The Arctic and Subarctic regions can be said to comprise a number of zones—specific geographical territories, discursive spaces, and places immersed in myths, stories, histories and narratives—in which social and political relations, identities, and human-environment interactions arise, engage, and also collide. Northern places have also long been viewed as sites of anticipated futures—sometimes utopian ones based on dreams of resource extraction, other forms of development, and settlement—and they are human worlds of homes, households, communities, and memories and ambitions, in which indigenous and local residents assert rights over lands and waters, but also increasingly demand a voice in decision-making processes such as large-scale industrial projects that will impact their lives.
As the histories of northern places show, power relations are often most evident in spatial discourses, appropriation of lands, colonial and post-colonial practices, and contested notions and conflicting representations of territory and resources. With climate change entailing a process of topographical reshaping and accelerating the melting of perennial sea ice, with increased global interest in northern regions and their resource potential intimating a possible paradigm shift in Arctic geopolitics, and with growing concerns over human security, the circumpolar North is also witness to a reconfiguration of ideas (many of them conflicting) of space, territory and place. Climatic events in the region are taken as global warning signals of threatening global ecological futures, whether or not they can be attributed to climate change. Yet such environmental changes and the shifting geographies and other transformations affecting Arctic societies, economies and ecosystems as a result of global processes are also celebrated as providing opportunities. Much of my work considers aspects of such histories, contemporary realities and anticipated futures within a context of environmental change and resource use.
Climate and Society in Greenland
Since February 2012, I have directed the Climate and Society Research Group, which connects the University of Alberta with Ilisimatusarfik/University of Greenland and the Greenland Climate Research Centre (GCRC) at the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources (GINR) in Nuuk under the auspices of a visiting professorship. Our work focuses on issues of pressing contemporary concern for society and environment in Greenland. We seek to understand climate change within the context of other changes and societal and economic transformations in Greenland, including resource development and extractive industries. In many cases, climate change magnifies existing social, political, economic, legal, institutional and environmental challenges that northern peoples living in resource dependent communities experience and negotiate in their everyday lives.
There are six sub-projects in the programme. One is the Inuit Pinngortitarlu—Nuuk Fjord Monitoring and Mapping Project, which is mapping historical and contemporary use of the Nuuk Fjord complex. In this project, we explore human-environment relations and local knowledge to outline local and regional impacts and experiences of climate change, the dynamics, socio-economics, and political ecology of resource use, non-renewable resource development and the adaptive capacities of local communities. Inuit Pinngortitarlu may be translated from Greenlandic simply as ‘People and Nature’, yet pinngortitaq can be understood literally to mean ‘to come into being’. The word pinngorpoq refers to a continuous process of ‘becoming’, ‘to come into existence,’ indicating the unfolding of possibility and opportunity in the world and illustrating the difficulty of seeing a separation of nature and society in the Greenlandic worldview. We seek to understand the Nuuk Fjord area as a human world in which people engage in a complexity of rich and intricate social relations with animals and the environment, and we are researching local knowledge and perceptions of weather, climate and environment, the use of living marine and terrestrial resources, the growing importance of tourism and leisure, and the political, social and environmental aspects of extractive industries. Part of our work involves analysis of historical accounts, contemporary accounts and place names, and mapping travel routes, allowing us an understanding of settlement patterns and both historic and contemporary movement throughout the Nuuk Fjord region. A further aspect of this project is to place more recent changes in archaeological and historical context. To understand the impact of changes on historic Inuit and Norse cultures we are focusing on adaptation strategies in relation to changes in sea ice, climate and the environment.
For more details on the Climate and Society programme, please click here.
Ice, Climate and Economics—Arctic Research on Change (ICE-ARC)
I am co-investigator of an EU-funded project (under FP7) called ‘Ice, Climate and Economics—Arctic Research on Change’ (ICE-ARC), which runs from 2014-2018. I lead WP3, ‘Communities, Ice and Living Resources in Northwest Greenland,’ a collaborative research process with several communities in the Qaanaaq, Upernavik and Uummanaq areas. ICE-ARC is concerned with the rapid retreat and collapse of Arctic sea ice cover and assessing the climatic (ice, ocean, atmosphere and ecosystem), economic and social impacts of these stresses on regional and global scales. Our research focuses on reducing the uncertainty in understanding Arctic physical processes which are vital in climate and ecosystem change and which may not be adequately represented in present models. The project represents the first time a global impact model has been coupled with a physical climate model to assess the economic impact of observed and projected climate change events. We intend the outputs to lead to more effective policy and management options for societal responses to climate change. WP3 is examining climate change in the context of other rapid social, economic and political changes that also challenge livelihoods and local practices. For more details on ICE-ARC, please click here.
Subsurface Resources: Histories, Politics, Futures
I have research interests in the histories and contemporary activities of extractive industries in the circumpolar North. Projects have included exploring indigenous perspectives on the social and environmental impacts of past, current and planned oil and gas activities in Canada’s Yukon and Northwest Territories, in northern Alberta and in Alaska, examining hearings processes and pipeline development, and looking at issues of consultation. I am continuing this work in Greenland with a focus on how the country is anticipating, discussing, and planning resource development and is (or perhaps is not) preparing for megaprojects and what appears to be an inevitable transition to an industrial nation based on the extraction of minerals and hydrocarbons. Much of this work involves a consideration of what happens at the intersection of the political discourse surrounding resource development, the emergent public responses to it, debates over decision-making processes and the extent and nature of public participation, and the growing influence in Greenland of corporate transnationalism. In addition, I am co-leading a project investigating possible disturbance effects of oil and gas exploration activities on the hunt of narwhals in Melville Bay. Working with hunters from Kullorsuaq and Savissivik, the study will contribute to scientific understanding of migratory narwhals, inform social and environmental impact assessments, and will develop a new methodology for strengthening local community involvement in work that contributes to the environmental review process for oil exploration and potential exploitation, as well as governance decision-making processes and ecosystem-based management.
To view some of my other work, please click here.