purposes – would protect those affected by sea ice melt and changed ecosystem species and allow commercial fishing to be beneficial at the same time. How will it work in case of fragile aquatic ecosystems? It is possible to declare exploratory fishing, which according to Article 1 section e), means fishing to assess the sustainability and feasibility of future commercial fishing, only applicable for threatened species (Agreement, 2019), the list of which would be possible to put into the annex. Commercial fishing would apply only to species who may have an advantage from global warmings, like Polar (Arctic) cod, and krill. At the same time, we would like to point out that the mentioned international fishing regulation will apply only to high sea areas without sea ice. Currently, massive commercial fishing is not taking place on the Central Arctic Ocean sea ice, plus, sea ice-associated species have no substantial commercial value nowadays. Nonetheless, sea ice-associated species are the most vulnerable to ice melt and their extinction can affect the food web, for example, ice algae that form the base of the food web (Barry, 2011). Some algae stay attached to the bottom of the ice, some fall into the water column, and some fall to the bottom of the sea to provide food for species that feed at different depths (Barry, 2011). Protists (single-celled organisms) and zooplankton eat the algae which are then eaten by, for instance, Arctic cod and sea birds, which in turn act as the primary link to other fish and birds, seals, and whales (Barry, 2011). So, the extinction of sea ice-associated species will make “commercial” species vulnerable. Yet commercial fishing would increase the vulnerability of such commercial species.

To limit human interference into fragile ecosystems around sea ice areas, we need to pay attention to the Marine Protected Areas approach. Example of provisions regulating the issues of Protected Areas can be found in the Antarctic Treaty System. Antarctic Treaty System is effectively recruiting human activity limitations in the most fragile areas. Annex V to the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty regulates the establishment of specially protected and specially managed areas in the most fragile environments. Such regulations make it possible to limit human presence in such areas (Annex, 1991). In addition to the tool mentioned above, article 9 section 2 of the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) provide an opportunity to designate the quantity of any species harvested, regions, and sub-regions based on the distribution of populations of Antarctic marine living resources, opening and closing of areas, regions or sub-regions for purposes of scientific study or conservation, including special areas for protection and scientific study (Convention, 1980). Moreover, the article of CCAMLR makes it possible to regulate harvesting methods, including fishing gear, with a view, inter alia, to avoid undue concentration of harvesting in any region or sub-region (Convention, 1980). To use the analogy of the above-mentioned legal instruments, the Arctic Ocean’s sea ice areas may be defined as areas kept inviolate from human interference so that future comparisons may be possible with other localities affected by human activities, such as representative examples of major marine ecosystems, or potentially, areas of particular interest to planned scientific research (Annex, 1991). However, as the Arctic does not have its hard-law treaty system, it would be almost impossible to analogize this situation to the Antarctic Treaty System. In the Arctic, the Marine Protected Areas establishment is in International Maritime Organization and Regional Fisheries Organizations’ competence. In our opinion, the best way to define the type of protection regime for the sea areas with accelerated ice melt is to use the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Protected Area Categories System. According to their guidelines for applying protected area management categories, there are seven categories of the Protected Areas, and we would like to pay attention to the most suitable regimes for vulnerable ecosystem after sea ice melt. By implementation of the Category IA: Strict Nature Reserve, protection areas may achieve preservation of ecosystems, species, and biodiversity features in a state that is as undisturbed by recent human activity as possible, while still procuring examples of the natural environment for scientific studies, environmental monitoring and education, including baseline areas from which all avoidable access is excluded, and minimizing disturbance through careful planning and implementation of research and other approved activities (IUCN Ia, 2018). The Category IV: Habitat/Species Management Area usually helps to protect or restore: 1) flora species of international, national or local importance; 2) fauna species of international, national, or local importance including resident or migratory fauna; and/or 3) habitats (IUCN IV, 2018). The size of the area varies but can often be relatively small. Category IV will be the best protection regime if locations around the shrinking sea ice area have threatened species. Nevertheless, IUCN has no power to establish protected areas and can only provide recommendations and assessments to existing protected areas. Nowadays, the most powerful categorization of the marine protected areas is the Marine Environment Protection Committee’s (MEPC) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) division of protected areas on particularly sensitive sea areas, special areas, emission control area designation, areas to be avoided, and no anchoring areas. The most suitable protection regime, according to MEPC categorization, is a particularly sensitive sea area. IMO’s Resolution A.982(24) Revised Guidelines for the identification and designation of particularly sensitive sea areas regulate the criteria of adopting such a regime, including the one mentioned in section 4.4.1-4.4.11 ecological criteria (Resolution, 2005). Adoption of a particularly sensitive sea area regime will oblige parties to adopt ships’ routing and reporting systems near or in the area, according to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and following the General Provisions on Ships’ Routing and the Guidelines and Criteria for Ship Reporting Systems, and to limit navigation through such areas that should protect the environment from navigational harm (Resolution, 2005). However, we think that procedurally it is hard to demand the adoption of such a regime. It is difficult to prove scientifically that some Central Arctic Ocean area meets ecological criteria for adopting particularly sensitive sea area regimes. Besides, in the case of IMO, the navigational issue will always prevail over the ecological one, but it is definitely a subject of disputes. The question remains, who will be responsible for the control and assessment of environmental protection, prevention, and response in connection with navigational and industrial issues? The most likely organization for such responsibility is IMO, since it is the specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) and is responsible for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine and atmospheric pollution by ships, the main reason why the imposition of strict environmental protection measures may become necessary in the future. Such control and assessment of IMO can cooperate with the Protection of the Artic Marine Environment (PAME), a working group of the Arctic Council, the main interest of which is mentioned in this section on environmental protection.

In conclusion to this section, we would like to draw attention to Category VI: Protected area with sustainable use of natural resources: the primary objective of this protection regime is to protect natural ecosystems and use natural resources sustainably when conservation and sustainable use can be mutually beneficial (IUCN VI, 2018). To understand if conservation and sustainable use of natural resources can be mutually beneficial, we need to answer the question: would it be possible to promote sustainable use of natural resources, considering ecological, economic, and social dimensions (IUCN VI, 2018)? The answer to this question is the subject of the next section of our research. We summarize that sea ice areas located within national jurisdiction are protected following domestic legislation rules from the environmental perspective. Regarding sea ice located beyond national jurisdiction, we would like to assume these ice areas res communis. However, resources located inside this territory, except resources that can be extracted only from seabed and subsoil, are res nullius. Resources that can be extracted only from seabed and subsoil, due to UCLOS’s existing regulations, are res communis, thus extending to them the principle of the common heritage of mankind. Nonetheless, due to existing legal practices and regulations, especially on the international level, we can conclude that through increased adoption of the protection areas regimes, it seems possible to protect sea ice from increased human activities. The question remains, how will these protection measures affect the economic consequences of melting? And how will they affect navigational? It’s worth mentioning that the consequences of sea ice melt may be seen from the indigenous perspective also. As the brightest example, we would like to point out the Canadian and Greenlandic Inuits located around Pikialasorsuaq, where the North water plynya connects the Canadian and Greenlandic settlements of Inuits. The accelerated melt of local sea ice makes communication difficult and creates risks that could cause dog sledding to become extremely dangerous. That may lead to crucial changes in Inuit’s lifestyle.

Ice Melt and the Resulting Industrial Opportunities

Promoting comprehensive legal protection regimes for non-jurisdictional Arctic sea ice and the Central Arctic Ocean will naturally face opposition due to the potential industrial economic value of the region. The Triple Bottom Line (TBL) sustainability approach demands that when implementing strategies or sustainability practices, three prongs be analyzed and balanced: 1) people, 2) profit, and 3) planet. As discussed above, there are numerous factors and considerations present to support that a protection regime for Arctic sea ice is beneficial from an environmental lens. However, a proper TBL analysis will also require an in-depth inquiry of the benefit that the utilization of resources in the Arctic can bring to the pillars of profit and people.

The melting of Arctic sea ice and the opening of access to greater portions of the Arctic have important economic consequences for a number of industries. There is a wealth of highly valuable resources that are being made accessible due to Arctic sea ice melt. Untapped within the Arctic, there is an estimated 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas (30% of the planet’s untapped gas), 44 billion barrels of liquid natural gas, 90 billion barrels of oil (13% of the world’s undiscovered oil reserve), and reserves of gold, zinc, nickel and iron (Bryce, 2019). The opportunity to exploit these new resources is of great interest not only to Arctic states, but to other world powers as well, and has led to a greater politicization of the Arctic in recent years (Rosenthal, 2012). As more ice melts, more of these resources will be available for extraction and nations will be vying for increased access. For non-jurisdictional Arctic areas, which are open to all for exploration, the opportunity for access to these resources is not only of interest to the surrounding Arctic states, but of global interest as well. A concern here from an environmental perspective, is that the economic incentive of exploiting these resources, particularly for Arctic nations with sovereignty over them, may weaken resolve to mitigate Arctic sea ice loss.
Oil & Natural Gas

As more sea ice melts, it is anticipated that vast reserves of oil and natural gas, which have remained mostly undiscovered, will become accessible. As of 2015, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) had predicted that there could be approximately 90 billion barrels of available oil in the area above the Arctic Circle, which equates to 13% of the world’s undiscovered and accessible oil (US Energy Information Administration, 2012). As for natural gas, it is estimated by the USGS that 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 44 billion barrels of recoverable natural gas liquids are stored in the area beneath Arctic sea ice (US Energy Information Administration, 2012). This is equivalent to 30% of the world’s undiscovered natural gas reserves. The economic potential of these resources is vast and, as a result, the world is enticed by the opportunities that melting sea ice presents. These resources only become available when, in the eyes of some environmentalists, there has been failure to adequately protect and prevent the melt of Arctic sea ice. As sea ice melts, the potential to capitalize on the wealth of resources below increases and countries are poised for when that happens.

Oil and natural gas companies have already begun to develop agreements with Arctic countries for access to their reserves. Russia in particular has taken initial steps to advance their exploration and extraction efforts. However, other states have certainly shown interest in capitalizing on these opportunities.

Navigation and Shipping in the Arctic
One of the significant impacts from Arctic sea ice melt that will lead to global economic implications and power struggles is the opening of shipping lanes across the Arctic. These passages were previously inaccessible but, because of sea ice melt, there is potential for mass-scale commercial shipping through shipping lanes made accessible with additional sea ice melt. The first new sea route is the Northwest Passage, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (Sharma, 2019). Since the turn of the twenty-first century, that passage has experienced relatively ice-free conditions multiple times, though it’s not yet a dependable pathway for commercial ships (Struzik, 2019). The other path, the Northern Sea Route, is along the coast of Siberia and has begun experiencing summertime sea ice declines that may transform it into a reliable shipping route (Sharma, 2019). The Northern Sea Route runs from the Barents Sea to the Bering Strait between Siberia and Alaska and would dramatically reduce the transit time for ships traveling from East Asia to Western Europe (Sharma, 2019). In fact, it is estimated that it would reduce transit time by 10-15 days and that, as a result, a huge portion of Chinese trade would be conducted through this route if it became available (Sharma, 2019).

There are, however, still barriers to using these routes: the ice conditions are unpredictable and there is a lack of rescue teams and support infrastructure (Murphy, 2018). Therefore, it may be several years, if we continue on our current path, before these routes become available for large-scale commercial shipping. However, Arctic states are beginning to address these issues in anticipation of these new shipping routes. For example, in Russia there are plans to construct new ports and roads, and to improve roads between Arctic states for movement of goods (Murphy, 2018). Therefore, some countries may be more prepared for this transition than we think. This new reality will have impacts not only on the environment, but also on the world economy and national security, as nations compete to gain rights to shipping lanes and newly accessible resources in the Arctic.

The “New Cold War”
These resources have sparked a battle over the Arctic, coined “the New Cold War.” Climate change is drastically changing the Arctic, and Arctic states are all staking claims over regions of the Arctic seabed, and the valuable resources within them. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, coastal states have sovereign rights over their continental shelf for the purpose of exploration and exploitation of its natural resources (United Nations, 1982). The continental shelf typically extends 200 nautical miles (nm) from the baselines of the coastal states (United Nations, 1982). However, under some circumstances, such as when there are unique geological geographical features, states can extend their continental shelf beyond the 200 nm, but not greater than 350 nm from the baseline (United Nations, 1982). The desire to control more of the continental shelf in order to exploit those valuable resources has led to extended claims and significant debate over who has sovereignty over Arctic waters and the continental shelf. For example, in 2001, Russia was the first to claim an extended continental shelf. Denmark followed suit in 2014 (Barents Observer, 2019). More recently, in May 2019, Canada submitted its claim for an extended continental shelf, including 1.2 million square kilometers of seabed and subsoil, with the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, who holds the decision-making power over these claims (Barents Observer, 2019).

The Arctic Council was established by the states with territorial claims in the Arctic in part to help manage the competing interests that arise concerning the Arctic and promote cooperation among different countries and indigenous communities in the region, as well as help manage and discuss plans for sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic (Exner-Pirot, 2019). There is both opportunity and hope that the engagement of the Arctic Council can help facilitate any action taken to establish protection regimes among the Arctic states and help balance these competing interests.

The Triple Bottom Line Analysis
The potential for legal protection of these non-jurisdictional Arctic sea ice can be analyzed using the Triple Bottom Line (TBL) approach. The TBL approach is a sustainability framework that attempts to balance the interests of “people, planet, and profit” when dealing with a particular issue or activity. This tool balances the competing interests of an activity and can be used to develop a stable and just regulatory framework. Arctic oil and gas exploration is a perfect example of both the advantages and challenges of using the TBL. On the one hand, it helps all relevant aspects be considered when constructing a new thinking framework for Arctic mining, given there is currently no hard-law regulatory scheme. There is little value in only considering the environmental effects or economic of an activity, as these complex issues cannot be addressed in a silo. On the other hand, balancing the many different interests involved in Arctic oil and gas extraction is a difficult task. The exploitation of resource-based industries in the Arctic is a key economic driver of the region, which makes it complicated to implement strict legal policies that affect not only all eight Arctic states, but impede the global interests of untapped and unexploited potential resources in the Arctic.

Of course, a key factor in this analysis is the profit potential of extracting these resources from the Arctic. The economic value to Arctic countries who have offshore resources within their jurisdictional continental shelf, and then the economic value of resources outside of Arctic state jurisdiction are not to be underestimated. There is global interest in investing in exploration and extraction. In particular, China is looking to expand efforts to the Arctic. They are not only interested in the oil and gas opportunities in the Arctic, but the opening of shipping lanes. China ships vast amounts of goods and the opening of new routes, such as the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route, could substantially reduce their transit times. In fact, in early 2018, China published a white paper dictating the nation’s first Arctic policy and unveiling their vision for a “Polar Silk Road” across the Arctic (Nakano, 2018). This vision included plans to build infrastructure and conduct trial voyages along those new shipping routes (Nakano, 2018). It will be interesting to see how China’s involvement shifts the distribution of power among the other Arctic nations. Offshore extraction in the Arctic could also affect the global market and price point for these resources (Krupnick, 2011).

Important to note are the incredibly significant investment and operational costs. There are hefty financial and logistical challenges associated with offshore exploration, which could slow efforts to commercially and substantially capitalize on these resources (Bergo, 2014). Serious Arctic exploration is predicted to be years, if not decades, in the future, predicated on the further melting of sea ice and the development of adequate infrastructure. The infrastructure dilemma in the Arctic is significant. The harsh environment of the Arctic makes it slower and more difficult to establish the needed infrastructure to make the Arctic an industrial hub of resource exploration and extraction (Bergo, 2014). Naturally, many nations would likely hope to see the Arctic develop into that image. However, as more Arctic states work to capitalize on their resources found within their jurisdictional waters and the continental shelf, coastal infrastructure will be built that will facilitate and expedite exploration into non-claimed regions of the Arctic open to all for extraction (Sherwin, 2019). Therefore, while the upfront time and cost associated with Arctic exploration is great, the barriers to resource extraction will likely diminish exponentially as more infrastructure and newer methods are developed.

However, we also must consider that there is a significant economic benefit from the existing ecosystems, wildlife, and natural resources in the Arctic, even without the exploitation of mineral and oil resources. “Local communities benefit from access to subsistence goods, such as fish, birds and marine mammals, and obtain significant cultural benefits from collectively engaging in subsistence hunting and interacting with their landscapes.” If Arctic exploration and resource extraction is allowed or encouraged to a great extent, coastal Arctic communities may have reduced access to ecosystem services and natural resources that help sustain livelihoods of Arctic peoples merely due to the feedback loops and ripple effects stemming from the exploitation of Arctic resources. As costly as resource extraction may be in the Arctic, future efforts to invest in exploration and develop the necessary infrastructure should be anticipated in the coming years. Therefore, the time is ripe to discuss how these economic benefits can be objectively balanced with the resulting environmental harm.

Finally, we must consider how mining affects the people of the region. Resource extraction in the Arctic has the potential to bring significant sums of money to Arctic states. With the opening of shipping lanes and the potential for the industrialization of the Arctic Ocean, the push to develop infrastructure in coastal Arctic towns may yield entire new industries, create jobs, bring in revenue, and generate tourism for Arctic states and communities. The infrastructure may very well benefit the people by bringing significant economic benefit to the region. However, extraction activities can also run contrary to the culture and heritage of Arctic communities and may bring industry in an undesirable direction. Furthermore, as mentioned above, the degradation of the Arctic environment due to glacial melt and mining may disrupt their way of life and cultural practices.

Given the many factors influenced by mining in glacier areas, it is clear how the balancing of these interests would pose challenges and create great opposition to region-wide protection regimes for sea ice in the Arctic.


From the environmental perspective, sea ice areas should be considered sui generis and require special protection measures. These protection measures should define the status of such areas and resources within and under areas, regulate biodiversity protection, and declare limitations of human activities in the most fragile areas. The most applicable concepts defining the status of sea ice areas and resources are res communis and res nullius. As biodiversity protection measures for sea areas that will lose ice cover, we would like to recommend the separation of fishing activities based on the list of threatened species, as well as the implementation of the Marine Protected Areas approach following IUCN or IMO categorization, which would be a useful tool in limiting human presence in the fragile glacial areas.

There is no doubt that the Arctic still suffers the severe consequences of climate change and the conservation of the Arctic ecosystem is a huge incentive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote sustainable societies. However, the battle over the Arctic will continue as its resources become more accessible. For the sake of the environment and conservation, the hope remains that climate change mitigation practices will reduce the amount of Arctic sea ice loss and therefore the amount of space and resources over which disputes can arise. Organizations like the Arctic Council provide confidence that the efforts to protect the Arctic and promote sustainable management are very much still alive.

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Charles Eisenstein, Climate: A New Story (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2018)

Glancing at the Table of Contents, I felt a certain unease growing when I saw section titles like ‘The Revolution is Love’ and ‘An Affair of the Heart’. For a book about climate change, I was worried that this would be a hippie-style, get-back-to-nature affair that would avoid the brevity of the science and the urgency of the issue. However, as I started to read, I found myself refreshed and heartened, albeit not without the occasional twinge of cynicism, which is most likely the result of my adherence to many of the narratives Eisenstein criticizes.

I’ve studied and taught environmental ethics and philosophy for many years and believe this book would be a valuable contribution to my course reading lists for students at various undergraduate levels of study, and for those looking to add a different perspective on climate change to their research agenda. Not just for philosophers or environmental studies majors, this book would be helpful for students across disciplines interested in climate change, including media, cultural studies and other humanities and arts courses, especially as it challenges dominant narratives and representations of various aspects of the issue. It is well-researched and supported, while maintaining the clear and focused voice of the author throughout, who demonstrates a breadth of knowledge spanning environmental science, economics and politics. The only surprise to me was that key environmental thinkers, like Arne Naess and other deep ecologists, are not mentioned at all. Some mention of Naess, as his position of self-identification with nature seems to so clearly overlap with what Eisenstein is endorsing, would only strengthen and deepen these claims that we ought to change our way of being in terms of Self and its relation to nature.

The twelve chapters of this book cover a wide range of topics, not all directly related to climate change. This is because for Eisenstein the critical issue related to climate change is our crisis of being, and is based on the “constriction, numbing, and diversion of our capacity to feel empathy and love” (6). The belief systems that underlie our various social and environmental crises are inseparable from the dominant narratives that run through our civilization, with the ‘standard narrative’ of climate change being problematic because of how the issue is framed (7). Rather than focusing on reducing carbon emissions or implementing carbon taxes, we should instead, according to Eisenstein, focus on creating a language and belief system based on healing nature and ourselves, and that implicitly recognizes the interconnectedness of all life. He borrows the term ‘interbeing’ from Thich Nhat Hanh to refer to the idea that our individual self is not individual at all, but rather intertwined with all life so that any harm to nature is experienced as harm to oneself. Instead of being myopically focused on the urgency of climate change, we ought to include other social issues like racism and poverty in the same set of considerations, as “…healing on any level contributes to healing on every level” (28).

After examining the views of climate change deniers and skeptics, along with some good reasons why we might have sympathy for their views given the uncertain nature of climate science and scientific methodology in general, Eisenstein makes what I believe to be his most important point: Even if we are uncertain about where we stand in relation to the climate change narrative and overall debate on its causes and prognosis, we all know that we are in deep trouble. The planet is dying (82). Environmental degradation is obvious and undeniable in our immediate surroundings, and although we may lack agency to directly face the issue on a global scale, we should attend to the protection and restoration of the soil, water and ecosystems on a local level.

Despite the book’s title, it only has two sections entirely devoted to climate change. The first lays out problems with the standard narrative on climate change and emphasizes the mistakes and harms posed by the reduction of this problem to just a single cause, namely carbon emissions. The standard defeatist narrative on carbon emissions causes us to feel helpless, overwhelmed, and paralyzed. Eisenstein’s solution is to focus on the local. We can heal our ecosystems at the local level, and the positive results will reinforce the associated behaviours. However, what we ought not do, according to Eisenstein, is scare people into action as the dominant narrative does.

Another key point of the book is that we need to recognize what we are losing through destruction of the natural environment. By seeing our losses, such as damaged ecosystems and extinct species, and by fully feeling these losses, we can finally acknowledge and move into grief (138), and only then will we change our everyday actions and routines. On this account, climate change is addressed indirectly through the mobilization of individuals, and by changing our general orientation to climate change and nature.

What is refreshing about the book is the author’s open admission that his call for a revolution of love sounds utterly unscientific and romantic. Eisenstein discusses inner conflict and some embarrassment of his seemingly sentimental conclusions about how we ought to address such an urgent issue, and yet Eisenstein maintains that it is only through the direct experience of nature and coming to love it and the earth that we can start to effectively address our environmental problems. Eisenstein further lays out his ideas for healing the various systems of the earth in sections devoted to forms of regeneration of living systems; to challenging dominant notions of ‘development’, capitalism, money, growth, and debt; and to implementing a new ‘ecological economy,’ as more fully explained a previous book, Sacred Economics. He also provides an analysis of our over-reliance on science, claiming that such an over-reliance is problematic because based on underlying beliefs that the earth is an inanimate object rather than a living being of the Gaia variety.  Eisenstein rightfully points out that if we believe that nature is ‘dead’, then it seems difficult to find reasons to care for her (253).

The book concludes with suggestions for creating environmental health and planetary healing. A list of principles useful to facilitate local change, the restoration of ecosystems and fairly major economic reforms that do not include carbon taxes or anything that directly addresses climate change is provided.  While Eisenstein acknowledges his view can seem idealistic, he does believe real change to be possible on its basis. The book ends by calling on each of us to do what we can, where we can, to bring healing to ourselves, our local ecosystems and our planet (278).

I would have enjoyed seeing more connection to related thinkers and perspectives to draw out and acknowledge the existing conversation on environmental values and climate change, but as it stands this book provides some much-needed passion and honesty about the underlying ideological causes of climate change that need to be addressed beyond the science. Eisenstein has me convinced that we really do need a revolution of love to save our planet, without the need to sacrifice rationality and science.

Demonizing 2020: A Calendar Year Becomes an Effigy Doll

This is not a scholarly article. It is rather a set of my observations and opinions sparked by the massive scorning, cursing and trolling of the year 2020, which can now be encountered abundantly all over the internet, other media, and in private conversations. This article does draw upon general knowledge of ethics, philosophy, sociology, psychology and history but, nevertheless, it remains within the scope of my personal and highly limited worldview. The idea of the article is to show why such treatment of a calendar year is highly erroneous and immoral, and how it mirrors a general imbalance in human scale of values.


The Setup or The Importance of Every Stone

Firstly, what is a calendar year? I have never asked myself that question until now, simply because the answer seemed trivial to the point where the question itself loses any purpose. The year is comprised of the 365 days between the midnights of January 1 and December 31. The two dates are marked as the moment that human beings typically prefer to celebrate with fireworks, travelling, partying and excessive eating and drinking. More specifically, a year is a mental construct, which is confirmed, measured and distributed by mechanical devices we have developed in order to control the temporal aspect of our experience of being. A second is an idea, so is a year – finally, that makes our division of time a construct forced upon nature. Surely, the temporal placement of the end of the year does follow the pattern of the four seasons – it is comfortably imagined as the first act of winter, the time when people of the past had to slow down, take a rest, and, following nature’s pattern, prepare for a new start. However, do not forget that this correspondence between the end of the year and nature is valid only for the moderate climate belt, more precisely, for most of Europe, and it only reveals the Eurocentric nature of our past rather than any solid connection that the 365 days long period could have with global climatic reality on Earth. Finally, different cultures used, and still use, different calendars to mark the end of the year at different times.

The other important fact which anchors the year into the natural order comes from further observations of the Earth’s surface – it comes from the movement of our planet through the dimension we named the Universe. In these 365 days, as many ancient astrologists noted centuries ago, our planet makes a full circle around the Sun. It is realistic to understand this as an ultimate proof that the one-year period as a mental construction is indeed intrinsically rooted in natural laws, however, in my opinion, there is yet another issue we have to consider. That issue is human binary thinking; a shared mind setup which forces us to divide everything into units that, according to us, can be subdivided into smaller building blocks which always include one beginning, a duration, and one ending. In that sense, humans maybe could have agreed a long time ago that ‘a year’ is half of the Earth’s trip around the Sun, or perhaps two rounds. In the first case, the year today would be 4042, in the latter 1011. Although this would follow some rules of binary logic, it would break the principal one: ‘completion’. One year must be one full turn with a distinctive beginning and ending. It is interesting, just as a short aside, that humans, although they are intrinsically a binary-thinking species, fervently reject the idea of two basic endings in their logical constellation, the ending of their lives, and the ending if the Universe. To bypass their anxiety about dying, they constructed beliefs that later developed into spiritualties and religions, and the theories for avoiding the discomfort caused by the lack of knowledge about the Universe developed into scientific postulates of the Universe being ‘infinite’.

If the entire Universe is based on strict binary logic, which I find hard to believe, then it surely has an ending (maybe it is exactly the shift from binary into a different logical system that marks this ending), or better said, a spatial border where it turns into a slightly or significantly different system. Of course, you can persist in calling that other system ‘the Universe’ as well, but keep in mind that Columbus called the Caribbean Islands ‘India’. What is a non-binary thinking? I do not want to go into this, as it would take too much time and detach me from my main theme, but one thing is for sure: in a non-binary logical system, time would be something entirely different. We almost surely would not need ‘a year’, or any other such measurement at all. To conclude, my opinion is that the idea, based on binary logic, that one voyage of the Earth around the Sun forms a one ‘year’ period, although based on a natural cycle, is still is largely a human mental construct imposed on nature.

Now, imagine there was a specific ‘year’ long period that was perceived by humans as so misfortunate that it became evil itself, a time so globally detested, even by those with serious educational backgrounds, that it became the year that ‘everyone wants to forget’, a symbol of ‘cruel and unjust nature’ taking it out on our poor species. This is, of course, ‘the cursed’ year 2020, the year that destroyed our small human dreams with viruses, bad weather, earthquakes, difficult economic conditions and depression. The Internet and the media these days are burning with mournful and vindictive messages, such as: ‘2020-Go Away!’ or ‘2021, save us from the beast!’ The year 2020 itself was transformed into a global effigy, and everyone around the world is invited to cast a stone at it. In my opinion, this belies a deep problem in the human perception of reality, an intrinsic systematic error, much more dangerous than, for example, flat Earth theories, which are based almost solely on ignorance. The year 2020 is being publicly burned as an effigy at a global carnival celebrating the most frightening limits of human perception. This human behaviour also shows that we, as a species with a set of cultural practices, have not made significant progress from tribal origins based on fear and ideas of safety rooted in collectivism. This also inevitably makes us a naïve species, and, although an easily lovable one, rather sad, and fated in the sense of Greek tragedy. But much more importantly, this attitude towards a calendar year shows our darkest side: an utter lack of morality and any sense of responsibility, issues I will touch upon individually in the next passages. For now, as a quick and perhaps displaced observation, I will just note that our civilization viewed from the Universe might look like a dangerous skin disease on the planet’s surface.

Human beings have managed to shoot a few members of their species out into the surrounding Universe and safely return some of them to Earth. There are two comments that I would like to offer here, even at the risk of the first comment sounding arrogant and ignorant. Launching anything from the surface of anything, and getting it back down, is a matter of sheer physics. It takes a large number of competent scientists to calculate the physics of every part of the voyage, including all variables and possible scenarios. This is, indeed, a complex and time-consuming process that takes a lot of knowledge, dedication, courage, preparation and even creativity. Trips into the Universe are arguably the peak of our technological development. However, these trips are based solely on mathematical calculations – almost endless sequences of numbers, exact results and approximations as well. Numbers. It is my personal opinion that calculating an orbit and then constructing the device that can execute that orbit is certainly an amazing accomplishment but philosophically as trivial as scoring a point during a basketball game. Not to mention the fact that for such space endeavours we use fossil fuels and create tons of terrestrial and atmospheric waste. Human beings continue to destroy the planet in the course of the production of these fuels and the technical components required for space travel (all of which cost billions, while every second on Earth an infant life is taken by starvation). That such advanced knowledge and the rockets that are its expression are seriously employed for the planned evacuation of their species once they have entirely ruined the Earth only shows that homo sapiens has fallen into an abyss of immorality and lunacy.

Here comes my next comment on our amazing technological development: Every square millimeter of untouched nature on Earth is more important than anything humans have ever achieved. Every stone matters, and, if the stone has to be moved or destroyed, it has to be done in accordance with the laws of nature that preserve global balance, the balance we and everything around us depend on. In other words, although a human being or an animal can move or even break the stone, although the water, sunlight and temperature will inevitably damage the stone over time, that stone has its own rights. Let us call them the legal rights of every stone. This law is natural law. The first central tenet of the law is, what I call, the ‘temporality of balance’. We all know by now that everything around us changes, for example, mountains descend due to erosion, new islands are born from lava, lakes get sucked into ground after earthquakes, the sea level constantly changes, continental masses are slowly moving, the climate is in constant shift, entire rain forests turn to desert, various species disappear and new ones emerge. All these changes happen at a pace strictly determined by the logical laws of nature. This pace is typically slow, in the sense that it gives time for species to adjust (‘slow’ in that sense, because in every other sense ‘slow’ is too ethereal to define). Of course, there is plenty of evidence that some global changes in nature were abrupt and that they have caused mass extinction of numerous species. However, even these abrupt changes were always the result of natural causes and exercised upon and with natural materials, in other words, nature only rapidly rearranged itself. There was no, for example, plastic involved, let alone depleted uranium. In that sense, abrupt global changes in nature, although very rare, were themselves natural in essence and in their result. However, the majority of changes on Earth, and in the known Universe, are perfectly adjusted to the need of ‘slow and gradual’ evolution and survival. That pace of temporality of balance was never constant. We now know that most changes in nature at some point accelerate exponentially. That is usually the case in the later or final phases of every change. Even that final acceleration of pace does not put ecosystems in jeopardy; on the contrary, it opens space for natural new beginnings.

It is interesting to note that all living beings, not just humans, to an extent interfere with the temporality of balance. It seems that the simpler life forms are employed to control the stability of the pace of changes, and that is their contribution to this balance. More complex life forms can sometimes display a behaviour that can be described as egoist and borderline destructive. For example, an elephant is able to destroy and kill a tree just to get a decent scratch on its back. On a funnier note, they say the most potent natural source of carbon-dioxide on the surface of the earth is in the intestines of cows, and that, if all the cows in the world would simultaneously empty their carbon-dioxide stashes, the atmosphere would be in serious trouble. The fact is that cows will never do that. And a herd of elephants destroying trees for pleasure will never lead to the extinction of forests.

Let us imagine that both elephants and cows display a human-like intelligence. Elephants would mark their own parts of forests and motivate other elephants (who are excluded from forest ownership) to scratch their backs on their trees. For that service, they would ask for money. In the advanced phase of greed, elephants would motivate their friends to not only scratch when they really need a scratch but every time they want to amuse themselves. That would lead to the destruction of forests, and elephants would have to find new forests for exploitation. Eventually, that would lead to the extinction of all forests, and elephants would be left in scorching sun, some of them penniless, some of them rich, but none of them able to get a decent scratch, nor food, for that matter.

Considering cows as well displayed aspects of human intelligence, it would be enough for one of them to announce that releasing carbon dioxide anally is a spectacle that elephants would gladly pay to hear – and all of the cows would start greedily releasing gases. Some of them would start overeating to produce more gas and thereby generate more profit. Then, some of the cows would start producing plastic balloons for ‘take away gas’. Elephants would buy these balloons, laugh at the sound of the gas released from them, and eventually throw the used plastic balloons on the ground. The resulting overexploited and barren pastures could not renew themselves due to the high level of carbon dioxide in the air. Both cows and elephants would become extinct. The only thing left would be reeking winds carrying non-degradable plastic waste. We have to understand that either elephants or cows would eventually become extinct or evolve into a new species over time. The time determined by the temporality of balance, and typically spanning millions of years. But with human intelligence, cows and elephants would, I suppose, become extinct much more quickly.

This illustrates our biggest crime against nature – we as a species have irreversibly accelerated the pace of the temporality balance. This is now a different type of balance – one that will not spare us any possible consequences. How did we speed up the pace of change? Quite simply, by moving the stone. Crushing it to powder. Painting it with chemical color. By exploding it, or sealing it into concrete. By radiating it. By not realizing that the millennia-old lines carved in the stone were just as much a work of art as any of, for example, Dali’s paintings. By thinking that there is any deity above that stone. The disrespect for one stone led to the destruction of the entire planet.

We often hear that the theories of global climate change are a hoax. That the changes were happening anyway, and that humans had very little or nothing to do with accelerating them. That the planet has let us down, and we will simply atom bomb Mars to create atmosphere and move there. In my opinion, even without climate change, but with the current intensity of human activity, the planet would soon become too toxic to live on anyway. But climate change is here as a logical consequence of our toxic behaviour, and it will shorten our time to develop immunity to our own toxins, making our extinction (or, at least, that of most of us) quite evident. Unfortunately, with us and because of us, even the innocent species like elephants and cows will disappear. Furthermore, those who talk about human innocence in breaking the first tenet of natural law are typically either the rich and powerful or the ignorant. Both need to believe in human innocence simply because the first group offers scratching, and the second group needs it. All this for a handful of dollars.

Let us now return to human space expeditions. Imagine if Nature personified were to appear at the launch site of a space rocket and order humans to make the launch three times faster. All the scientific calculations would be in vain because the balance of human calculations would be disrupted. Humans would be left only with an unrealistic hope that the space voyage would take the same course even with altered physics. This is what we have done to nature’s temporal balance.

My final remark on the temporality of balance is the sad fact that human beings cannot restore its natural pace by further interventions, even ‘positive’ ones. In this unforgiving circle of logic, every human action, even those with good intentions, cause further changes, which trigger new chain reactions. It is a bit like the plot of the Back to Future movies. Whatever we do with unnatural materials, especially on a large scale, seems to bring just as much damage as benefit. And for good reason: We do everything in an unnatural way and with unnatural materials because we are a species entirely detached from nature. In that respect, it would be perhaps the best for humans to entirely suspend activities and ‘development’ for a century or more. Just remember how much nature has gained in a few months of human quarantine due to the Covid-19 virus. Of course, the notion of people giving up their plastic dreams is almost a utopia in itself. Extinction appears to be the correct ending.

The second basic tenet of natural law is the justifiability of actions. By actions, I mean all the activities that alter our environment. That covers everything from starting a fire, plucking a flower, hunting and fishing, to demolishing mountains for stone quarries and murdering rivers with dams. It is clear that almost all the actions by animals in nature are entirely justifiable. And those rare actions by animals that cannot be justified are never massive, serial, organized, globally or statistically significant. On the other hand, humans have to learn that nature is not something God-given to them to exploit, alter and ruin. That one stone – that is the god, and parts of untouched nature are our last true shrines. We are here to benefit from the land and protect it, rather than to overexploit and subdue it.

I have noticed a repulsive process in my homeland that is related to tourism – ecologically one of the most detrimental branches of the economy, which I will illustrate in a hypothetical example. Imagine a small fishing village in relative isolation, connected to other, larger settlements by a narrow road. The village consists of ten old stone houses. Villagers fish mostly for their own needs, they create very little waste, they are relatively poor but have everything needed for survival. They are also relatively healthy, and a few villagers are older than 100 years of age. Around the village are barren stony hills carved by the natural elements for millennia. On the slopes of these karst hills are small herds of sheep. Where the hill slopes meet the sea, the power of water has carved sandy beaches of indescribable beauty.

At one point, the villagers realize that people in other settlements earn more and more from tourism. They try to lure tourists to their village but in the beginning it is hard. Only the adventurous tourists visit, and they leave with stories of untouched nature and hidden virgin beaches that only a few outsiders have had the chance to enjoy. The word spreads, and more tourists wish to visit the village. Investors recognize the chance for easy money. They offer villagers impressive amounts of cash (at least to the villagers) for barren plots of land close to the sea, which were for centuries considered basically worthless. Some villagers become incredibly rich. They immediately rebuild their old houses and add apartments and rooms for tourists (these additional rooms, floors and objects typically lacking any aesthetic value). The investors level the beaches and surrounding terrain and cover it with concrete. This is to make the tourists’ approach to the sea easier. They devastate large portions of natural land to create endless parking spaces. They carve into the slopes of the hill to build hotels and restaurants, with sewers (as was the practice through the most of the twentieth century) running directly onto the beaches. Now new private concrete apartments are built, each with its own concrete approach to the sea. The village suddenly consists of forty edifices, most of them weekend and summer houses, and hotels. The road to the village is widened. The village is now packed with people during the summer. They produce an enormous quantity of garbage that the investors do not care about, and the villagers do not know (or do not want to know) how to dispose of. The approach to the virgin beach is paved. The plot of land between the road and the beach is privately owned, and the owner now decides to level the natural wild wooded area, to create a large concrete-covered parking lot that will make him millions.  He also adds kiosks selling drinks and souvenirs. The beach becomes a large swimming pool for an army of tourists. Fast forward a decade or two, the village now is a small town that stretches all the way to the virgin beach. All natural soil is carved up for the foundations of new houses, all natural surfaces are levelled and either covered in concrete or turned into small gardens that remind humans of their triumph over nature. The sea along the littoral belt is devastated – there is basically no life in the sea except for black and brown algae. The beaches and adjacent surfaces are covered with waste, especially plastic, and soaked with gasoline and other chemicals. The landscape that was being created for millennia is devastated under the pretence of justifiable development and the legitimate human need for profit. Although promised a better and longer life, the villagers are living under stress, with only a few of them reaching the age of 80. It is the year of the pandemics and the tourist facilities are empty. Investors and villagers are on the verge of bankruptcy. They are anxiously sitting in their poisoned town, cursing the year 2020.

Needless to say, this attitude towards nature is not justifiable. This is terror. If the villagers kept their stones and cliffs and beaches in the original, natural state, they could have made the same profit on each and every one of them. This is so because the tourists, although perhaps less numerous, would pay more to see untouched nature, and they too would treat it with more respect (and of course, the villagers also would have had the option of not entirely giving up their traditional way of life in the first place). Instead, the villagers have sold their land out, they have devastated it and, instead of acting as hosts, they acted rather as pimps. Human beings have to finally understand that levelling a piece of ancient wooded land in order to make a parking space is not justifiable. That covering the cliffs on the beach with concrete to make easier approaches the sea is not justifiable. That implanting concrete pillars into the cliffs so that the tourists could anchor their yachts a few meters from sandy beaches is not justifiable. Or that turning small wooded areas into posh mini-gardens is not justifiable. The stone is the most important, it should not be altered but we should rather adjust to it. Now imagine another thing. Human beings enter the museum to admire Michelangelo’s David. But, alas, there are problems. Firstly, David is naked, and that disturbs some of the humans. So they cut off the monument’s genitalia. Furthermore, the sculpture is too large to fit in a mobile phone photograph. So they cut it into two pieces to allow accessibility. Now the problem is David’s left arm is raised, and he is looking downwards toward his left side – so if you want to get a clear shot of his face, the hand is basically on the way. So they cut his left hand into pieces. White marble is so passé, so they paint it some more vivid colour, for example, an oily yellow. Next to the severed torso of David, they open a wooden kiosk where they sell pieces and chunks of David’s left hand to tourists.

And this is exactly what we are doing to the nature on which we depend. If you would so much as spit on the statue of David, you would finish in jail. Hence, it should not be difficult to accept that killing a natural stone is not justifiable.

The third basic tenet of natural law is that all materials should be natural and chemically unchanged. When our ancestors burned stones and extracted metals from them, this was already a significant intervention into the natural order. However, this cannot be compared with the damage created by chemically altered substances such as plastic or radioactive materials. There are two basic problems with chemically altered materials: They do not decompose quickly enough, and they typically disintegrate into smaller particles which have the same chemical features as the bigger chunks of material they originated from, hence nanoplastic pollution and radioactive winds.

Naturally, nothing could have prevented humans from creating such things as plastic and radioactive materials. Our civilisation largely depends on them. But what we could have done, as highly intelligent creatures that have walked on the Moon, was to use these materials more cleverly, and to store and recycle these materials in the most effective manner possible. It all comes down to this: We should have made sure that the contact between the natural materials and the plastic and radioactive materials was kept to the minimum possible level.

And what have we done? Let us return to the devastated ex-fishing village. Nanoplastic is in the soil and in the water. From there it enters the air. This plastic comes from the tons of plastic bags that we exorbitantly give out in shops, it comes from the over-packaging of our goods, it comes from a plethora of mostly useless and trivial plastic products that we so full heartedly purchase and that quickly finish in our waste, and now these microscopic poison bugs are everywhere. Furthermore, the villagers, when they were busy levelling wooded areas, filled the holes in the ground with debris left after construction work. This landfill is full of plastics, and now it is releasing poison under the layers of decaying concrete. Finally, (and please do understand that this is only an innocent example) there was a NATO bombardment taking place a few countries away, and the military airplanes extensively used the air corridor stretching just over the village. At some point, the airplanes had to get rid of unexploded projectiles, so they ditched them into the sea (and, mind you, this is totally legal according to the international law) just a few miles away from the virgin beach. The sea splashing the shores of the village is now two times more radioactive then a few years ago. As the shells of the projectiles continue to decompose, the radioactivity in the region will rise accordingly.

To wrap up this section (hopefully not in plastic), I will use a visual example to describe the importance of every stone and the effect of even the tiniest interventions into our environment. Imagine one-meter square of a barren, desert land (Figure 1). The land is seemingly lifeless and arranged entirely by the seemingly random rules of natural physics. The wind is blowing from the upper right corner toward the lower left corner. There are only five bigger rocks on the land, and one struggling desert flower sheltered behind the rock number four. The flower gives bloom every year in March. The land has been unchanged for at least the last 200 years. Every March, a group of scientists come to the observation point in the lower left corner.









What the scientist observe is the following:

  1. Stones have moved another 0.8 millimeters toward the lower left corner, as compared to the previous year.
  2. It was a statistically more arid year, so the flower bloomed a week later than the previous year, nevertheless, the sweet scent of its flowers could easily be felt in the wind.
  3. The winds were of usually observed intensity and direction.
  4. Traces of bugs were noticed in the sand; they seem to be distributed in circular paths around the stones, which is telling of the insects’ behaviour.
  5. At this pace of change, this land will remain practically unchanged for at least one more century.

Now, what happened is that some irresponsible humans arrived soon after this observation. What they saw was just a useless and lifeless plot of land. They rearranged the stones by rolling them around. They also took two stones away as memorabilia. What happened next is a mass extinction of the insects and worms living on the land. The flower dried out. The scientists returned next March and they found the plot in the condition shown by Figure 2.









The scientist observed the following:

  1. Unfortunately, the stones were moved and taken away and this led to the land being more exposed to the wind.
  2. Exposure to the wind caused the surface erosion to double, at least; this led to the land being more unstable and arid.
  3. Changes in the land lead to the extinction of insects; numerous exoskeletons of dead insects were noticed; surviving insects must have moved to different plot of land that offers more shadow.
  4. The flower had a deep and well branched root, so, when deprived of the protection of the large stone, the flower succumbed entirely and dried off; miraculously, the root has sprouted another smaller flowering stem in the protection of a new stone.
  5. Although the winds are now stronger, the scent of the flower cannot be felt anymore at the observation point due to flower’s new location.

To some, Figure 1 and Figure 2 might seem exactly the same. Who cares about a few stones being rolled over a piece of barren land? However, this illustration shows how even the smallest intervention in our environment always causes significant changes. Every stone on Earth really matters. Even the smallest changes cause micro-tragedies and triumphs, let alone the massive alterations of environment that human beings have been practicing ever since the beginning of the industrial revolution. The most important lesson for humans to learn from this example is that, unless it is a matter of life and death, they have no right to roll even one stone in the most insignificant of deserts.

Maybe you are wondering how this highly intelligent species, which has sent people into the Universe, never realized this painfully obvious interconnection of our environment to everything in it. I believe there were a lot of people who had not realized this basic natural law in time. On the other hand, there were people who were aware of what was happening from day one. Those belonging to the middle class chose to ignore the situation in order not to fall out of their comfort zone. The elite remained silent in order to protect their wealth.

In that respect, there is Figure 3 showing that same one-meter square plot of desert land in 2020. The land is now entirely covered with tarmac (the plot is a part of a parking lot in front of a fast food restaurant situated in the desert). On the tarmac, there are oil stains. The wind brought a used Covid-19 mask that got stuck on the oily surface of the tarmac (the restaurant is closed due to the pandemic).


The Stunning Immorality of 2020 Escapism

The year 2020 was statistically the hottest ever measured. Consequently, the year was marked by extreme weather. We have lived through floods, violent storms, devastating tornados, wild bushfires, and constant earthquakes, just to mention a few examples. This year has seen the biggest retreat of glaciers. According to scientists, there is comparatively little ice left on the planet’s poles. The melting permafrost has caused landslides and craters to collapse in muddy soil. Volcanoes have awakened.

We lost several animal species this year. On the other hand, an enormous quantity of rock was crushed into sand and used for concrete. Thousands of kilometers of pipeline were added to the oil distribution network. While China continues to rapidly devastate its land in order to industrialize its countryside, the four largest and most powerful countries in the world are led by extreme populist maniacs or/and reckless nationalists (I refer to the US, Brazil, Russia and India). The country that has taken on the role of global policeman, the US, has proved to be a society with a very questionable talent for democracy. I have no doubt that, if Stalin could see the state of American society as it is today, he would experience multiple orgasms. Needless to say that America under the current installed president carried on with its dirty wars and incredibly unjust political engineering all over the world. The Brazilian dictator, on the other hand, devastated a large portion of the Amazon rainforest. Russia is led by a person we know more about than our own grandparents – he has been with us that long. He is a dangerous little man, who, astonishingly enough, is sometimes seen as the voice of reason compared to his American counterpart. And India is in a new mode –  extreme nationalist full speed ahead. It is, I guess, a matter of luck that I do not need to add the UK and their current leader to this list (and that surely would be an exhausting task) because the UK, and probably soon just the Kingdom of England and those who decide to stay, will become less geo-strategically important than, for example, the Falkland Islands.

In short, although the number and extent of catastrophes does not stand out when compared to many other years in the past, 2020 is a perfect introduction to a story of total ecological collapse. Furthermore, it is the year when the Earth, and especially people from western cultures, was left without the moral and military guidance of the usual superpower figureheads. Regardless of the fact that all the ecological problems that escalated in 2020 were the result of everything that our species has been doing since the 1850s, and regardless of the fact that the previous ‘moral’ guidance of the established superpowers was deeply corrupted and tremendously unjust, I do acknowledge that the year 2020 was quite a shock even for the most pessimistic among us. And I do believe that every next year will pose more and more obstacles for the human species. It is a fairly logical presumption in a world where the word of Chomsky is worth much less than the word of Musk. Whose car is still orbiting the Earth.

Two Objections

Of course, what we will remember 2020 for are not these lurking demons of doom but rather the Covid-19 virus, the clumsy little bugger that stole our dreams and privatized a whole year, maybe even a longer period. With what right and how dare it? In this short and condensed set of observations, I will not give the virus too much time or too much credit, even though it has claimed about 1,835,000 human lives at this writing. I will rather focus only on how humans have decided to blame everything on the calendar year 2020. In the following passages I will consider two principal objections to this massive demonization of 2020 on the internet and in the media, these two objections being number one, the loss of any realistic perspective, and number two, the transfer of responsibility.

The first principal objection, the loss of any realistic perspective, can be observed in the following set of facts: 1. Everything that has happened in 2020 is the result of happenings in previous years. 2. The pandemic situation was something about which scientists had warned us a long time ago. 3. The Western societies revealed how truly spoiled and weak their members are once expelled from their comfort zones. 4. The Covid-19 situation exposed how utterly insensitive Western societies are to the suffering of those outside their cultural circle.

As for the first fact, it seems that humans see 2020 as a period entirely isolated from the rest of history. Perhaps this comes from an ecstatic fear that leads to an urge to wrap 2020 in plastic and just keep silent about it – that I cannot confirm. But it is hard to understand that even educated people believe that 2020 was a ‘year went wrong’ rather than a logical continuation of everything that went on before. And it is even more difficult to understand that they believe that 2021 will bring ‘salvation’. In that respect, those posting on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., refer to those who lived to see the end of 2020 as ‘survivors’. In their highly delusional manner, they continue to congratulate the survivors for surviving the evil year that decided to crash us all. And, of course, they wish 2020 to die in pain on December 31, midnight, local time. In the forty-two turbulent years I have spent on Earth, I do not think I have ever witnessed such mass hysteria before, even during the war.

The second fact, that we were forewarned, reveals a very interesting feature of human nature: Knowing is not enough for believing, on the contrary, not knowing is often more than enough to believe just about anything. Pandemics are something that followed the human race from the very beginning. Just mentioning the twentieth century and the Spanish flu is enough to illustrate this peculiar relationship between human beings and expansions of deadly viruses. I guess the second half of the twentieth century provided humans with a feeling of false security, which lead to a widespread opinion that ‘this could not happen to us’, despite all the warnings. However, something similar has happened every so often – there were several outbursts of viruses related to the Covid-virus family that caused epidemics in some Asian countries.  But that was far from Europe, far from Northern America. Who cared? On TV we watched Asians wearing facemasks and we considered that to be farfetched, weird and nerdish. We still did not believe that this could, and sooner or later would happen to us all. And then there were American catastrophe films dealing with the theme of deadly viruses wiping out our civilization. I guess these films strengthened the idea of global pandemics being a matter of science fiction and undemanding entertainment. And then, in 2020 we are in the midst of it, the whole of humanity in the same boat, in the times of pandemics. After waves of incredible false news, misinterpretations and conspiracy theories both from laymen and, unfortunately, some people of science, humanity is closed off and quarantined. After that, a relatively peaceful summer period followed, and then, with lower temperatures, the virus is back. This is when, starting in October, I first noticed posts on social media which claimed that ‘we cannot wait for this year to finish’ or ‘hold on friends, just a few months left and we are saved’. What would follow were replies of people wishing each other patience and strength ‘to carry on until the end of the nightmare’. Sometimes, more humorous replies would appear, one of such is: ‘2020 the movie, directed by Quentin Tarantino, written by Stephen King, original soundtrack by Yoko Ono.’ All these posts show that the highly probable occurrence of pandemics caught people in 2020 globally unprepared and extremely vulnerable. And that surely is not so much a problem of the calendar year, but rather a problem related to the incompleteness of human perception.

While explaining the third fact, about the global reaction to the pandemics, I have to note that an entirely new genre of lamentation and self-pity was invented in 2020, especially in highly developed and industrialized societies, and that is the Covid-19 lament, of course. Suddenly, people in Western societies felt stripped of their rights and freedoms. They felt isolated, dehumanized, and their work and communication depersonalized. Every description of their existential situation was abundant with words starting with ‘de’. Global destinies derailed. And what happened indeed was that these people were asked to stay at home and avoid social contact so that the Covid-19 virus could be put under control and eventually destroyed. But the fact that Westerners now had to live in isolation for some time suddenly overshadowed, for example, millions of starving children in Yemen. Overnight, drinking coffee with a friend become more meaningful than the fact that there are still hundreds of thousands of refugees on the EU borders freezing in muddy tent camps. This global sentiment was mirrored in social media as well. Memes appeared on Facebook such as: ‘I wish that in 2021 your home, your workplace, and your bar are in three different places.’ Other more ‘spiritualized’ posts appeared, such as: ‘If 2020 taught me anything, then it is the importance of humanity sticking together.’ I cannot help asking myself ‘Then why did 1998 not teach people that illegal invasions of independent countries led to death and destruction, and very little freedom and democracy?’ Or, more importantly, ‘Do human beings really need a pandemic to conclude that they have to stick together?’ All this shows a very ugly aspect of the developed societies: Their members display double standards and two-faced, pathetic emotional ego trips when pushed out of their comfort zones. By posting memes trashing or ‘deeply analyzing’ 2020, they simply restore their self-importance, their comfort, and their feeling of supremacy. And indeed, true are the final verses of T. S. Elliot’s The Hollow Men: ‘This is the way the world ends/ Not with a bang but a whimper.’ We heard a lot of whimpering at the end of 2020, and I suppose the end of our civilization will look equally superficial and detached from reality.

The fourth fact, the capacity for denial, is somehow related to the third one. I will open with one hypothetical or, if you will, poetic question: How can a few months of Covid-19 related quarantine and twelve (to be expected sixteen) months of the Covid-19 situation ever compare to life in the Gaza Strip since 1949? And now in Gaza they have the same degree of isolation, the threat of war, and Covid-19. How can the quarantined world compare to the decades-old situation of (self) isolated Amazon tribes, which are being destroyed, slaughtered, and deported while their forests are being simultaneously cut down and put on the international neo-liberal market? How does the fact that we are not able to drink coffee in our favourite café bars compare to nearly a decade of slaughters in Syria and Yemen? It is important to note that those conflicts were largely fuelled by outside forces – the so called ‘free world’, under the banners of pseudo-democracy, and, their confronting counterparts, the outspoken villains, all of them actually proud of their historical function. It is also interesting to note that the moral, ethical and aesthetic differences between the two opposing outside forces are no greater than the difference between the negative and positive ends of a triple A battery. Were they not entertained enough in Afghanistan, a traditional and once proud society first raped and betrayed by the UK, then irreversibly radicalized by the Soviet excursion and with covert American ‘support’, and then openly massacred by the US? Has Afghanistan not lived in fear and stress for more than a hundred years now? They are talking about, for example, the long-term consequences of the Covid-19 virus on our nervous system. Do we really have any use for gray matter at all if we, as a species, are not able to conclude that the children born terribly deformed today in Vietnam due to the American’s use of Agent Orange more than 45 years ago display more tragic long term consequences in comparison with any aspect of Covid-19 disease? And what about the millions of workers, very often children and minors, quarantined for decades in gloomy industrial (often underground) facilities all around the world, not just Asia, who are paid peanuts in order to produce our precious plastic gadgets? What about the millions of people (self) isolated because of their cast, physical appearance, sexual orientation? Should we promise them a better 2021?

I am always disappointed when this 2020 whimpering finds its way even into the most unexpected of places – highly established cultural circles and institutions. One such example is a text displayed on the building of the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) which reads: ‘Please believe these days will pass’, and that instantly went viral. I admit that my reading of this message probably is a bit too narrow. Still, it is my deep belief that such an institution, with such social impact, could have used its influence much more effectively by displaying a radically different message. The message could be, I suppose, the following: ‘Human beings, if you want the bad days to finish, please, stop destroying the planet you live on’. Maybe this is not emotionally and socially engaged enough for the wide masses. But what an opportunity – missed.

The second principal objection to the massive demonization of the year 2020 on the internet and in the media is the immoral transfer of responsibility. If you look closely at the history of human kind, you will see that two feelings existing between humans seem to be essential and constant: fear and guilt. Guilt, of course, being fear’s extremely creative child. Numerous analyses were written about this aspect of the human psyche, and from the point of view of many branches of science. What I am interested in examining in this short overview is the complex system of mechanisms that enable humans to avoid guilt and transfer their objective responsibility onto others, onto deities, natural and supernatural phenomena, and even onto inanimate objects. This complex system of mechanisms (in an extremely and dangerously simplified explanation here but let us take a swing at it anyway) gave birth (just to note the two most prominent examples) to religious beliefs, which outsourced ‘the unbearable human ideal’ to supernatural and nonhuman or semi-human deities, and also to the idea of human societies being organized into units called ‘nation states’, which outsourced the objective responsibility of individuals onto various types of rulers, state institutions and institutionalized pressure groups. This is the reason why even today, in the twenty-first century, we have groups of serious humans with serious university diplomas, followed by serious media, having serious debates on themes such as: ‘Should we allow vaccines produced from aborted embryos?’ and ‘should we have social or authoritarian states?’. These questions in themselves are utterly erroneous. Firstly, the sacred texts of most religions, especially monotheistic ones, claim that land was given to humans to own it, exploit it, and inherit it. Using the Matrix matrix, I will ask you: ‘What if I told you that this is wrong and the source of most of the evils that befall the human species?’ Land is not here for us, we are here for the land (and certainly not as Kennedy intended in his famous speech, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”, which only confirms the second type of transfer of responsibility exemplified above). Land, that is, nature, is the only true deity. And we are a part of it. In such a society, which would live in a sort of Ubuntu with nature and other creatures, would we have aborted babies at all?  My guess is that we surely would not have L’Oreal and Vichy night-care beauty creams. On the other hand, we would have developed science, there is no proof that science and ethical progress stand in confrontation with the philosophy of Ubuntu, au contraire, what I am writing about here is a self-sustainable society, and not a neo-primitive one. If we asked the right questions, our vaccines would be different, their production, development financing and distribution would be radically different, and, finally our diseases would be different and appearing in different historical periods as compared to the ones that we have now.

Secondly, the question of what kind of state we should live in is in itself useless unless another question is thoroughly answered first: Why do we need national/political states at all? In my deep belief, the essential message of every state to its subjects is the following: ‘People, you are incapable of organizing your lives without the monitoring of a higher authority. Hence, you have to give us, the state and its representatives, the power to entirely organize your lives. However, the organization is costly, and you are obliged to finance the state on your own.’ Is this the ultimate ideal for humans? What about societies organized in cooperative interest groups divided by natural phenomena, such as mountain ranges, large rivers, seas, etc. (rather than by ‘national/linguistic/religious borders’), groups distributed in a way that makes their existence on a certain plot of land sustainable over time, and, finally, groups that are at any given moment able to help other groups that might be encountering existential problems?

Pure utopia, most scientists and layman would say. On the other hand, they are offering you either free market economies and abusive societies which will go on exploiting the planet until they irreversibly destroy the last square meter of it, or societies that are a bit ‘less free’ but equally aggressive to the nature. Instead of a ‘naïve utopia’ they offer you destruction, lies, arrogance and, consequently, extinction.

My firm opinion is that humans will never realize that a radically different type of society is not at all a utopia (or does the fact that such societies are currently beyond human shared consciousness actually confirm them as utopias?). They will never start asking the right structural questions. Even those for whom my words make sense, and they are numerous (after all, what I am writing here is no novelty – philosophers have considered the reality of the so-called intuitive societies ever since ancient times) will ignore their own knowledge because of greed and short term personal gain. My prediction for civilization, which the reader might perceive as overly religious (or Biblical, at least), is that it will be abruptly recycled, almost surely in a year starting with number 2 (to remain loyal to a Baba Vanga style binary logic-based prediction).

Instead of respect, love and care for nature, humans will press on with their transfer of responsibility. Covid-19 spread, especially in industrialized areas – blame it on 2020. Half of humanity in quarantine – blame it on 2020. 1,835,000 deaths – blame it on 2020. Ice melting – blame it on 2020. Melted ice temporarily cooling the oceans – blame it on 2020. Ocean levels rising – blame it on 2020. Oceans and continents heating exponentially after most of the ice has been lost – blame it on 2020. A global climate change – blame it on 2020. Activated tectonic plates – blame it on 2020. Destroyed and disappearing biospheres – blame it on 2020. The rise of viruses – blame it on 2020. The consequent collapse of economies – blame it on 2020.

We, humans, had nothing to do with it. We were merely victims of a very, very evil calendar year. I will not continue with my subsequent thoughts because I am now unable to sustain seriousness and be polite (on that note, apologies for the Baba Vanga remark).

Everything I wrote so far is to prove that human beings, as a species that builds its perception of morality on a set of lies and half-truths, have entirely lost their compass in 2020, and began to behave like insulted children. By posting vindictive content about a calendar year, humans have disclosed a very alarming and sad truth about their intrinsic nature, a deep immorality and an utter lack of objective thinking. Humans globally have fashioned an effigy out of a calendar year, a doll they are about to burn at the main venue of their vanity fair, hence releasing an unknown amount of dangerous polluting gases into the atmosphere. And then we will go en masse to see our psychotherapists. I simply must say this: God, what a repulsive species!

What still shocks me is the incredible fact that even people who are aware of the ecological problems humans have created still decided to take it out on 2020 and join the viral public lynch. I really hope they felt better after doing that, and that their lives and the prospects of survival look much better now in the first week of 2021. Finally, I can only agree with one of the more pathetic viral memes stating that ‘in 2020 we at least have not met Godzilla.’ Indeed, I do not think that anyone spotted Godzilla.


 In Conclusion: Have a Great 2021!

Do not worry. Let us continue with deceiving ourselves. New year – new start – new me!  The year 2021 will be the year of revelation and salvation. The time when we will triumphantly look back on the evil 2020 with scorn and disgust. The year when we will still post online memes and jokes insulting 2020, only this time – we will be in control again.

On the other hand, if this approach does not work out, humans, we will be in a great trouble. Just remember another viral meme, the one showing three tsunami waves, the smallest one being Covid-19, the larger one being the collapse of the global economy, and absolutely the largest one being climate change. To put it simply, humans will probably die out soon, or at least most of us. But even in the worst scenario, maybe everything is not lost. Recently I read an article about scientists on three continents agreeing that some primates have entered an early stone age of their own. This news was also published on BBC Earth in 2015 (just a note – how evil was 2015?), claiming that some chimpanzees and other primate species had indeed entered a stone age, and that there was evidence of 4,300 year-old stone tools used by chimpanzees. My suggestion is that humans start preparing an exhaustive library (printed on durable paper or, perhaps stone or golden plates) about their own civilization, and in a code that chimpanzees will be able to understand after a long period of time (perhaps a cast of chimpanzee nobility should be raised now, to be trained in the language used for instruction on human civilization). That way, chimpanzees will see where humans erred, and what went wrong. That should empower them to avoid committing the same mistakes. The first sentence in that exhaustive library should be: ‘Respect every stone!’ The second sentence should be: ‘2020 was a very evil year!’ Maybe chimpanzees will be more successful bearers of the human existential burden. Or maybe they will totally misinterpret our messages and go extinct.

I just wish that we could understand the year 2020 as our strict teacher, rather than our enemy.

Franziska Ehnert, Climate Policy in Denmark, Germany, Estonia and Poland, Ideas, Discourses and Institutions (Northampton: Edward Elgar, 2019)

The book of Franziska Ehnert, entitled Climate Policy in Denmark, Germany, Estonia and Poland, Ideas, Discourses and Institutions approaches climate change in terms of interaction of institutional, policy and discourse aspects that form the path from reality to political priority, policy and solution. This topic is part of current political debates that began in the 1980s, despite climate scepticism or climate change denial, and despite the resistance to the transformation of lifestyles and infrastructures. Environmental movements succeeded in bringing science and policy together, to sustain a climate change critique of the status quo and to promote ecologist alternative values and solutions via environmental policy.

Climate policy analyses are paramount to assess the manner in which the “ministerial administrations” implement or change a policy to answer environmental issues, redefine problems and maintain the adequacy and efficiency of climate change policy.

Considering that previous studies have shown the tension between the expert public officials and the politicians, the research conducted by Franziska Ehnert argues that “policy change will be better understood by studying the actors formulating these policies, namely ministerial administrations. It captures, not merely party politics and interest group politics, but the departmental politics of policy change. The book therefore focuses on the coordinative discourses within governmental institutions (…) among the actors participating in the construction of a policy, which stand in contrast to the communicative discourses through which politicians communicate and justify their policies vis-à-vis the public”. (p. 5)

Thus, the investigation follows the factors and aspects involved in the continuation or change of a policy; how is policy shaped, how coordinative discourses, policy frames, institutional contexts and particular identities relate and evolve; and how can one assess the reframing of values, the redefinition of interests or the reinterpretation of the guiding ideas.

Methodologically the study combines ontological, epistemological and methodological characteristics of the positivist and interpretative research paradigms in a comparative research with qualitative and quantitative dimensions based on the singularities and not on the similarities of the cases. Literature reviews, document analyses and expert interviews are also combined. Moreover, state and non-state actors are taken into consideration via expert interviews. Interpretation plays an important role as well following the data-generation stage: meaning-focused methods are used to analyse empirical data (p. 15). The investigation has as its own particularity the fact that the researchers acknowledge the characteristics of the cases only in the process of data generation, which increases objectivity. The countries compared are similar enough as regards institutional democracy, rule of law and market economy, and, as EU members, they share similar political commitments to EU climate and energy policy. Having under investigation older and younger democracies, varied indicators such as historical backgrounds, territory, economic, political, military and financial power or population size, differences in policy styles and discourses are to be expected.

The analytic framework introduced in the second chapter investigates the causes and means for the continuation of policies, provided that ideas and narratives shape and do not merely reflect the field of action. Political power has an important dimension in the power of ideas. The agents have an activity expressing the “following of the rules” and the “reproduction of the institution”, but also one that indicates the meta-level of discourse, for they think about and outside their institutions too. In terms of “ideal types”, the entrepreneurial-style bureaucrats are more likely to perform as “policy brokers”, while servant-style bureaucrats are more likely to “refrain from mediation and brokerage” and be, more likely, policy followers. (pp. 21-31)

In contrast, the following chapters approach the empirical data and associated analyses and interpretations concerning the making of climate policy in two Western European countries (Denmark and Germany) and in two Central Eastern European countries (Estonia and Poland). The researcher finds that Denmark is performing an important role in climate policy (“a small, green state”) due to a consensus-seeking policy style, a coordination apparatus among cabinet committees, and extensive specialization of the ministerial administration on climate policy. (p. 36)

These aspects, next to the policy ideals, objectives and instruments that are investigated, indicate a multitude of actors sustaining and opposing climate policy, but at the same time a resulting strong societal support for climate policy arising from this polyphonic conversation. However, Denmark is not and does not aim to be a “green Leviathan”, but a green democracy and market economy, with a policy orientation towards consensus, openness and inclusiveness. (p. 61)

The coordinative and consensus-seeking discourses are the most important in this respect. In the case of Germany, the size of the country induces different consequences to the similar reality of the multitude of actors involved in the climate policy “conversation”. Political acceptance might be the result of the “early participation of stakeholders in policy deliberation” in improving policy implementation. In this respect, even if lobbying may be seen as a risk factor, it could be also a democratic-openness enhancement factor. (p. 94) The main climate policy discourse in Germany has become that of increased “participation and transparency in policy deliberation processes”, calling more attention to institutional policy aiming at a more consensus-seeking attitude.

The “small state” discourse is central to Estonian identity, influencing both politics and policies. The EU was the agenda setter in Estonian climate policy and in Estonian energy efficiency policy. Fighting the communist heritage of authoritarian rule, a paradoxical weakness of the culture of coordination, the institutional fragmentation, the limited resources, the poor interministerial  consultations, the weak citizen participation and the low professionalization of the environmental NGOs, the situation was improved slightly by the planning for the European Structural Funds (2014-2020), by the design and continuation of the National Development Plan of the Energy Sector until 2030, and by the academic expertise, making the discourse of the technocrats and departmental politics officials prevalent, to the detriment of other actors. (pp. 120-123)

Central to Polish identity is the idea of catching up with Western development and requirements. On the one hand, the “relationships between state and society were fluid and fragmented” and, on the other, we have the communist heritage of authoritarian rule “undermining parliamentary independence” and weakening the institutionalized character of the “informal practices of interministerial and public consultations” (p. 151) Environmental NGOs are professionalized in Poland, but they remain marginalized. Their discourse attempted to sustain a core idea of ecological modernization, which has gained more adepts with the support of the Ministry of Economy, academic experts and environmental NGOs (keeping the white certificate system in the EEA).

The volume advances a very interesting methodology approaching the climate policies in the EU and it emphasizes an important and original evolving perspective in assessing climate policy. Both environment issues and political “landscapes” are changing, inducing more debate over competing ideas and ideals, values, facts and interests. As a consequence, discursiveness becomes more important in the lives of the institutions, states and societies. At the same time, interpretive analysis emphasizes potential improvement on scientific arguments and agendas as a result of the improvement of the deliberation processes on climate change.

Hans Chr. Garmann Johnsen, Stina Torjesen & Richard Ennals (eds.), Higher Education in a Sustainable Society. A Case for Mutual Competence Building (Dordrecht: Springer, 2015)

What is a sustainable society, and how can higher education help us to develop toward it? This is the question guiding the authors in this book the underlying aim of which is to explore the concept of sustainability as a much wider concept than usually referred to in terms of environamental threats. The focus is on various disciplines in higher education, and more precisely on studies pursued within the University of Agder in Norway. The approach of the book reaches though far beyond the Norwegian context and makes it relevant to every higher education institution.

The book is divided into six parts. Part I has three chapters on sustainability in “Humanistic and Cultural Perspectives”; Part II has two chapters on “Sustainability in Life Science”; Part III contains three chapters on “Sustainability in Technology and Planning Studies”; Part IV includes three chapters on “Sustainability and the Teaching of Management and Business Development”; Part V discusses in three chapters on “The Sustainable University”; and Part VI concludes with one chapter on “The Challenge of Mutual Competence Building”. I will not go into each chapter, rather I try to summarise here my learnings from the book and identify its relevance to the readers.

The content – the disciplines – is clearly not what one would relate at first instance to sustainability but Chapter 1, which is written by the editors, is very helpful to understand how the authors and the editors approach the theme of the book. This chapter provoked my interest for the whole book (and especially for my field, educational studies and teacher education) and for those who are new to this topic this chapter is vital and should not be skipped. In this chapter, the editors make it clear that they do not see sustainability as a fixed position or a well-defined concept, but rather as a framework for discussion and an opportunity to rethink our ideas about the role of universities, our disciplines and the world we live in.

A common discussion in all chapters is the issue of responsibility across disciplines, both towards particular professions but also to the wider society. In Part II, in a discussion on nursing, it is pointed out, for example, that the International Code of Ethics for Nurses states: “The nurse also shares responsibility to sustain and protect the natural environment from depletion, pollution, degradation and destruction” (p.69, cited from the International Council of Nurses). Sustainability according to environmental issues is thus seen to be an important part of the nursing profession. Should it be similar in other professions? In this chapter, it is also discussed how sustainability is a matter regarding enough or a shortage of health care workers in each country or area and the same discussion is on teacher education in Part I. Here the focus is related to sustainability and globalization and is a highly relevant discussion in rural and remote areas. In the chapter 6, on “Sustainable Diets”, the reader is confronted with the hard fact that our diets are no longer sustainable. Everything about our diets seems to have gone out of control: the usage of fossil energy for the production, of energy to produce artificial fertilisers, the transport of food, not to mention the pollution of soil, air and water. The chapter also draws our attention not only to the healthiness of our food, that has so far been the emphasis in the official guidelines to people, but also how sustainable our food is, e.g. in terms of location, transport and food categories. New generations are forced to find solutions to this problem caused be earlier generations. To me, this is one of the main contributions of this book. Universities, with their broad and diverse fields of knowledge and societal impacts, are in an ideal position to lead necessary action and changes in the world as regards moving toward a more sustainable world. It can be hard for some disciplines and professions to involve sustainability into their activity and professional cultures, if it has not been there before. This could be the case for technology and engineering, as discussed in Part III (chapter 7). The authors point out that this should not be the case, as technology and society are fundamentally interdependent and the planet really needs a change. Instead of focusing on one right answer as is normally the case in engineering, students should be taught how to be active and reflective in their learning, and learn to include several perspectives in their search for answers. This could mean that one right answer is perhaps and very likely not the point.  Actually, this is more than less the conclusion in most of the chapters, i.e. that students need to be introduced and challenged to finding a good balance between different theoretical concepts, and knowledge about how to apply them in practice (chapter 8).

I do not have actual negative comments on this book, perhaps because I found it very intriguing in many ways, both as an academic and personally. The only thing that I would like to mention is that it would have been useful to have a short summary at the end of each Part, similar to the prologue before each Part. I liked nonetheless the final section in chapter 9 (9.4.2, “The Educational Role of the University for Sustainable Planning”). There are some chapters that include too much literature on background information, which is of course important to relate the discipline to the core issue of sustainability, but they could easily have been shortened without undermining the content. If people do not want to read the whole book, but only look at certain disciplines, it is useful to read chapter 16.1.1 in any case. Entitled “Short Review of the Book”, each Part is summarised therein. Also, I would recommend to read chapter 16.3, “What is Mutual Competence Building?”. In that chapter, the editors draw together the recurring themes across the five Parts.

The prerequisite for a society to become sustainable depends on our attitudes toward the changes that need to become real and the willingness to react to a challenging situation. Here, Universities and other educational institutions have a role in educating critical individuals that can lead and influence future citizens, their actions and work. This book is a useful tool for all disciplines, academic departments and Universities to take action and communicate with individuals and the society on how to build our mutual future in a sustainable way. I encourage my workplace – the University of Akureyri – to do so.

Erik Westholm, Karin Beland Lindahl & Florian Kraxner (eds.), The Future Use of Nordic Forests, A global perspective (Dordrecht: Springer, 2015)

Nordic forests play a key role in the establishment of the Nordic welfare states. They also play a key role in a global perspective when looking at factors such as energy, climate, land use, ecosystem services and other subsistence uses. In this book the aim is to address how global changes are likely to affect the conditions for future Nordic forest use.

Continue reading Erik Westholm, Karin Beland Lindahl & Florian Kraxner (eds.), The Future Use of Nordic Forests, A global perspective (Dordrecht: Springer, 2015)

Taming the Climate Emergency: Geoengineering and Ethics


Perceptions of the climate and its changes are polarized: the clear majority is worried about global warming, the boisterous minority considers cooling as a more likely scenario (Poortinga, Spence, Whitmarsh, Capstick and Pidgeon, 2011). Common to both factions is the worry about the dynamic nature of the Earth’s atmosphere which has resulted in different geological periods in the course of the planet’s history. This assumption motivates us to develop capabilities to take the edge off the scary future. When dangerous things are about to happen with regard to climatic conditions, we become alerted and feel like we are entering a state of emergency.

This article elaborates the idea of dangerous climate change and its policy implications for the ethics of solar radiation management (SRM). Dangerous climate change, or – as we will call it – a “climate emergency” refers to such sweeping changes in the cyclical occurrence of weather events that severely impact and deteriorate our living conditions and those of many other species. A climate emergency can be also regarded as a “radical emergency,” a phrase that designates the extremely complex perilous situation the humanity faces. Because of the characteristics of the situation, the responses to it have to be large-scale and trustworthy despite the fact that they cannot be properly tested before the implementation.

Besides global warming other instances of a radical emergency include quickly spreading and highly lethal infectious diseases, a meteor clashing the Earth or a massive volcanic explosion (a supervolcano). Climate emergency denotes a specific state of affairs on the planet Earth that contains at least the two following features: First, the climate change is an immediate or impending threat to life and health of humans and many other life forms. Second, there is a high probability of escalation of the social disorder, for example economic turmoil and mass migration of climate refugees, if no immediate action is taken. Abrupt changes in climatic and weather conditions can appear suddenly and the scale of the effects is unpredictable. There are several alternative scenarios for the ensuing events once certain thresholds are crossed. The acknowledgment of human-induced global warming can also awake a sense of existential angst upon informed and a sense of guilty majority for causing anthropogenic climate change both of which may erode the quality of life (cf. Thompson, 2009, p.80, 96-97).

Presuming that the negative effects of climate change do not occur gradually1, we want to investigate, in particular, whether there is any kind of rational basis to the conclusion that a state of climate emergency would require geoengineering implementations such as SRM. Related to this, we will pose the question whether there can be exemptions from conventional morality justified by climate emergency for instance to use such largely untested geoengineering methods like SRM. We will take a look at SRM from an ethical point of view and analyze the concept of climate emergency and its policy relevance in order to assess the moral justification for the implementation of SRM.

Geoengineering as a response to a climate emergency

By definition, an emergency not only allows exceptional action but calls for it. Can emergency be responded in a collective way through which humans jointly aim to protect themselves or does emergency result in disarray and turmoil that compels humans individually to seek for saving themselves and perhaps their nearest? If the latter scenario actualizes, there is not much room for ethical reflection and precautionary measures are ineffectual to a great extent. The former scenario opens up two basic alternatives, legal and technological, that can often be used simultaneously. Most nation-states have emergency laws, the purpose of which is to maintain capacities to response to crises in an organized manner. When a state of emergency is present, a legal authority can be granted emergency powers so as to steer the nation out of the predicament even at the cost of normally protected rights. As the Roman philosopher and statesman Cicero put it, “Salus populi suprema est lex” (“The safety of the people is the highest law”) (quoted in Walker 2008, p.370). As far as we know, no one has thus far suggested that a state of emergency should be “declared” because of global warming ( see Gardiner 2011a, p.20). However, in the context of related debate undemocratic opinions have been expressed (e.g. Shearman & Smith 2007). The talk of an emergency has rather been metaphorical and alarmist, not judicial. The emergency powers may entitle its holder to accept the use of technological solution. The belief in technological solutions is widespread and is also applied to the context of global warming.

The scary possibilities have led to the emergence of the idea of “fixing the climate” in the form of intentional climate modification, i.e. geoengineering. It refers to human attempts to control climate so as to stabilize the physical conditions on this planet. As the proponents see it, geoengineering – especially SRM – is the best available solution to lessen the drastic consequences that climate change is expected to bring about (see Keith, Parson, & Morgan 2010, p.426; Victor, Morgan, Steinburner, & Ricke 2009).2 According to a very broad definition, geoengineering is “the intentional large-scale manipulation of the environment” (Keith, 2000, p.247). The environment here denotes both the climate system and the biosphere as a component of the climate system.3

Proposals for geoengineering are numerous and they do not conveniently fall into one homogenous category (see Keith, 2000; Lenton & Vaughan, 2009). Because the prevailing concern is the warming of the climate, the proposed technological means aim to tackle the increasing temperatures. There are two basic ways to seek it: the reduction of the absorption of incoming radiation from the sun (SRM) and the removal of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (carbon dioxide removal, CDR) (Lenton & Vaughan, 2009, p.2562; Shepherd et al., 2009). In this paper, the focus is on the ethical analysis of solar radiation management. Perhaps the most discussed SRM method is stratospheric sulfur injection (Crutzen, 2006). However, other techniques have also been suggested, such as using micro bubbles in water in order to increase water surface reflectivity (Seitz, 2011).

The views on the necessity and acceptability of geoengineering are grossly dividing (see Ikle & Wood 2008; Robock 2008). In this respect, the geoengineering debate indirectly echoes the debate on policy responses to global warming. Those who deny human-induced climate change can handily take a conservative stance to geoengineering. Nevertheless, it is possible to have other reasons for controlling and manipulating the climate, such as to promote “natural” climate change, to put off the future ice-age, or to increase productivity.4 The current debate on geoengineering takes for granted anthropogenic global warming. This is indicated in the influential report by The Royal Society Geoengineering the Climate where geoengineering is defined as the deliberate large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment to counteract anthropogenic climate change” (Shepherd et al., 2009, p.1).

Hardly anyone denies the risks involved in human meddling with the Earth’s climatic system, but it appears that some geoengineering methods are safer than the others. As an example of a less ecologically detrimental method, the Royal Society report mentions CDR (see Shepherd et al. 2009, p.xi). However, the safer methods, e.g. large scale afforestation, might not be quick enough to respond to the situation. When we think of our present situation as exceptional and realize that our well-being or, at worst, our very existence is in danger, many of us might be ready to give green light to more exceptional measures, such as SRM. The Royal Society report (Shepherd et al. 2009, p.45) refers to it as a survivalist measure in the state of a climatic predicament. SRM could be combined together with mitigation policies and would require possibility to discontinue SRM implementation if necessary.

Climate and other natural scientists more generally have paid a great deal of attention to identify events and long-term trends that indicate tipping points or thresholds for major and sudden alterations in climatic conditions (for instance Alley et al. 2003, p.2008-2009). By interpreting scenarios, models and theories people are able to make informed judgments concerning the state that they are in. Still, it is not our task to analyze the validity of these judgments; this paper is not a critical review of the state of the art in climate science.

In this section, we have focused on introducing how most societies have socially, legally and technically prepared for the appearance of ominous situation. Global warming is, however, a new kind of emergency that may require new kind of technology to alleviate and control the situation. The next section focuses on the ethics of emergency more generally and considers how moral problems arising from these situations should be treated.

On the ethics of emergency

There are various kinds of emergencies in different situations of life. Wars, natural disasters, infectious diseases and such accidents as fires and car crashes are examples of emergencies and some of them have been targets of philosophical scrutiny in one way or another (e.g., Walzer 2004; Sandin 2009). All of them are apparent cases, but they seem to have a different concept of emergency when it comes to the severity, scale, endurance and intensity of the situation and the realization of value(s) threatened. The last-mentioned refers to possible loss caused to objects of value, that is, to concrete entities such as human individuals as well as to abstract objects, for example biodiversity and national sovereignty. Wars are cases of “supreme emergency”, as Michael Walzer (2004, p.33) claims, when “our deepest values and our collective survival are in imminent danger” due to an attack. Such an emergency can be instantly recognizable, although there can continuous debates about the justifiability of the use of armed forces. Natural disasters and human accidents are less political but not wholly apolitical because the foreseeable damages can be mitigated through, for example, civic education, zoning ordinance, building standards and other safety measures. Global warming is a specific kind of emergency because it is an abstract idea and a highly scientific affair; its symptoms, or its consequences such as wars, forest fires and flood disasters, are more visible.

It is typical for a state of emergency that it gives rise to moral problems. Concerning moral thinking more generally, a moral dilemma is a moral emergency if something should be done instantly, but people hesitate over the right course of action, including the possibility of omission. However, omission either might not be an option or could result in more catastrophic results than any other alternative open to us. It is not, of course, that all moral dilemmas are cases of moral emergency: some of the dilemmas are conflicts of principles that simply exist in theory. Let us take a brief look at the topic of emergency in the field of applied ethics.

To illustrate the serious of climate emergency, both health analogies to the state of climate and warfare analogies to global warming have been made. Most famously, the British “geophysiologist” James Lovelock speaks about “planetary medicine” (Lovelock 2000) and compares present situation with the situation before the World War Two (see Lovelock, 2008, p.3888). Back then there were only a few medicines that were known to be effective on diseases despite the well-founded science of physiology. Lovelock compares the situation with present climate science and geoengineering plans and raises the question of sufficient expertise in balancing the effects of anthropogenic global warming.

Especially, the debate about the methods of bioethics seems relevant to our discussion. Bioethicists have analyzed the role of principles in decision-making and guiding action. Beauchamp and Childress’s Principles of Biomedical Ethics (1977) has become the paradigm example of the so-called principlist approach. According to it, there is a set of prima facie principles: autonomy (respect person’s own will); beneficence (do good to people); nonmaleficence (avoid harming people); and justice (benefits and burdens must be distributed fairly). These principles are fundamental moral intuitions that can be reflected and tested in moral analysis of actual cases. In addition to principles, ethical decision-making consists in confirmed facts and widely accepted background theories. Together these principles, facts and theories constitute an ethical decision-making method known as wide reflective equilibrium (see Daniels 1979). The real-life decisions are reached by taking principles into account in the way that decision-makers should pursue the coherence of principles, perceptible facts and background theories when deciding about policies. An impending climate emergency provides a challenge for decision-makers who could benefit from the interconnection of relevant prima facie principles, background theories and up-to-date climate science in making appropriate decisions. Considering the SRM, the decision-makers should not only know about the facts, contesting scenarios and available alternative technologies, but also about relevant moral principles that constrain decision making. Because the decision is collective, autonomy here should be understood in a less rigid way as a majority decision in a national parliament. Beneficence requires that the implementation really does good for the people, and in this case it is so that SRM implementation is better for them than the other alternatives, including doing nothing. Nonmaleficence requires that people should not be harmed but because the SRM requires that mirrors must be transported to space there are risks, such as the explosion of the carriers. Finally, the principle of justice requires that the implementation of SRM must not benefit one group of people at the expense of others. All in all, the components of decision-making are many and they are often contested making the attainment of the optimal decision infeasible.

The time available for decision-making in an emergency situation can be severely limited and our understanding of the essential features of the situation are not optimal because of knowledge gaps and perhaps the distortion of information. This is a serious problem for principlism in some cases of emergency. For instance, health professionals should perform required actions routinely. There are, very roughly, two kinds of medical emergencies requiring a patient’s treatment: those in organized and well-managed situations and those in chaotic situations. Typically emergency situations in health care are rather specific and well-managed in a sense that everyone involved knows their role. This is so because the scope of emergency is limited to the troubled patients. In the chaotic cases, the health-care and other infrastructures have collapsed and confusion prevails; consider cases like massive earthquakes and flooding where thousands of injured people simultaneously require treatment which no one can provide for them. The consequences of global warming could be interpreted in this way. We suggest a new attribute to describe this kind of a situation: radical emergency.

Radical emergency is comparable to the concept of complex emergency, sometimes used in military medical sciences to single out situations

“in which mortality among the civilian population substantially increases above the population baseline, either as a result of the direct effects of war or indirectly through increased prevalence of malnutrition and/or transmission of communicable diseases, particularly if the latter result from deliberate political and military policies and strategies” (Salama, Spiegel, Talley, & Waldman 2004, p.1801).

This definition of a complex emergency does not include natural disasters because they are thought of as having more short-term effects. In contrast, climate change can have a long-term (that is, thousands of years) adverse effect on the biosphere. Therefore it is best use a new concept to designate a new situation that is both complex and long-term and new to the humanity.

On the basis of this excursion to ideas of emergency a question arises naturally: are we in regard to climate change getting closer to an emergency setting that is similar to the ones constantly encountered in medical practices or at war? A radical emergency designates a situation where conventional risk management falls apart. This might be also possible in the case of a radical emergency and runaway climate change.

Proponents of geoengineering bring the emergency arguments and potential emergency measures into the climate debate in two intertwining ways. Geoengineering can be argued for as a precautionary measure or as an emergency measure. In the former argument, geoengineering is viewed as human potential to react to dangerous climate change and therefore geoengineering capabilities should be created, even though not necessarily used. For example, Victor et al. (2009, p.66) have pleaded that “The time has come to take it [geoengineering] seriously. Geoengineering could provide a useful defense for the planet – an emergency shield that could be deployed if surprisingly nasty climatic shifts put vital ecosystems and billions of people at risk.”5 In the latter argument, geoengineering capabilities should not only be created but also used as quickly as possible because we are in the state of emergency.

Is the precautionary argument distinguishable from the emergency argument in practice? As we see it, the arguments are intertwined. First of all, technological determinists claim that if a technology has been developed, it will be used at some point of time. This is not a very plausible argument against the research and development of geoengineering, since we are unable to say for sure that it is happening. A stronger argument is that it is the decision about the use of geoengineering technology depends on our perception and we may start using it as a precautionary measure in the early stage of global warming. There is even a further incentive to use the technology inappropriately: the research and development requires experiments and the best experiments are conducted in the natural laboratory. Therefore, the step from research and development to the actual use of technology is very low.

To summarize, cases of emergency and their management are numerous. Therefore the vocabulary of emergency is rather heterogeneous, reflecting the fact that car accidents should be reacted differently than wars and infectious diseases. Global warming is an emergency that has multiple layers, since it may be the ultimate cause of more proximate problems, such as the spread of new diseases, flooding and droughts. We have characterized the possible bleak scenario that the global warming might cause as radical emergency. Next we will argue that there are better ways to react to this problem than geoengineering.

A survival kit without geoengineering

Because the purpose of this article is not to determine whether or not we are in the state of climate emergency, we will simply assume that we are very close to such a situation and base this assumption the latest state of art in the study of climate change. We have also assumed that principlist method is the best existing method to analyze the alternative ways of action. What kind of emergency relief or a survival kit is needed to confront the possible climate emergency? The survival kit should provide for a radical emergency where the traditional infrastructures of rescue services disintegrate. It is obvious that a climate emergency is not the only potential impending crisis at the beginning of the 21st century. There is also evidence of a large-scale sustainability predicament including climate change together with issues of water and food security and peak oil. We are not to ignore the threat of nuclear winter caused by nuclear weapons either (Robock, Oman, & Stenchikov 2007).

The most prominent tool of a survival kit would be mitigation and fast decarbonization of the economy and infrastructure. Currently, the climate science is incompatible with the objective of avoiding climate emergency with existing political and economic realities regarding mitigation. In other words, as things now stand, rapid decarbonization is neither economically feasible nor politically acceptable. It is quite obvious however, that avoiding an emergency situation should be the priority in climate and any other policy. All the same, one of the problems with introducing geoengineering to the climate policy forum is the possible dependency on these schemes, for instance stratospheric sulfur injections6. The benefits and risks of SRM are assessed in a greater detail in Robock (2011) and Robock, Marquardt, Kravitz, & Stenchikov (2009).

The proposals for treating a climate emergency without SRM are based among others on the following arguments. Firstly, according to the slippery slope argument SRM will open the door to novel and detrimental implementations of climate modification technologies. Although there is no definitive proof of large-scale realizations of ecologically damaging implementations it does not make the slippery slope argument wholly ineffective. It is possible that preliminary testing of geoengineering proposals leads eventually to ecologically detrimental consequences. Secondly, the technical fix argument considers that SRM might work successfully in enhancing albedo; however, it does not fix the root of the problem itself which also has to be taken into consideration with regard to the cumulative greenhouse gas emissions. Thirdly, in the unpredictability argument SRM is deemed ethically dubious in a utilitarian framework because its effects cannot be reliably predicted (see Keith 1998, p.87; 2000, p.277). Keith discusses the most common arguments against geoengineering and we consider these arguments to apply to SRM implementation proposals, too. Hence, we are in a situation where impending climate catastrophe might be at hand and one of the proposed solutions to climate emergency, SRM, faces ethical challenges that need clarification for the decision making whether to adopt SRM as a functional part of climate policy.

Besides the previous arguments against geoengineering, there are at least two more arguments that consider SRM methods in their present form ethically unacceptable. Bunzl (2008, p.18) considers the issue from social justice perspective. He brings up the possibility the SRM implementations can be planned and decided in an unfair and elitist manner and its benefits and harms can be distributed unevenly. The final argument, formulated by Robock (2008, p.17), proposes that the research and development of SRM techniques might also generate the weakening of political will to engage in mitigation and adaptation options relevant to climate policy. Moreover, the investments in research on SRM might also prohibit the emergence of novel and sustainable solutions to challenges created by climate change because the research funding pool is limited. These above-mentioned arguments pose relevant arguments against geoengineering however cannot yet solve the question whether to grant ethical acceptability to SRM or not.

Opposite to the previously mentioned arguments, we can also identify various arguments in favor of SRM. First, the cost-effectiveness of SRM proposals seems to make them tempting to accept. Victor et al. (2009, p.69) even claim that “there is general agreement that the strategies are cheap”. Second, no international administrative body will be needed; thus implementations could be executed unilaterally through corporative or state administration. This point could also be turned upside down. For instance, a rogue state might have questionable geoengineering plans without powerful international agreements or actors. Third, technological geoengineering innovations are not as troublesome as to renew the global energy regime away from fossil fuel based substances.7 However, these circumstances which seem to support the implementation of certain SRM proposals appear to be short-sighted. For example, Gardiner (2010, p.287-288) makes a point that the cost-effectiveness counts only the price of the sulfur and its potential ways to shoot it into the atmosphere, not the potentially hazardous side-effects it could have on the biosphere. On top of it, the unilateral implementation is however politically and legally complex an issue and requires an international agreement. Without a modified international agreement, geoengineering implementations could be interpreted as a violation of the Convention on the Prohibition of Military of Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques, ENMOD (see Robock 2008, p.17).

The arguments in favor and against geoengineering depict the discussion around geoengineering. Contradictory viewpoints in the presence of impending climate emergency make the question concerning the morally adequate decision making process vexed. In the next chapter we will look at the argument from radical emergency and its relevance to the discussion of the ethical acceptability of SRM in a climate emergency.

An argument from radical emergency

Saving or losing the lives of millions of innocent people who are in immediate danger because of the choices of the few is also a potential situation present in a radical climate emergency. We have used the concept of radical emergency refer to the situations that are complex, new and have long-term effects and considered that global warming exemplifies it. An argument from radical emergency consists of a group of arguments which claim that in special occasions one is morally exempted from everyday norms and morality. In other words, the tragic situation allows an agent – which could also be a state or an institution – to perform actions that would normally be prohibited as too risky or considered immoral in conventional activities. Radical emergencies are often moral emergencies since there is a tragic element present: every option open to use bears moral costs, such as the violation of individual rights or threats of collective survival. If an emergency situation is a kind of a moral blind alley, one can ask how responsibility is included in the action of choosing one option over another.

If a radical climate emergency is understood as a situation where business-as-usual everyday rules and norms cease to govern, can the imminent threat provide justification to promote SRM techniques? SRM has entered the discussions on the basis that, first of all, in an emergency situation – in this case radical climate emergency – we must depart from usual everyday morality; therefore also untested and potentially detrimental implementations could and should be introduced as a survival kit despite potential adverse side effects and unknown repercussions. Briefly, an emergency morally requires taking extraordinary risks. The second reason why SRM has entered the climate change discussions in the form of argument from radical emergency is that it is the lesser evil compared with actualizing climate catastrophe. The lesser evil argument maintains that SRM schemes should be implemented regardless of the fact that it has adverse and unknown side effects or it is otherwise considered as ethically unacceptable because the imminent climate emergency on the verge of a catastrophe is far worse than intentional climate modification. Thus, the best mode of action – morally speaking – would be to engage in geoengineering the planet rather than face runaway climate change. Gardiner (2011b, p.180) makes this point in reflecting on the problem of lesser evil. However, it is essential to notice that there are more options than facing climate catastrophe or engage in SRM implementations.

The lesser evil argument implies that in an emergency one should be detached from common morality and discover emergency morality (if such a thing exists) as something different from our conventional morality. We interpret radical emergency, paraphrasing Walzer´s concept of supreme emergency,as a severe vulnerability or disintegration of collective values and survival. In that kind of climate emergency which is also a moral emergency the lesser evil argument should be carefully analyzed. That is to say, lesser evil argument maintains that we could be absolved from our responsibilities to tackle climate change with morally acceptable and environmentally sustainable means because we do not have the time or the means to do that. Perhaps the principlist approach and its earlier mentioned prima facie principles can offer guidelines for action in a radical emergency where there is limited time for negotiations of the best alternatives of action. Even though the gloomiest projections of radical climate emergency have not established yet, we still think that the current situation in the light of climate science requires assuming a climate emergency of some kind. Does this prove that in a radical climate emergency SRM goes when it comes to morality?

At worst, the emergency situations are extremely complicated situations for making morally right decisions. Of course, the acceptability of measures used also depends on theoretical commitments whether they are for instance consequentialist, non-consequentialist or based on virtue ethics or some other ethical approach. For instance, the conclusion of morally right action depends on the emphasis whether the consequences of the action or the procedure leading to action or some other factor are morally relevant. Moreover, a proposed course of action may violate the basic human rights, justice or contradict for example with the outcomes of the cost-benefit analysis. In every war and catastrophe, the otherwise absolute rules seem to become flexible and the request to accept exemptions from them pops up.

Even in an emergency, there are still options to choose from even if they are morally questionable ones. Therefore it is implausible to maintain that moral responsibilities cannot be involved in a non-antagonistic emergency such as a climate emergency that is “a moral black alley” (see Sorell 2002; Sandin & Wester 2009). To consider current SRM proposals morally justified, one should not only grant that a radical emergency is possible but also refine the ideas of sustainability and protection of the environment in order to ensure the continuance of a flourishing biosphere including humans.

Consequently, a (tragic) moral dilemma can be seen as a case where choices have to be done between two or more evils. There can be a situation where one action is the lesser evil than the other and possibly thus should be chosen. In this case, a right course of action can be found. In other words, an action is as good as it can get in that tragic situation. Nevertheless, choosing the right or lesser evil option does not exclude the fact that there is still wrongness included in that action. By definition, the best or right option is not available at all. (Raz 1988, p.359.) Walzer (2004, p.49) describes this kind of situation in these words: “This is the essential feature of emergency ethics: that we recognize at the same time the evil we oppose and the evil we do, and that we set ourselves, so far as possible, against both.” In the case of SRM, a radical climate emergency might suggest that available options including SRM involve evil in any case for several reasons8. In other words, there might not be any good choices available. However, even the alarmist conception of climate change can consider moral norms of some kind applying to radical climate emergency on the basis of prima facie principles. Those principles can be applied to all occasions regardless of the gravity of the situation. For instance, the principle of nonmaleficence implicates that in every situation one should choose the lesser evil and aim to minimize the damages whenever necessary.

Concluding remarks

In this article, we have reflected on different interpretations of lesser evil argument with regard to SRM. We do not advocate the perspective that in an emergency we exit the moral realm and enter a territory of emergency or a moral black hole where conventional morality no longer affects. Neither do we agree on that in a climate emergency we do not exit the moral realm but stretch our morality and accept the lesser evil regardless of the fact that it involves evil9. Instead, we proposed the prima facie principles to be used as guidelines in a radical climate emergency.

The interpretation of a climate emergency as a radical emergency and the adequate means to operate with regard to climate change depends at least on the following matters: the prevailing paradigm of science, the state of the art in climatology, the prevailing ethical perspective (anthropo- or biocentric, consequentalist, non-consequentalist, principlist etc.), relevant and current ethical issues and international climate policy. Our thesis in this article has been that a radical climate emergency needs a specific definition before the risky last resort measures, for instance SRM implementations, can be taken into consideration as part of a sustainable climate policy. Furthermore, we want to emphasize that there is a neither a moral black hole situation nor permissible exemptions from conventional morality on a prima facie basis. As the principlist approach suggests, norms guiding action can be flexible in a way that one of the four main principles can be predominant in comparison with the other principles; however, the principles are relevant even in the most desperate situation.

Can we accept SRM as a morally satisfactory method to tackle climate emergency? The answer depends on the situation in which the emergency is declared. Some say a climate emergency is currently at hand, others think it is decades away or just an alarmist provocation. Unlike the house on fire, the planet on fire is non-evident. However, evil is still evil whether done in an emergency or not. This means that if SRM is considered as morally evil, it is still that even in a climate emergency. Hence, we recommend creative solutions to construct future scenarios including the ethical aspects along with technical engineering. The only way to mitigate a potentially catastrophic climate emergency is to transform human practices. The history of humanity is a history of remarkable progress and creativity in many occasions and failures in others. One should be suspicious of imagining that SRM is the most impressive invention to save the biosphere from an impending climate catastrophe. The relevant climate thresholds should be carefully evaluated one by one in order to decide the relevant and sustainable climate policy and whether to add SRM or other similar proposals to the survival kit of climate emergency.


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1 Those adverse effects include for instance rising polar temperatures, diminishing and melting of icebergs, icecaps and glaciers; reduced permafrost; changes in ocean currents, wind patterns and precipitation; heat waves; droughts; loss of biodiversity and overall increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

2 They could argue for the development of this technology by claiming that the effects of climate change are human rights violations (Caney, 2009, p. 127; 2010: Hayward, 2005, p.29). Caney mentions that climate change will threaten at least three rights: the right to life, the right to health, and the right to subsistence. Although Caney and Hayward both argue that adverse effects of climate change could violate fundamental human rights, they have not proposed geoengineering schemes in order to hinder the negative effects of climate change. We simply mention the argument here as a potential argument for geoengineering. In addition to human rights view, Moellendorf (2011) analyzes different responses to dangerous climate change.

3 Geoengineering should not, however, be confused with ecological engineering, the intentional large-scale manipulation of the ecosystems although they overlap each other.

4 In the 18th century, Carl von Linné, Pehr Adrian Gadd and numerous other scholars in Sweden considered the local warming of the northern climate. For them local warming meant increasing productivity and wealth, and it was achievable by means of population growth, deforestation and draining of wetlands. (Niemelä 2008.)

5 Victor et al. (2009, p.66) suggest that emergency measures as a shield is a political choice. However, political solutions in the case of climate change are not known to be particularly swift decisions. This presents a dilemma for geoengineering and the policy making of climate change.

6 Failed or suddenly stopped geoengineering could lead to rapid warming of the climate (Matthews & Caldeira 2007, p.9949; Brovkin, Petoukhov, Claussen, Bauer, Archer, & Jaeger 2009, p.255).

7 Caldeira and Wood (2008) and Virgoe (2009) also discuss the second and third point.

8 Arguments against geoengineering usually involve references to e.g. quick and ecologically unsustainable techno-fixes and side effects, unreasonable human hubris over positive outcomes of meddling with nature, ill-tested proposals and unsolved issues of geoengineering governance and social and intergenerational justice.

9 For the sake of the argument let us assume that there are no morally excellent or good options available.