by Edward StruzikFuture Arctic is a terrifying look at the political, geographical and biological future of the Arctic circle. Written in 2015, many of its predictions are ominous in the light of subsequent events such as the forest fires in Sweden in 2018. Edward Struzik starts by discussing the increasing frequency of forest fires in Northern Canadian forests, in Yukon, and in Alaska, and also the rare tundra fires.
The author mentions the prediction of an ice-free Arctic in summer by 2040. The Arctic is full of hydrocarbons, and he goes into detail about the likelihood of spills and pollution, and the battle between local people and the business interests behind a push to exploit the area no matter the environmental consequences.
It's not only the chance of a spill that threatens this wilderness. Climate change evaporates glaciers, alters the movements of fish, changes ocean currents and salinity, and leads to southern species moving in and predating on the northerly ones, or introducing their southern diseases and parasites. The book explains how storm surges have happened where previously they tended not to, and how melting ice can cause faster coastal erosion.
Struzik doesn't have much if anything positive to say about Stephen Harper's pro-fossil fuels conservative government, which he sees as prioritising industry and oil and gas over wildlife. The author singles out for pointed criticism the treatment of government scientists.
There's an interesting discussion on hybridisation, which becomes more likely in disturbed environments. The author explains how that can sometimes be bad for the survival of a species. It's a view I was left reserving judgement over; we know that the boundaries between species aren't always solid lines, and that hybridisation can occur to varying degrees (this is also discussed in Chris D Thomas's Inheritors of the Earth). The question I was left with was, what if a species is doomed and adaptive hybridisation is the only way it could effectively survive a changing environment?
The author details the impact on various species: polar bears, caribou, birds, snowy owls, lemmings, and others. It makes grim reading for the most part, and in particular for once-massive caribou herds reduced to a fraction of what they were. There are some positive stories, as some countries understand the need for conservation measures for polar bears, or set aside land for conservation.
However, one recurrent theme is how fragile everything is, both environmentally and politically. The author returns to the danger of oil spills and the challenges of disaster recovery in the Arctic. The lack of polar icebreakers to deal with any potential spill looks like a major accident waiting to happen.
The politics of the Arctic, like the icebergs, is heating up. The author describes countries racing to claim the Arctic seabed, and boundary disputes in the making. He explains the changing role of the Arctic Council in making policy, and how a number of non-Arctic countries have joined it as observers. That latter is perhaps the most ominous thing, as the interested countries are likely to be eyeing up the 22% of the world's recoverable oil and gas that sits underneath the Arctic, waiting to set the world on fire.
Edward Struzik doesn't have to try hard to make Future Arctic scary. The subject matter does that work. My main issue with this book is the lack of footnotes and sources of further reading, which suggest it isn't pitched at an academic audience. However, it does paint a detailed picture of a part of the world that is both facing a crisis and the the potential cause of another, a region we ignore at our peril.
2nd June 2019
Review © Ros Jackson
Source: own copy