Take Five is The Arctic Institute’s news roundup that gives you everything you need to know about what’s happened in the Arctic this week. Short in length but big on insight, from politics and culture to the environment and security, we look beneath the headlines to see what’s really going on. Published each Friday, our quick and fun redux breaks down the five biggest circumpolar stories with fresh editorial analysis so you can get caught up on the region in under five minutes. Take Five means you’ll never miss a beat on what matters most.
ExxonMobil CEO tapped as next US Secretary of State
Recent developments in terms of President-elect Trump’s cabinet see Rex Tillerson, the CEO of US oil and gas major ExxonMobil, being tapped for the foreign policy-wielding, influence-exerting, globe-trotting position of Secretary of State (TAJ)*. Tillerson and Trump also have at least one thing in common besides a mutual interest in oil: a friendly relationship with Vladimir Putin. In part due to Exxon’s history of collaboration with Russian state oil company Rosneft and its contributions to Russian social programs, in 2013 Russia awarded Tillerson its Order of Friendship (NYT). Unfortunately for Exxon, since then, US sanctions have effectively torpedoed the ability of US and Russian companies to work together; just this past week, Rosneft and Exxon pulled out of their last major joint project (Intellinews). Tillerson’s Russian connection will nevertheless come under quite a bit of scrutiny in the coming weeks as he faces Senate confirmation hearings (Chicago Tribune).
TAKE 1: The next Secretary of State is going to have a lot of influence in shaping the relationships the US has with other states, and by extension, its position in the grand scheme of international affairs. Of interest to the Arctic region, this is a move that may very well spell the end of sanctions on Russia and will surely be felt in organizations like the Arctic Council.
US military worried about Russia, but that’s good news for Alaska’s economy
On the other hand, US officials aren’t reading Russian military moves as friendly in the slightest: to such an extent that Air Force secretary Deborah James recently stated that “Russia is the No. 1 threat to the United States…because of the nuclear aspect, [it’s] an existential threat to the United States” (Business Insider). Russia’s also definitely been busy in the Arctic: a new military base in the New Siberian Islands was recently declared open and several more are in the works (IBO). Meanwhile, due in part to low oil prices, Alaska’s economy is in the worst shape it’s been in since the ‘80s recession (AJC). The defense spending bill recently passed by Congress will, among other things, raise the number of troops in Alaska and bump up their pay (AD).
TAKE 2: The US military, at least, seems to be banking on being “frenemies” with Russia in the absolute best case scenario. But if that means that plans for a “strategic Arctic Port” comes to fruition, that’ll be another way that Alaska could stand to benefit from a complicated international relationship (AD).
Hunting issues rankle Cree, Inuit
Some Indigenous communities in Canada are angry over recent hunting developments. In northern Quebec, Cree leaders and hunters are outraged after improper and irresponsible caribou hunting practices resulted in dozens of whole carcasses being discarded and left unused near Chisabisi. Restrictions had been placed on sport hunting this year in order to protect the animal’s numbers and prevent meat wastage (CBC). In Nunavut, quotas are the source of frustration, but for a different reason: based on a federal recommendation that cites a decline in narwhal numbers, the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board has restricted the harvesting quota in Baffin Bay by almost half based on a 2013 survey local hunters see a number of flaws in. Suggesting that the government is going after the wrong culprit, Tununiq MLA Joe Enook put it thus: “…you can’t throw out thousands of years of knowledge and now say scientific knowledge trumps that, especially when Inuit have survived by managing the wildlife” (NN).
TAKE 3: This isn’t the first time Local Knowledges have come into conflict with Western science-based management practices, and it won’t be the last. But while elders like Samuel Bearskin continue to emphasize the importance of following “the teachings that have been passed on to us” (CBC), obstacles to doing so continue to abound.
Businesses from China making strides in northern Finland
Finland, which has recently announced moves to make itself coal-free by 2030, is going to get a new biodiesel refinery—with the help of a lot of cash from Chinese investments. The Lapland project, slated to be up and running by 2019, will cost up to €1 billion and create 150 permanent jobs (TBO). Lapland capital city Rovaniemi, “home of Santa Claus” and destination for Chinese tourists who are presumably intrigued by the mythical holiday gift distributor, has also seen the adoption of payment platform Alipay, a subsidiary of marketplace giant Alibaba, take off among local merchants faster than you can say “giddyup, Rudolph” (China Daily).
TAKE 4: In the Arctic, as elsewhere, the line between the local and the international is blurry, especially with growing interest, economic and scientific, from Asian countries like China, Japan, and South Korea (Daily News LK).
Air transportation changes taking off throughout Arctic
Finally, this week sees the arrival of several shifts in the world of Arctic air travel. By getting the go-ahead to buy Virgin America for a cool $4b, Alaska Air Group, Inc., parent company of Alaska Airlines, is going to be able to extend its reach throughout North America (AJOC). Meanwhile, in Canada, a bitter breakup has ensued between Nunavut airlines Canadian North and First Air, which will no longer be codesharing (NN, CBC). And in Greenland, because of an anticipated rise in international air traffic, the national airport authority is putting plans in motion for more home-grown air traffic controllers (TAJ)*.
TAKE 5: There might be plenty of far-flung places in the Arctic that are hard to get to without an airplane, but the region is fundamentally international and global, too—and increasingly so, with or without turbulence.
* The Arctic Journal (TAI) went offline in June 2017.