Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Arctic Gold Rush

In chapter 9 of the book, I use the thawing of the Arctic region as a thought-experiment to think about the globalization of politics. This was the most difficult chapter to write, because the politics of globalization field is the one closest to my training. But the future of the Arctic region, I thought, helped to clarify three important issues: 1) the "tragedy of the commons," or the failure to protect collective resources (the polar environment); 2) the importance of territoriality, or states claiming earthly land or seabeds (Canada vs. Russia); and 3) challenges to state power and identity (global problems like climate change and the rise of global identities outside loyalty to the state).

(Whew! That was supposed to be a simple summary of the chapter!)

Anyway, the most recent issue of Foreign Policy magazine has a very interesting opinion piece by a geographer from Alaska who is an expert on the region. What I found interesting is that he affirms the importance of the oil, gold, and diamonds that lie buried under the region's melting ice. While he is sanguine about the possibility of territorial conflicts emerging there, and he says the climate change is only partly to blame for the warming, his description of the environmental situation is hardly encouraging. Because we are desperate for more natural resources and fish, corporations and governments are driven to exploring for them there (or so he contends). Overfishing and resource depletion are driving the "business opportunities" that NPR described a couple of years ago.

The Arctic gold (and oil and fish) rush is on. Is that a good thing?

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