The Arctic in World Environmental History
Greenberg, Jonathan D., Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law
This Article situates the Arctic in global environmental history across the long duration of time.
For millions of years, the Arctic has been the world's most important "barometer of global change and amplifier of global warming." (1) For twenty thousand years, the Arctic has been the homeland of modern human settlement, and it has played a central role in the interplay between global climate change and human migration throughout Eurasia and the Americas. Since the late fifteenth century, Arctic aboriginal peoples, lands, and seas have been thoroughly integrated into the international history of European trade, capitalism, and colonization; the territorial expansion of modern nation states; and the transnational strategic history since the outset of the Cold War, including the continued basing of nuclear-armed missiles, bombers, and submarines throughout the Arctic region.
Appreciation of this international history can provide lessons for contemporary policymakers to help mitigate grave risks to human life and biodiversity in the Arctic and subArctic. For example, this Article calls for negotiations between the U.S., NATO, and the Russian Federation on the basis of Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev's 1987 proposal to transform the Arctic into "a zone of peace" and, specifically, to establish "a nuclear free-zone in northern Europe." (2)
In conclusion, this Article identifies how deeply embedded global systems of political economy and international relations continue to shape recent developments in the Arctic at this time of exacerbated climate change and resulting ecological crisis.
Appreciation of the Arctic's environmental history can help decision-makers to more knowledgeably and effectively support indigenous self-determination, resource conservation, and environmental stewardship throughout the circumpolar bioregion.
TABLE OF CONTENTS I. INTRODUCTION A. Nunavut and Ultima Thule B. Political Ecology and the Longue Duree II. DEEP TIME ECHOES A. 70 Million Years Ago B. 55 Million Years Ago C. From Pleistocene to Holocene (our own era) III. MOTHERLAND AND BRIDGE A. Original Siberian Settlers B. Across to Berengia and Beyond IV. ABORIGINAL PEOPLES AND NATIONS A. Sovereignty and Territoriality B. Sustainable Resource Use 1. Reindeer/Caribou Peoples 2. Sea Mammal Peoples V. TERRA NULLIUS A. Consult Any Atlas B. The Global Fur Trade C. The International Whaling Industry VI. SETTLER COLONIALISM A. Mineral Development B. Indigenous Cultural Eradication and Resilience C. Demographic Data VII. ULTIMA THULE A. The 1941 Greenland Treaty B. The Last Kings of Thule C. Nuclear Trajectories D. A Private Sea E. A Nuclear-Free Arctic? VIII. ARCTIC HISTORY ACROSS THE LONGUE DUREE A. To the Mid-Twentieth Century B. The Past Sixty Years
One of the oldest dreams of mankind is to find a dignity that might include all living things.
Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape. (3)
Now we know that the ice caps are melting, effectively changing the polar environment forever. Asked to close our eyes and imagine the Arctic as it appeared in years past, polar bears may come to our minds. Yet now we imagine a single bear wobbling upon a patch of broken-off sea-ice, a searing image cycled through the internet into the world's consciousness as a metaphor for the Arctic's fate in our new and rapidly warming millennium. We worry about the extinction of polar species and the fate of vulnerable coastal populations (in the Ganges delta of Bangladesh, for example), whose lands and lives would be destroyed if Greenland ice sheets melt into the Arctic Sea. Indeed we are right to worry and take whatever collective action we can as families, societies, organizations, and governments. …