Frost Warning

by Joanna Thompson

photography by Chris Robinson

In the last few decades, global warming has driven Arctic permafrost and sea-ice levels to new lows. As the ice decreases, nations such as Russia and China are beginning to eye routes such as the Northwest Passage as potential courses for resource extraction and navigation. “It may not be 10 years, it may not be 20 years, but with the rate of climate change it’s inevitable,” says Susan Pond, the director of York’s Glendon School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA).

Pond says now is the time to start thinking about how Canada might work with its allies in the Arctic to ensure that the region doesn’t become commercially over-exploited.

Pond is no stranger to international politics. Before stepping into the role of director at GSPIA, she served as a NATO staff member for 30 years. “Except for Russia, all of the Arctic countries are NATO nations,” she says.

In November, Pond moderated a conversation at Glendon that highlighted this growing concern. The speakers included the former prime minister of Greenland and York University social scientist Professor Gabrielle Slowey, and topics ranged from economic development to geopolitics to developing safer commercial trade routes.

But, as Slowey pointed out, Arctic security is not a one-way street. Canadians need to think about keeping the region safe not only from foreign threats, but also from internal devastation. Through her work, Slowey hopes to draw attention to the needs of the Indigenous people who have lived there for thousands of years.

As the ice melts and the Arctic becomes increasingly accessible, the odds of a visitor accidentally sparking a deadly epidemic in one of these towns multiplies exponentially. Building better health-care infrastructure for Arctic inhabitants should be a top priority, Slowey says. And most importantly, “we need to hear the voices of people from the Arctic.” ■

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