On Thinning Ice: A Geoscientific Perspective on the Politics of Resource Exploration in a Changing Arctic – The Independent Study project of Athena Tharenos (’24)

Editor’s Note: Independent Study (IS) at The College of Wooster is a three-course series required of every student before graduation. Earth Sciences students typically begin in the second semester of their junior years with project identification, literature review, and a thesis essentially setting out the hypotheses and parameters of the work. Most students do fieldwork or lab work to collect data, and then spend their senior years finishing extensive Senior I.S. theses. The following is Athena’s thesis abstract —

Climate forecasting predicts that the decline in northern sea ice will render the Central Arctic Ocean fully accessible for shipping and petroleum extraction purposes by mid-century. These international waters present an opportunity for non-Arctic and Arctic nations to compete and collaborate for regional influence. Such prospects remain possible only with the rapid deterioration of our planet’s northernmost cryosphere, a positive feedback loop that is spurring environmentally harmful trends. Still, the notion of an ice-free Arctic has excited the international community for new opportunities: those contingent upon ecosystem collapse and defined by exploitive opportunism. As local states vie for exclusive control of these emerging northern resources, international bodies aim to humble their authority by promoting sustainable legislation to safeguard global common interests. In making the recent changes that are being experienced by the region a matter of global concern, various parties have leveraged the Arctic situation for their own gain. Ironically, these include both international bodies fighting against environmental degradation as well as those transnational corporations and governing powers looking to seize geoeconomic and geopolitical assets. I call this “the problematization of the Far North.” After reviewing the opportunities and obstacles presented to humanity by the loss of northern sea ice, I am forced to concede that our “Arctic problem” is far too complex for any one proposed solution. The convergence of environmental consciousness and resource competition in the region presents a clear conflict of interest for nation-states. It is impossible to balance the needs of all involved stakeholders without contradicting even the most innocent of intentions. We as a species must abandon our neocolonialist ethos and instead implement effective and sustainable legislation distinguished by community-led adaptive policy. How international and regional leaders choose to address the changes in the Arctic will have global repercussions for climate action and geopolitical cooperation. To understand humanity’s role in the Far North, we must remember to consider the larger consequences associated with our proximate gains and treat the great natural forces of our planet with patience and respect. For future generations to be able to meet their needs, it is essential we proceed with a careful balance of priorities and an urgent commitment to the common good.

About Mark Wilson

Mark Wilson is a Professor of Geology at The College of Wooster. He specializes in invertebrate paleontology, carbonate sedimentology, and stratigraphy. He also is an expert on pseudoscience, especially creationism.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.