Against Arctic Paternalism

Greenland IcebergBy Gitte Seeberg

The Arctic Journal

Certain images are conjured up at the mention of the word ‘Arctic’: vast expanses of ice, the magic of the Northern Lights, glaciers churning out icebergs and animals found nowhere else on the planet.

The Arctic is indeed a place of incredible landscapes, a unique natural environment and fascinating wildlife. And unlike in the South, where many places no longer have virgin wilderness, and where wildlife is becoming increasingly less diverse, in the Arctic, nature is right outside your front door and extends as far as the eye can see.

From my office here in Copenhagen, I have a view of a concrete jungle, interspersed here and there by the occasional tree. As far as animal life goes, there are dogs, cats and pigeons and some gulls.

Many in Denmark and elsewhere have given up trying to help nature re-establish itself in their area. Instead they have directed their urge to conserve towards the North. Quite often, it seems as if they believe that all of our problems will be solved if the can just ‘save’ the Arctic by turning it into an open-air museum where development is forbidden.

As far as I’m concerned, this is a harmful attitude.

Today, the Arctic Council opens its biennial ministerial meeting in Iqaluit, Nunavut, an Inuit territory with some administrative powers devolved to it from Ottawa.

During the summit, cabinet members and other representatives of Arctic countries will meet to discuss the future of the region. Joining them will be an increasing number of non-Arctic states. Unfortunately, their discussions all too often overlook the fact that the Arctic is home to over four million people.

Far too many of these individuals live under conditions that more closely resemble those found in developing countries.

Food security is pathetic. (In Nunavut, some 70% of households face moderate to serious levels of food insecurity.) Children go to bed hungry. Electricity prices are atrocious. Milk is prohibitively expensive. Suicide rates are depressing.

The Arctic doesn’t need us to come and ‘save’ its environment or its people. If the people of the North are to be able to hope for a better life, the Arctic needs development. I believe that is done best by choosing the path that allows the Inuit to maintain their culture and to protect the environment that has nourished them, in spite of its unforgiving nature.

But, that said, Arctic countries should also be permitted to make the same mistakes we have. We shouldn’t forbid them from development just because it is dirty, or because we have bad conscience about ruining our own environment and feel the need to save someone else’s corner of the world.

Continue to full article . . .

Picture: Adrian Boliston (originally posted to Flickr as Iceberg and Houses) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

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