Read Caption
An iceberg amid the stark beauty of the Hekla Havn cove off the east coast of Greenland. Photograph by Yossi Katzourin, National Geographic Your Shot.

In the Arctic, High Stakes Mean Great Opportunities

It’s in the wild places that we do our best thinking. So when I was stepped up to podium to moderate a forum on the Arctic for the National Geographic’s Great Energy Challenge initiative, it felt only right to open the session by apologizing for us all being inside. (See related video: Paul Rose and others live at The Arctic: The Science of Change event.)

Our topic was The Arctic: The Science of Change. We were in the wonderful Royal Society building in London, and could feel that we were indeed following 350 years of scientific discovery, so the venue could not have been better—unless, that is, we could have been standing on the Arctic sea ice. I can see us now: Goggles up, in respect of making eye contact, but squinting in the sun. Our gloves would be off, so that we could shake hands. We’d be moving around a lot, to keep warm. And everyone would take turns with the gun and flares on polar bear watch. (Vote and comment: What do we urgently need to know as Arctic development ramps up?)

Surely, that must be the best way of discussing Arctic challenges?

View Images

The Arctic: The Science of Change
Learn more about the issues surrounding a changing region.

The stakes are high, and therefore, the opportunities couldn’t be any better: We can’t stop the Arctic changing and we can easily imagine the cultural, environmental, and commercial risks of getting things wrong. This is our chance to make high standard, sensible, sustainable adaptations to climate change. (See interactive map: The Changing Arctic.)

If the Arctic becomes a geopolitical and commercial battleground, it will have a negative impact on all of our lives. However, if we embrace and put into action a vision of the “Top of the World” as a pristine region that is a benchmark for cultural appreciation, environmental understanding, and protection, as well as rational development and a showcase for adaptation to anthropogenic climate change, then this will have a positive effect on society. Even for those who never get there – they will hear about us shuffling around on the ice in our freezing discussions and know that the Arctic is in good hands. No pressure!

Our evening forum on the Arctic went by too fast and many of us wanted more time in the discussion groups. Maybe it was a bit too comfortable. If we had been on the ice in a whiteout, on a windswept beach or were being tossed around at sea we would have more appreciated the concise timetable. So I invite you to continue your discussions here at the online forum and I’m greatly looking forward to your thoughts, guidance and comments.

Paul Rose is vice president of the Royal Geographical Society, and chair of its Expeditions and Fieldwork Division. He was co-leader of National Geographic’s 2013 Pristine Seas Expedition to the remote Russian archipelago of Franz Josef Land.

View Images
Paul Rose, co-leader of National Geographic’s Arctic Pristine Seas Expedition, engaged in some higher thinking in Franz Josef Land. Photo by Andy Mann.