By Claire Polfus, University of Vermont
Arctic diplomacy is not only about relations between the political bodies of polar countries like Russia, Norway and Canada, but about the residents of the arctic and how they relate to both their environment and natural resources and to outside people and governments that have stakes in these resources. The panelists on the Polar Diplomacy panel at the International Conference on Environmental Diplomacy and Security at UVM , Dr. Ross Virginia, Dr. Rasmus Bertelsen, Klaus Hansen, Dr. Glenn Sheehan, Retired Colonel Sam Gardiner and Damien DeGeorges, elucidated the specific examples of their own research but also expounded upon some of the connections across the circumpolar landscape.
One unifying theme was the arctic environment. The harsh climate makes many things we take for granted in southern latitudes quite difficult. Col. Gardiner mentioned, for example, the need for unified search and rescue efforts and good weather prediction services. Another aspect of much of the arctic is the richness of resources. Mr. Sheehan used his experiences as a scientist and community partner in Barrow, AK to infer that more research is often needed so that communities can make educated decisions on the exploitation of resources on their lands. Good communication between the researchers and communities is an obvious, but difficult and particularly important part of the necessary research process.
Community health and development was another main unifying theme. Many arctic peoples subsistence hunt and connect with the land and the animals through the seasonal cycles. This does not always correspond well with western-style jobs. Dr. Bertelsen and Dr. Hansen, as well as Mr. Sheehan, spoke about the need to promote sustainable exploitation with good jobs and livelihoods that could mesh with cultural and historical practices in Greenland and Alaska. Finally, communities would also benefit from more education and the ability to self-manage. This is not always easy in the sparsely populated areas of the north, but technology can help to encourage education.
Communities in the north are inextricably linked with their environment and resources. Creating sustainable resource exploitation and community structures amidst a changing climate, powerful political maneuvering and expanding technology is a definite challenge for people of the north and people who care about the north.