Turning North: The Arctic Rebalance

It’s inevitable that, being writers focused not only travel, but on place, we’ve written a fair bit on this blog about worldwide effects of global warming and climate change, paying particular attention to the melting of Arctic ice. Steve posted recently about the opening of the Northwest Passage, and I wondered about the effect the warming of cold places will have on travel writing. The chilly north has been much on the mind.

So it was with no great surprise that I received my November issue of Toronto-based The Walrus and saw that it was a special issue devoted to the Arctic.

Canada has a particular relationship with the Arctic and its peoples, one that hasn’t always had a pretty history. But the articles in this issue are focused less on Canada’s past use of its natural resources and repressing of indigenous populations than they are on the way Canada is going to have to think about its Arctic lands in the future.

The articles move from memoir to travel to politics to climate change to Canada’s molasses-like approach to developing an Arctic policy. An excellent selection of writers focus particularly on the Inuit populations in the north, their opinions of climate change and what role they will play when Canada turns its ponderous thoughts to previously frozen resources, the Northwest Passage, and the inevitable political battles that will ensue.

It occurs to me as I make my way through a hefty, well-respected magazine devoted entirely to a region that was previously as remote in thought as it was in location, that the coming century will see more than just a rebalance of powers. There will be that in spades, with Russia already staking claim to oil on the North Pole’s floor and the US traipsing its way through the Northwest Passage to flaunt Canada’s inability to claim sovereignty over its waters.

But what we are really seeing is a rebalance in thought. In modern history humankind has only ever thought of our poles as remote and inaccessible. And cold. And adventurous. No longer. Now they are becoming places that we think about — symbols of planetary destruction, sure, but also places in their own rights, destinations and locations that, before, we thought of as only for intrepid explorers and fur-wearing natives. Now those fur-wearing natives are seeing their homes, their lifestyle, their art and their thoughts become part of the world’s mainstream conversation as never before.

The Walrus is currently in the vanguard of this thought shift. Rather than focusing purely on melting polar caps and political battles, this issue gives weight to the Inuit perspective, studying climate change and its effects on Canada from the Inuit point of view. Writers travel from Labrador, to Wales, Alaska (the US’s northernmost town), to Siberia, to Moscow, back to Nunavut and everywhere in between, bringing a comprehensive issue that is one of the most thought-provoking and refreshing magazine issues from anywhere in a very long time. To me, it is a bellweather of the future, an indication of where our politics, art, literature, and, unfortunately, conflicts, will take place in the coming century.

As always, you can sign up for a free ten-day trial of The Walrus by going to the website. This time, however, I recommend ordering this issue if you can. It’s going to be one to keep and refer to for years to come.

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