The loudest message about climate change among politicians and energy industry officials who spoke at the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromso recently could be summed up as “Bring it on!”
This optimistic, even celebratory, outlook on the expected impacts of global warming on the High North–which is warming faster than any place on Earth–runs counter to what most scientists and environmentalists say is unfolding there. But then again, under the thawing ice lies bounty that could fill mouths, and pockets, around the globe.
Steiner Vaage, president of ConocoPhillips Europe and Chair of the Norwegian Oil and Gas Association, expressed the mood of optimism as clearly as anyone. “There are 80 million people joining the global middle class each year,” he said. “The world needs more transportation and electricity generation. We believe more energy sources will be needed in future, including in the Arctic.” Mead Treadwell, Lieutenant Governor of energy-rich Alaska, added, “The Arctic can truly can feed and fuel the world.”
Let me clarify first that defining the Arctic is a taxing proposition. Geographically it is often defined as areas north of the Arctic Circle (latitude 66 degrees, 32 minutes North, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center). But that demarcation would exclude a large swath of Greenland and ice-covered stretches of Canada. Some researchers define it as north of tree line. But the Arctic is defined in political as much as in scientific terms. Which explains why some national leaders at the conference said that 4 million people live in the Arctic, while others claimed 9 million live there.