The Arctic Is Changing … Or Is It?

Icebergs such as this one in the Davis Strait have been both changed and changing since they were formed several thousand years ago (Photo by Hunter Snyder)
Icebergs such as this one in the Davis Strait have been both changed by and changing Arctic ecologies since their formation several thousand years ago (Photo by Hunter Snyder)

The Arctic is a terribly exciting region for science, media, and the public. That the Arctic is undergoing a period of complex, visible, and consequential environmental change gives us ample reason to care about it. But this is only one kind of change.

On Monday, August 24th, 2015, several major news outlets vied for our attention with headlines such as, “Satellite images show fast-melting glacier lose perhaps the biggest block of ice ever.” At the GLACIER conference in Anchorage, Alaska held just a week later, United States Secretary of State John Kerry urged a distinguished group of global leaders and the public to consider the enormity of the threat posed by climate change and the need to act.

.@JohnKerry: Unless global community unites to address #climatechange, Arctic issues will be harbinger for the world

— Department of State (@StateDept) August 31, 2015

While glaciers in Greenland continue to eject chunks of ice the size of Manhattan, it is critical for all environmentally-minded readers to reflect on what exactly we mean by “change.” There sure seems to be a lot of it occurring in the Arctic, but there’s more to life for the people here than just temperatures and ice thickness, and there are different kinds of changes they’d be happy to see.

The Broader View

I have been living and conducting anthropological fieldwork in Greenland for the past 14 months. My observations make me think about the different things people mean when they talk about change. Arctic change spans involves more than just the environment, it also touches society, politics, and public policy, as well as technology and —> Read More