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.
Leading scientists call on Obama to permanently ban Arctic drilling
Several days after the Obama administration’s decision to remove the Arctic Ocean from the list of approved areas for leasing oil and gas drilling, 34 well-respected scientists released a letter urging the President to keep oil and gas interests out of US Arctic waters permanently (TAI, TAJ)*. This would mean that any efforts to reinstate drilling under Trump would go from difficult but doable to extremely difficult, something that the scientists say is critical to managing risk in the Arctic’s “hypersensitive” environment (Common Dreams).
TAKE 1: This is a necessary step towards ensuring an adequate amount of environmental protection. But given that the Arctic is an international region, other countries will need to step up too–something that’s easier said than done given Russia’s enthusiastic exploration.
19 “tipping points” for drastic environmental changes in Arctic and beyond: report
The 2016 Arctic Resilience Report, a 5-year research project led by the Arctic Council, has a fairly dire message: if we don’t act quickly to curb fossil fuel burning, there could be a cascade effect of hard-to-predict, but definitely not good, consequences (Arctic Council, Scientific American). The report identified 19 tipping points that could feed into this, from the Arctic having ice-free summers to fish stocks collapsing. As if one of these weren’t enough to cause nightmares, each individual event holds the power to feed into another, resulting in even bigger consequences for not just the region and its people, but the entire globe (CBC).
TAKE 2: As the saying goes, what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic; at the same time, things that happen outside the region can affect it too. All the more reason for you to start composting and using public transit.
CNN misreports US Marine “war games” on Norway-Russia border; media firestorm ensues
Just the facts, ma’am. In an article referring to “The New Cold War” earlier this month, CNN reported that US Marines were engaged in “war games” along the Norwegian border with Russia. While Marines are training in Norway, they’re doing so in a town some 800 km from the border. In the original article, this fact got mixed up with separate Norwegian military patrols that were taking place along the border (TBO). CNN has since corrected the article (CNN), but not before the original error got picked up and amplified by other media outlets.
TAKE 3: Eyes had already been fixed on the boundary between NATO forces and Russia and tensions have been mounting on both sides. The reaction to this story proves that environment isn’t the only “hypersensitive” thing in the Arctic.
More oil from the Russian Arctic, with love
Russia continues to be busy in its Arctic waters: its solitary Arctic offshore oil rig has, after 4 years of operation, just reached a cumulative production of 3 million tons. Anticipating a petro-rich future, state oil company Rosneft has been very active in seismically mapping the Russian continental shelf in search of deposits (TBO, TBO). And there’s been a lot of talk with neighbouring Norway about jointly exploring their maritime border for oil and gas, which will likely culminate in a formal agreement later this month (E&P, Rig Zone).
TAKE 4: Even with low oil prices, Russia seems intent on exploring and developing its oil and gas deposits: an expensive prospect in such a remote and technically challenging region as the Arctic. But a word of warning – some analysts think the payoff won’t be what it’s cracked up to be (TAJ)*.
The mysterious decline of central Alaskan caribou
A herd of caribou in Alaska, the Central Arctic herd, has seen a rapid decline in numbers and biologists aren’t quite sure why. Since its peak in 2010 the herd has shrunk by 69%, and factors such as predation and hunting have been tentatively ruled out as significant factors (The Arctic Sounder, National Post). In spite of this, tighter hunting restriction are expected this season (Sit News).
TAKE 5: This isn’t the only herd to be showing signs of decline. Smithsonian reported in 2012 that the Western Arctic herd has lost a substantial proportion of its members (Smithsonian). While this is ecologically troubling, it’s even more so for the people who depend on caribou.
* The Arctic Journal (TAJ) went offline in June 2017.