While, as the editor posits, the real opening of the Arctic may be years away, Russia planted its flag on the ocean floor in 2007, symbolizing its claims on the North Pole regions and its designs on deep-sea oil deposits. This volume in the Opposing Viewpoints series looks at that land grab and at the competing nations jockeying with environmental and indigenous groups for control of some of the more geographically remote and environmentally pristine places in the world.
With the prospect of the Arctic sea melting, the fabled Northwest Passage could be open to the Pacific. This would enrich the appeal of remote and sparsely inhabited regions where populations with a stake in Arctic interests can be found to include as many as 40 million people, making up 40 different ethnic or geopolitical groups. The book explores Arctic claims by Canada, Norway, Denmark and Greenland, and the United States, all of which have some established rights, authorities, or privileges in the area. Unlike the Antarctic, which was uninhabited before initial exploration, the Arctic regions have a long history of habitation and even traffic. Today, an Arctic Council represents the interests of indigenous groups in the area.
In contrast, governance of Antarctica is relatively simple, though the volume looks at competing British, Chilean, and Argentine presence in Antarctica, including the number of babies born to each population as one gauge of national claims. In 1959, 12 nations with material interests drafted the treaty currently governing the southern continent, providing for peaceful, scientific cooperation. While the Antarctic research stations have been generally held to have an established record of promoting international research, the thornier issue of governance, or ownership, of the areas with ample resources, rears it head. Essayists imagine the efficacy of an expanded international role, perhaps through the United Nations, in governing the continent, conceding that an unilateral group like the United Nations would probably allow for military and strategic use of the region currently prohibited under the existing agreement.
Chapters on climate change describe the physical changes required for evaporation, including scientific calculations seeking to demonstrate that a rising sea level won’t endanger the other continents’ shorelines given present levels of latent heat. Other chapters discuss the imperative to preserve biodiversity of the poles by minimizing threats to indigenous people and animals. One essayist suggests Inuit are inherently adaptable, possessing "tribal knowledge" which allows them to migrate and adapt successfully in times of climate change. In one scenario, petroleum exploration and related industries leave the polar bear extinct in Alaska by 2050. Be it the environmental degradation wrought by Arctic oil exploration and drilling or punitive policies designed to regulate the companies bringing tourists from South America to Antarctica, the role of mankind in safeguarding and overseeing the polar wilderness is undeniable. As trophy destinations become fewer and fewer, more and more tourists may continue to cruise to Antarctica. If some of the ecotourists able to afford the trip return home with renewed zeal for environmental protection, that might justify the environmental strain of that industry on the continent as argued. But Antarctica remains a laboratory for territorial policies and governance by treaty, and perspectives on its ownership and fate reveal as much about opinions on colonialism and climate change as they do about anything unique to the polar regions. Supplemental for public libraries.