Can we have our cake and eat it too?

An oil-based economy fighting climate change

Written by Doris Friedrich

Despite all the enlightening presentations and lessons during the conference and the PhD workshop afterwards, the talk and discussion that stayed in my mind the entire time is the opening debate at the Arctic Frontiers, featuring among others Erna Solberg, the Prime Minister of Norway, as well as ministers from Finland, Sweden, Iceland; Jeffrey Sachs of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, and Petteri Taalas of the World Meteorological Organization.

In her speech, Erna Solberg insisted that Norway’s Arctic oil exploitation does not contradict acting against climate change. And that “it is possible and necessary to do both.” Well aware of the climate-related changes that can already be seen today and the need to protect natural resources, she argued that the extraction of one barrel of oil from the Norwegian continental shelf results in less climate-damaging emissions compared to oil produced in other countries.

Erna Solberg at Arctic Frontiers 2017 (photo: Terje Mortensen/Arctic Frontiers 2017)

After all the warnings and arguments about the urgency of action against climate change, but also the potential environmental damage from offshore oil exploitation in the Arctic, this take on the debate struck me. How is Norway’s Arctic oil production not in direct contradiction with working on climate change? Can we have our cake and eat it too?

In stark contrast to this perspective was the message of Ingrid Skoldvær from the Youth and Nature Organization Norway, who spoke after Solberg’s statement. In her opinion, the respect for nature that should come with living in the Arctic environment, is often not present when politicians of today make decisions for tomorrow, looking for instance at the poor job of balancing environmental protection and development. She pointed to the rig that was anchored right outside Tromsø and made its way to the Barents Sea a few weeks later to search for more oil – “a big paradox”.

Ingrid Skoldvær at Arctic Frontiers 2017 (photo: Alberto Grohovaz / Arctic Frontiers 2017)

Julienne Stroeve’s talk about climatic changes and the urgent need to act also had a deep effect on me. She explained that climate-related changes are not only visible in summer anymore, but has started to extend to other seasons. The ten lowest sea ice extents since measurements began were recorded in the last ten years and the pace of the ice’s disappearance is accelerating. To visualize our footprint on the environment, she referred to her travels by plane. Every time she flies from New York to London, she melts three square kilometers of sea ice, the thought of which is terrifying – at least to me. I was fortunate to be able to interview her for a news article for High North News and was amazed by her commitment and her courage to take the bull by the horns.

Julienne Stroeve at Arctic Frontiers 2017 (photo: Terje Mortensen/Arctic Frontiers 2017)

So, while we learned about a lot of different interesting and important topics and had the chance to listen to great lectures, presentations and discussions, climate change and environmental issues stuck on my mind. Climate change also found its way into my poster presentation on the regulation of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) (see article here) due to the potential increases of POPs related to warmer temperatures and the resulting harm to the environment.

To conclude, I want to give decision-makers in the Arctic food for thought. As Ingrid Skoldvær put it during the conference: “The decisions made today will have consequences far beyond the four-year parliamentary turn. No pressure.”

And to add to that: consequences far beyond the Arctic. Shouldn’t we, based on this, apply the principle of precaution to make sure we don’t mess up before it’s too late? Instead of clinging tight on to fossil fuels, it seems more sensible to shift our economies towards renewables and a green future “already” now. #makefactsgreatagain

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Art, Science, and Networking

Written by André Frainer

The ARCTOS workshop proved to be much more than just a very interesting workshop in a wonderful location. With lectures spanning many areas of interest to young scientists, from how to write a CV to how to communicate with journalists, and counting on visits to local museums and artists, the workshop was truly an eye-opener to a deeper engagement in science and society.

We started with various lectures at FramCenter, in Tromsø, where we learned about time series data on bivalves and what that can tell us; wars and conflicts in northern Scandinavia and the importance of Northern Norway in times of peace; and horror stories about journalists misinterpreting science for the sake of their newspapers profit.

After some pizza and an awesome musical concert, we headed to Hurtigruten for a smooth trip to Svolvær. During the trip, we continued with lectures on CV structure, aquaculture, and the different ethnicities inhabiting northern Norway, among other topics. At this time, it was already becoming clear that although the participants had very different science backgrounds and interests, many nice and fruitful collaborations would be possible.

As we checked-in at the hotel in Svolvær, we were ready for some sightseeing and an exploration of the local culture, but not before an introduction of our activities during our stay in Svolvær. First we were divided into groups and given the task to write a research proposal for a fictional ARCTOS funding agency. Really cool idea, and truly important for all the future researchers participating in the workshop. Then, we learned how to think stats on a way opposite to what most people do, i.e., to identify groups containing members as different from each other as possible (how can a group be formed statistically by combining the extremes? Our in-house world-class expert showed us the trick). It was about time to have dinner and explore the surroundings.

Visiting and talking to the local artists made us understand that science can do much better at engaging with the real world, and it probably should. From the display of sounds and colours of the local landscapes to building bridges made of war tanks, we learned that our impact on society can be improved by utilizing our senses together with our reasoning.

After amazing days interacting with local artists, fisheries authorities, high-ranked scientists, PhDs who started their own business, and ourselves, all with the company of two virtuosi musicians, we came to the sense that this workshop truly connected nodes of a network that were idle, awaiting to be connected to a larger and much more functional network.

16 words about the workshop

It was a dream, wasn’t it? Sometimes you are not able to distinguish reality from fantasy. That’s why it’s extremely important to take pictures during a journey. To have some clues afterwards.

In September you submit an application for participating in the workshop. In November you are informed that your application has been accepted. You are happy. You buy tickets and forget about this until you receive an email from Ulrike in January, where she says that we all will meet in Tromsø just in few days. Now you become surprised and ecstatic. Whereas, you’re starting to realize that you will get out from your daily routine soon.

To get to Norway you should initially take a train to get to Saint-Petersburg (oh, those lucky people who have sufficient airports in towns where they live in). However, you have no right to complain. Firstly, a distance is just a part of a journey. Secondly, in two days you will be involved in the most magnificent event of your last seven years. You don’t know about it yet, but it doesn’t matter at all. Just turn your MP3 player on and close your eyes.

You wake up in six hours when the train has already arrived at a railway station in Saint-Petersburg. Then you make your way to Pulkovo airport. You desperately try to save your poster and yourself from damage in crowded underground and buses. Rush hour is particularly ruthless time in cities with 5-million population.

After two layovers at Riga and Oslo airports you finally get to Tromsø. And you immediately start feeling that something is going on in your mind. Strange and pleasure sensation. You see that Tromsø is swallowed by darkness which can not conceal the beauty of the town. On the contrary, it emphasizes the magic of the place, where everybody seems friendly and happy.

The following two weeks will be over in the blink of an eye. Each day will be full of various amazing occasions. Sleeping is just waste of time, because you don’t want to miss out on something. It should be 32 hours instead of formulaic 24 out there. Science, fjords, parties, art, Svolvær, lectures, pizza, yoga, ocean, music, fish, excursions, ships, northern lights, and, of course, people. Intelligent, creative, open-minded.  I wish I could hug you all again. You are the best proof that human existence on the Earth has an evidential sense.

Text and picture: Aleksandr Medvedev

Great impressions of Arctic Frontiers PhD workshop

Text and photos by Anna Kuznetsova

“The best investment in the Arctic region is the investment to knowledge”, – Anne Husebekk, Rector of UiT-The Arctic University of Norway

This statement of Anne Husebekk became a slogan for me during my Arctic Frontiers trip; it accompanied us, young researchers, during our work at the Arctic Frontiers PhD workshop.

Arctic Frontiers is one of the main scientific events in the Arctic region and about the Arctic region, and I was very happy to have an opportunity to be there and to present my work. It was nice that we attended not only scientific sessions but also the political part of the conference, as we could get to know the official positions of different countries and regions (and not only Arctic) about Arctic issues. The scientific sessions were wide – from biology and ecology to social sciences; from sea ice, fisheries and industry to policy-making, shipping and socio-economic issues. For me, as a social scientist, it was difficult at first to listen to the presentations about ecological issues, carbon, plankton, or oil and gas. However, all things are interrelated and the social life of people, their living conditions, directly depend on the processes occurring in ecology and biology. That is why it was very useful to get knowledge from natural sciences as well. We also presented our own research during the conference. I had a poster presentation about northern indigenous peoples and I was glad that researchers from different spheres and institutions showed interest in this topic.

Photo: Ulrike Grote

Our PhD workshop started with the welcoming gathering, introducing the workshop itself, teachers, lectors and participants. The main part of the workshop was held in Svolvær, on the Lofoten Islands. The nature there is amazing! Mountains, fjords, water and snow! We were happy to work there, enjoying such a wonderful place.

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One of the most interesting and useful things during the workshop was to write a research proposal for grant application. We were divided into several groups across our disciplines, home countries and working places. Honestly, it was not easy to be the only social scientist in a group and participate in the group discussions. But two nights spent in writing the proposal did the job and finally our proposal was done. The next step was to present it. We decided to introduce our project all together as each of us was responsible for different packages of the research. Some teachers noted that it was a good idea to have such representation – people from different places speak about one common topic and eventually our group won the research proposals competition! We were satisfied with the work done and this small winning and nice gifts were the great ending of the event. This experience was extremely useful for me. I was pleasantly surprised that I can contribute to natural sciences researches by conducting a part of the research about social issues.

Photo: Ulrike Grote

In addition to the educational program, we had social gatherings allowing us to get to know each other, to learn something new from different disciplines, and to build our networks. We had excursions to museums and the coastal administration, meetings with artists and a walk around Svolvær acquainting us with the culture, history, people and nature of Norway and Lofoten. It was exciting to get to know about everyday life and traditions of local people.

Thus, as the Mayor of Tromsø, Kristin Roymo told us, we share a land, a tough way of living beyond geopolitics, very special weather conditions, and we need to stay together. I share this point like many others and think that the Arctic Frontiers PhD workshop gave us an opportunity to meet each other, to get to know our cultures better and to stay together.

Coming out of the natural sciences closet: remembering the human component of the Arctic ecosystem

Text and pictures by Kyra St. Pierre, University of Alberta, Canada

Natural scientists are trained to see an ecosystem as the sum of its parts, a complicated fabric that only stays together if all the threads are intact. Coming from a very sparsely populated country, one critical thread that I often neglect (and I am certain that I am not alone among natural scientists) is the human component of the arctic ecosystem. Just as polar bears, muskoxen, and snowgeese call the Arctic home, so too do people in each of the 8 Arctic countries. Although I have always known this to be true, the two weeks of Arctic Frontiers put a spotlight on the people of the Arctic, the infrastructure and homes that they have built over centuries and will continue to develop, a reality that I am not soon to forget.

For me, one of the most powerful moments during the Arctic Frontiers Conference was when a young 17-year old high school student from Tromsø (picture below) addressed the assembled prime ministers, foreign ministers and business people from around the world (undoubtedly an anxiety-inducing audience for even the most experienced speakers!), eloquently demanding that they remember the people of the Arctic when waving their policy wands from the south. The “Arctic” capitals of Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki, Ottawa, Copenhagen, Washington, and Moscow (except for Reykjavik) are far removed from the realities of the North and yet decisions made in these relatively southern locales have profound consequences on the people of the Arctic. I was warmed by the frequent use of the term “arctic neighbourhood” when describing relationships between regions, a much cozier and grounded narrative to international relations than is typically portrayed in the media!

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This theme continued throughout the conference and workshop, as we learned of the Arctic region’s role during international conflicts (spoiler: no serious conflict to date has been about the Arctic), the long history of the fishing industry in northern Norway, and the future of arctic governance in an increasingly globalized world.

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Fishing nets in Svolvær

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Stockfish drying in the elements

The lecture by Paul Wassman on board the MS Nordkapp about the ethnic mosaic of northern Norway was particularly eye-opening to me. Northern Norway is a relatively small area of the global Arctic and yet it alone is home to a surprising diversity of peoples (Norwegian, Sami, Kven) who have shaped the region into what it is today. If you consider that each Arctic country is home to its own unique mosaic of peoples, then the Arctic region as a whole isn’t just a fabric but an intricate tapestry, which will continue to evolve as it has for centuries.

Welcome to Tromsø and Arctic Frontiers 2017!

Written by Ulrike Grote, UiT, Tromsø, Norway

The next workshop is only two days away and this time 27 young researchers will attend the conference followed by a 5-day trip to Svolvær on Lofoten. A look at the map where people come from in terms of their current working place reveals that we are not as international as in previous years but don’t let yourself be fooled! Many of the participants do not work in the country where they were born. We will surely have a great mix of nationalities and backgrounds. Looking forward to seeing you all very soon!