Environmental and Human Security in the Arctic

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In much of Alaska there are few grocery stores, and residents rely on the resources around them to survive. By setting specific seasons during which Alaskans can harvest these resources, however, the state limits possible responses to changes in the environment. What if caribou arrive a week before their scheduled hunting season? If rural Alaskans decide they do not want to starve, they must break the law, Fleener said.

He advocated for more flexibility across the entire spectrum of legislation, not just in the areas of hunting and fishing regulations. Receding sea ice means that coastal permafrost is less protected, causing soil erosion to accelerate. Most communities in northern Alaska are coastal, and some residents have already been forced to relocate buildings and entire villages as the soil becomes unstable.

Current land ownership patterns, however, make it difficult for coastal inhabitants to simply pack up and move as they might have done in the past. More than two-thirds of the state is owned by the federal government, so that has become trespassing. Moreover, government housing infrastructure favors sedentary communities, and there are obvious logistical difficulties involved in moving a house built on foundation in a region where there are few roads and permafrost melt roils the ground.

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Coastal inhabitants—and rural Alaskans in general—must be allowed to adapt to the changing landscape around them if they are going to survive. Decisions concerning Alaskans should fall into the hands of Alaskans, Fleener emphasized.

Fleener argued that renewable energy innovation will provide will help diversify the Alaskan economy away from oil. With the consumer price of energy remaining high in many rural areas, Alaska has an incentive to become a leader in renewable energy resources and expertise. The current lack of traditional energy infrastructure in the state makes renewable energy an ideal means by which communities can generate stably priced, environmentally responsible energy through abundant wind, river, and wave resources.

North American Arctic Maritime and Environmental Security Workshop | ARCUS

Alaska is a beautiful place, Fleener said, but keeping it that way will require a balance between innovative resource development and environmental stewardship. What developers and policymakers should know is that the Arctic is a dynamic system with many moving parts. In Alaska, as in Nunavut, the growth of industry cannot proceed without input from inhabitants of the North. At the same time, allowing for the expansion of commercial activity in the Arctic is a decision that locals must themselves make, and this is possible only if locals are allowed to have a greater impact in the legislative process.

Northern communities feel conflicted about economic development in the Arctic, but they want to preserve the power of choice. Skip to main content. Polar Institute.

1st Edition

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