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Arctic Futures: Stories and Scenarios

Tom Henriksson

Presented at the Annual Convention of

the International Studies Association, March 2011
Arctic Futures: Stories and Scenarios
1. Introduction: Climate Science, Politics and the Arctic .................................................................................. 3

2. IPCC: Climate Scenarios ............................................................................................................................... 4

3. Heikki Patomäki: World Policial Scenarios................................................................................................... 5

4. Conclusion: Arctic Futures ............................................................................................................................ 7

5. Experimental Finale: Lessons from the Other Arctics ................................................................................. 10

Annex: The Other Arctics ............................................................................................................................ 13

Literature ...................................................................................................................................................... 14
Arctic Futures: Stories and Scenarios
Tom Henriksson

1. Introduction: Climate Science, Politics and the Arctic

The Arctic, the region located north of the Arctic Circe, is being increasingly affected by the
anthropogenic climate change and aggressive geopolitics put to practice by regional powers. The
global warming and the subsequent melting of the Arctic ice cap threaten the arctic ecosystem
and open novel possibilities of exploitation. Recent findings of oil, gas, minerals and other natural
resources have resulted in a rush for the Arctic.1

My paper is structured in three parts. First, I will explore the possible futures of the global
climate, referring to the emission scenarios as proposed by the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change (IPCC). Second, I will discuss three world political scenarios as presented by
Heikki Patomäki, professor of International Politics at the University of Helsinki. Third, as a
conclusion, I will apply the lessons learnt to the future of the Arctic, referring to the idea of
historical analogies used by Patomäki.

As an experimental finale, inspired by Patomäki’s writings on cosmological sources of

cosmopolitanism, I will conclude by suggesting that extraterrestrial stories of climates and polar
regions might help us redefine our ecological and political thinking for the greater good of the
Arctic and Earth.

Anderson 2009; Le Monde Diplomatique 2009, 82.
2. IPCC: Climate Scenarios
According to the fourth Synthesis Report published by the IPCC in 2007, the warming of the
climate system is unequivocal.2 The assertion is based on extensive research on the history of the
climate. A striking example, famously popularised by Albert Gore, is how the current
concentrations of both carbon dioxide and methane (two important gases contributing to the
greenhouse effect) in the athmosphere exceed any prior level over a period of the last 650 000
years.3 Polar bears desperately trying to find their way on shriking sea ice have become symbols
of what grave ecological consequences the global warming might have.

The IPCC goes further by estimating that the probability of the fact that the global warming has
been caused by human activities is at least 95 %4 During his visit in Helsinki last autumn, Jean-
Pascal van Ypersele, the vice-president of the panel, pointed out, however, that the IPCC doesn’t
make any predictions about the future of the climate. Instead, IPCC makes projections. The
projections refer to different emission scenarios based on possible futures of human activities.
The story of the modern climate change has been written by humans, but we can also decide how
the story will end.

The different scenario families originate from the Special Report on Emission Scenarios (SRES).
A-scenarios assume the continuation of the modern consumerist society, whereas B-scenarios
imply a transition to a world based on sustainable development. 1-scenarios assume an integrated
global society, whereas 2-scenarios presuppose a divided world.

According to the IPCC, the most optimistic B1 scenario would result in an average global
warming of 1.1 –2.9 ℃. It is worth noting that a warming that exceeds 1.5. –2.5 ℃ implies a
threat of extiction to 20–30 % of the world’s species. The worst case scenario, A1F1 (F for ”fossil
fuel intensive”) would result in a warming of 2,4–6,4 ℃, causing, among many other catastrophic
results, significant extictions across the globe.5 There is a global consensus to stop the global
warming from exceeding 2 ℃. This leads to an inevitable conclusion: we should adopt the B1
scenario i.e. an integrated world based on sustainable development. How on Earth?

IPCC 2007.
Karttunen et al. 2008, 105; Karttunen et al. 2008, 174.
IPCC 2007.
IPCC 2007.
In Helsinki, van Ypersele underlined the scientific role of the IPCC. Thus, the panel is not vested
with the right to make any suggestions that are policy prescriptive.6 Finding the proper policies so
to follow the paths of sustainable emission scenarios are the task of policymakers and, on my
opinion, political scientists. The intellectuals trying to meet this challenge include Heikki
Patomäki, professor of International Politics at the University of Helsinki.

3. Heikki Patomäki: World Policial Scenarios

In his recent book Global Political Economy of Global Security, Heikki Patomäki claims that the
modern period of neoliberal globalisation from the 1970’s onwards can, in some important ways,
be compared to the period of globalisation before the First World War.7 Patomäki analyzes
different stories about why the war broke out – among others, Veblen’s, Hobson’s, Kautsky’s and
Lenin’s theories – and finally builds his own narrative. According to Patomäki, a non-regulated,
globalized economy catalyzed new forms of competitive, European imperialisms at unfavorable
moment of a Kondratieff cycle, creating the conditions for the fatal collision of 1914.8

Moving on to modern times, Patomäki observes how a hegemony of global neoliberalism

(cemented by anti-democratic ”constitutionalisms” brought into play by the Bretton Woods
institutions, namely the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and, first and
foremost, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ) has been imposed since the 1970’s9. In
addition, he detects certain, especially American10, tendencies of modern imperialisms combined
with a lack of a global security community manifested by the inflating national military budgets.11
Referring to Marx’ statement that, in some aspects, history repeats itself, Patomäki suggests that
the modern tendencies of economic liberalism and militarism may lead to a new, farcial global

Of course one might ask to what extent the SRES scenarios are political, as they necessarily represent only
a narrow collection of possible scenarios. Scenarios can help us imagine new possibilities, as Patomäki
believes, but they may, likewise, limit our creativity. Furthermore, are the SRES scenarios originally
designed in 2000 already dated?
Patomäki 2008.
Patomäki 2008.
Patomäki 2008.
Patomäki’s book was written while the Bush admistration still reigned. However, the current Obama
administration has consciously abolished the Manichean vocabulary of the ”war on terror”. Obama even
received a Nobel Peace Prize for his diplomatic and multi-lateral approach to world politics. Did the 2008
Presidential election make Patomäki’s arguments obsolete? It is worth noting, however, that Obama does
make claims about American global leadership and does use dualistic vocabulary.
Patomäki 2008.
Why do stories and scenarios matter? Patomäki contend that a political science willing to assume
any social relevance must find the most relevant stories, ie. the truest explanations, of why human
tragedies happen. Even if ”there are no laws in social science”12, social science can help us find
demi-regularities i.e. rough causal relations applicable in certain intervals of the social time-space
continuum. Understanding social demi-regularities empowers us to build policy solutions that
lead to desirable directions. Scenarios, on the other hand, help us understand that the future is
always open. Many possible courses and futures are available.The choice is ours.

Patomäki’s A-scenarios point towars a global military conflict based on either neo-imperial and
securitisation practices of the blocs (A1), an agressive antagonistic reaction by an economically
crumpling United States (A2) or, more unlikely, an economic competition incited by an upward
swing in the global economy (A3).13 B-scenarios, give a transformative role to the global civil
society, either as a proactive (B1) or reactive force (B2) – a global actor could overcome
Prisoner’s Dilemma –type stalemate situations in conventional international politics.14 C-
scenarios depict democratic, Keynesian transformations of global governance starting from either
climate change mitigation policies such as greenhouse gas tax (C1), a climate catastrophe set in
motion by a limited strike with weapons of mass destruction (C2) or a total catastrophe as a
Wagarian learning experience (C3).15

Patomäki then estimates that the probabilities for the transformative future scenarios be

p(B2) > p(C1) > p(C2) > p(C3) > p(B1)16

As in the case of the SRES scenarios, Patomäki’s scenarios necessarily represent a very tiny
proportion of all possible scenarios. However, bearing in mind how manifold crises the modern
world is facing, I believe it is worth taking any honest attempts to build scenarios about the future

So, in the Patomäki scenario context, how could we work towards the SRES emission scenario
B1? Even though not probable, the Patomäki scenario C1 and, quite funnily, Patomäki scenario
B1, would seem to best direct the world towards the SRES scenario B1. This is why I believe we

Patomäki 2008, referring to Galtung.
Patomäki 2008.
Patomäki 2008.
Patomäki 2008.
Patomäki 2008.
should work towards social conditions that increase the probability that these scenarios actualise.
Fortunately, Patomäki has the intellectual courage to propose a concrete strategy of action.

In a book written by Patomäki and Teivo Teivainen, the professor of World Politics at the
University of Helsinki, the professors outline a strategy for a peaceful and democratic
transformation of global governance. Both professors are very sceptical about any democratic
reforms of neither the United Nations nor the Bretton Woods institutions. According to them,
more realistic goals include the strenghtening of the global civil society17, especially via the World
Social Forum process, and via this goal, democratising the WTO.18 Also, new structures that can
be constructed without consent of all players (like the success story of the International Criminal
Court (ICC) ), are realistic; they include imposing global taxes such as the financial transaction
tax, famously envisioned by James Tobin in 1972, and a greenhouse gas tax.19 According to a
later Patomäki, a world parliament, either founded within or without the United Nations system,
could, among other financial sources, be funded with these taxes.20

4. Conclusion: Arctic Futures

Any form of democratic globalisation that helps humanity achieve desirable scenarios is good for
the Arctic. Why? Because such scenarios would benefit all Earth. This is self-evident. Could
stuying the stories and scenarios of the Arctic region, however, help us learn more specific

In Global Political Economy of Global Security, Patomäki tries to identify indicators of

developments which may lead to (un)desirable futures. On my opinion, the Arctic region isn’t a
valuable indicator of global warming because of the polar amplification, the amplified warming
in polar regions, but also as a gauge measuring the state of the global governance. Inspired by
Patomäki’s historical analogies, I ask whether the escalating Arctic geopolitics might be seen as a

Patomäki speaks about the World Social Forum as a representative of the ”global civil society” quite
casually. At the same time, Patomäki expresses his concern about how the word ”international community”
is de facto being used in reference to only a limited number of governments. Bearing in mind that the World
Social Forum is open only to the civil society actors endorsing the Forum’s Charter of Principles, I see a
certain condratiction here. Note also Koponen et al. 2007, 316.
Patomäki & Teivainen 2003, 225. According to Hautala, an example of the democratising role of civil
society in relation to the WTO is how environmental organisations have been given more possibilities of
representation the organisation. However, O’Brian maintains that civil society representation doesn’t
necessarily lead to positive outcomes. Also,from the perspective of democracy, the Bretton Woods
institutions (re)act in very different ways accoring to specific themes. One of the promising processes is the
increasing transparency of WTO documents.
Patomäki & Teivainen 2003, 226.
Patomäki 2007, 387.
warning sign about how much the structures of the modern world resemble those of the pre-First
World War world. On the other hand, could peaceful, democratic and creative solutions to the
Arctic challenges help humanity find ways to overcome the destructive tendencies of the current
world political arrangements? Next, I will try to give some tentative answers to these questions by
approaching the Artic stories and scenarios thematically, discussing peoples, nature, natural
resources and geopolitics and governance.

Peoples. It is an often cited fact that those least responsible for the global warming will suffer the
most.21 This is also true in the context indigenous peoples of the Artic region. The Arctic is
among the regions that will be first and most greatly affected by the global warming.22According
to the IPCC, the warming will probably threaten the traditional lifestyles of the Arctic indigenous
peoples.23 It is well known that after the European invasion of Northern America, the nomadic
lifestyle of certain native Americans was made impossible. Does history repeat itself as the global
North continues to warm the climate with greenhouse gases emisions? Will there be reasons to
call the Arctic region the ”global south of the north”? Recalling the IPCC emission scenarios, this
may be a probable future. Today, there are, however, infuential forums of representation for the
indigenous peoples (Arctic Council, the Northern Forum and the Circumpolar Council)24.

Nature. Nature is even more innocent – and threatened – than the Arctic indigenous peoples.
According to Arctic researchers, a stabilisation of carbon dioxide concentration to 450 ppm (parts
per million) could prevent a melting of the ice sheets fatal to many species, including the polar
bear.25 However, even the most optimistic B1 SRES emission scenario implies a concentration of
580 ppm in 2100.26 The Arctic plankton, the basis of the Arctic food chain, is rapidly dying out.27
The prospect of a molten Arctic reminds me the age-old irresponsible environmental exploitations
in European colonies but, likewise, the modern danger of the burning of the Amazon forest.
Another novel feature is the prospect of a total, irreversible climate catastrophe.

Koponen et al. 2007, 281.
IPCC 2007.
IPCC 2007.
Anderson 2009. The influence of the Arctic Coucil is marked, among other things, by numerous
applications for membership by different world powers such as the European Union and China.
Anderson 2009.
Karttunen et al. 2008, 190.
Anderson 2009.
Natural Resources. According to Anderson, any Arctic oil or gas rush will probably be short-
lived. Oil wars become obsolete as petroleum is replaced by more sustainable fuels. I am more
pessimistic. Anderson maintains that when the oil and gas resources have run out, the exploitation
may continue in the form of mining methane hydrates from the seabed. Should the imperialistic
tendencies of Patomäki’s A-scencarios continue, I fear a full scale exploitation of the Arctic
natural resources, without much benefit to the indigenous peoples. Examples from Africa and
India illustrate how something very similar has alredy happened in the global south. Learning
from these experiences, we migh find more sustainable futures for the Arctic region.

Geopolitics and Governance. Since 2007, arctic powers have increased their territorial claims.28
Despite of certain border disputes, Anderson doesn’t think an Arctic war is anywhere close. The
Law of the Sea will be respected and the disputes will be settled.29 Personally, I find the chaos of
multiple forums and alliences alarming, reminding me of the complex systems of international
alliances which facilitated the escalation of the First World War. I find it somewhat surprising
how little attention Patomäki pays to the role of the European Union in making the European
continent more democratic and peaceful. EU has, in the end, succesfully extended democratic
governance over a larger geographical area while putting the traditional notions of sovereignty
into question. Could me imagine an organised, democratic Arctic Union based on a legal system
resembling the Antarctic Treaty?30 Of course, EU is neither a perfect nor the only example. The
World Social Forum process reminds us how the ”developed” global north can learn from
”underdeveloped” global south. Learning from Inuit ideals of peaceful cooperation might be
crucial for the future of the region.

The new wave of Arctic interests emerged, when a Russian submarine planted a titanium flag on the
seabed beneath the North Pole in 2007. After numerous other claims, resolutions and declarations, five
Arctic nations met in Ilulissat in 2008, infuriating indigenous peoples who were not invited.
Article 76 of the Law insists that a claim to sovereign rights over an extended continental shelf bust be
driven by geological data – not flags. The claims are examined by the Commission on the Limits of the
Continental Shelf at the United Nations headquarters. This explains the hectic Arctic surveying conducted
by the local powers. According to the Law, all coastal nations have a right to an exclusive economic zone
that extends 200 nautical miles from the baseline of their shores. As a youth grown up in the early 21st
century global world, I can’t help but finding these procedures (which remind me of the mythological
tendencies of nationalism and the Åland crisis almost a century ago) completely stupid and ludicrous.
The Antarctic Treaty has succesfully frozen territorial claims, kept out industry, mining and the military
as well as preserved Antarctica for peaceful scientific cooperation. Another success story closely related to
the Arctic worth mentioning is the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer. For
certain practical reasons, the effective protection fo the Ozone Layer was possible even in the absence of
global democratic transformations.
Nature can teach us, too. Patomäki calls collective learning processes that impede creative
thinking ”pathological learning”.31 The modern neoliberal hegemony (in Gramsci’s terms) and
the structures that reinforce it (the above discussed constitutionalism) are, according to Patomäki,
resultant examples of collective pathological learning. Like humans, natural processes are non-
linear and also capable of ”learning”.32 The complex feedback mechanisms of the climate
threaten to lock the climate change in a runaway process. For example, the melting of the arctic
ice will decrease Earth’s albedo, while the melting of the arctic permafrost will release methane in
the athmophere. This will further accelerate the global warming. Could an understanding of the
”pathological learning” processes of the climate help us identify analogous (and analogically
perilous) social patterns, such as the frozen neoliberal empire – and inspire us to break the ice?

5. Experimental Finale: Lessons from the Other Arctics

In Patomäki’s article Cosmological Sources of Cosmopolitanism, Patomäki argues that a non-

geocentric physical (NGP) cosmology may promote critical cosmopolitan thinking. To support his
claim, Patomäki refers to many post-Copernican cosmopolitan visionaries such as Immanuel
Kant, Karl Krause, Bahá’u’lláh, K’Ang and H.G. Wells. Patomäki’s basic hypothesis can be
tested by studying education and its outcomes.33

If strenghtening the global civil society is an important way to promote global democracy,
necessary for the global transformations that could lead us to the B1-scenarios, one might ask the
following question: how do different civil society actors learn thinking globally? At the Academic
Conference of the International Association For Political Science Students (IAPSS) in Leiden, I
suggested that furthering a NGP-cosmology might play an important role in this learning process.
In Montreal, I propose a pursuit of a sounder basis for critical cosmopolitan thinking based on
learning lessons from the stories of ”the other Arctics” i.e. using extraterrestrial historical

Patomäki 2008, Following Deutsch.
Enqvist 2007, 21-22.
Patomäki 2010a, Patomäki 2010b.
Earth, Venus and Mars are often referred to as planetary simblings. Their stories are quite similar
indeed. The three planets are roughly the same size, and all three were formed of similar
components about 4.5 billion years ago.34 However, the planetary climate stories (and the
resulting environmental conditions) greatly differ. The average temperature on modern Mars is an
ice-cold frost of –53 ℃ and on contemporary Venus an infernal heat of +470 ℃. Solely Earth is
able to support (known form of) life with an agreeable average temperature of +14 ℃.35

Why did these planetary tragedies happen? According to the Mars Ocean Hypothesis, the
northern hemisphere included a vast sea dubbed Oceanus Borealis 3.8 billion years ago.
According to the hypothesis, athmospheric sputtering resulted in a reduction of the planet’s
athmosphere and a loss – by sublimation and sputtering – of the liquid oceans.36 Recent evidence
suggest that Venus may also have held copius amounts of water on its surface. However, a
runaway climate change caused the water to vaporise. As on Mars, a sputtering reinforced by
Solar wind removed it from the planet forever.37

When I compared satellite images from the northern polar regions of the three sister planets (see
annex 1 below), I was struck by how similar and different the three Arcitcs are. Venusian polar
regions are speckled by volcanoes and lava; Martian polar caps contain the last remnants of
Martian water, freezed together with carbon dioxide; the northern polar regions of the third planet,
namely the Arctic region, still foster life. Unlike her sisters planets, Earth still holds her fragile
balance. For how long? Satellite imaginery shows the steady shrinking of the Arctic ice.38

Cosmologist Stephen Hawking has expressed his concern about a runaway climate change,
potentially resulting in Venus-like conditions on Earth. The apprehension was reiterated in the
Venus Theory, a documentary film directed by the Finnish environmentalist Pasi Toiviainen.39
Even though our future may be similar, Earth is different in one big respect. The planets
inhabitants, in contrast to the possible archaic bacterial life on Venus and Mars, are able to choose
their fate. Hawking’s recent statement, urging humanity to look look for another home, provoked
angry and sarcastic reactions in the environmental movement.40 My interpretation is, however,

Toiviainen 2007, 86-90.
Toiviainen 2007.
Anderson 2009,
Toiviainen 2007, .
that Hawking stresses the importance of environmental protection while aiming to extend the
perspectives of human imagination.41 In February 2011, in the steady wake of similar sensational
findings, Kepler found 1235 new exoplanets.42 Should we pack our things and leave for Gliese
581g? Recalling the great physical limitations of travelling in space, a more probable scenario
might be the terraforming of Mars and/or Venus.

How are the other Arctics governed? The United Nations Outer Space Treaty declares that ”the
exploration and use of outer space... shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all
countries” and that ”[the outer space] shall be the province of all mankind.” There shall be
freedom of scientific investigation in outer space, but, ”[o]uter space, including the Moon and
other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty... or by any
other means.”43 If human kind is capable of such grand visions for the greatest good of the
remote other Arctics, why couldn’t we imagine something as ambitious for our own Arctic as

I found the approach in the children’s book George's Secret Key to the Universe, written by Lucy and
Stephen Hawking.
Tähdet ja Avaruus 2/02.
Annex: The Other Arctics

Picture 1: Planum Boreum (Mars). Photo Courtesy: NASA.

Picture 2: The Northern Hemisphere (Venus). Photo Courtesy: NASA.

Picture 3: The Arctic (Earth). Photo Courtesy: Science Photo Library.


Anderson, Alun (2009). After the Ice. Life, Death, and Geopolitics in the New Arctic. Harper
Collins Publishers.

Enqvist, Kari (2007) Monimutkaisuus. WSOY.

Henriksson, Tom (2010) Water as a Human Right.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (2007). Synthesis Report.

Karttunen¸ Hannu; Koistinen, Jarmo; Saltikoff, Elena; Manner, Olli (2008). Ilmakehä, sää ja
ilmasto Ursa.

Koponen, Juha; Lanki, Jari; Kervinen, Anna (2007). Kehitysmaatutkimus. Johdatus

perusteisiin. Gaudeamus.

Le Monde Diplomatique (2009). Maailmanpolitiikan atlas. Into-kustannus.

Patomäki, Heikki (2010). Cosmological Sources of Critical Cosmopolitanism.

Patomäki, Heikki (2010). Dialectics of Civilizations. A Cosmic Perspective.

Patomäki, Heikki (2008). Global Political Economy of Global Security: War, Future Crises and
Changes in Global Governance Routledge.

Patomäki, Heikki (2007). Rethinking Global Parliament: Beyond the Intederminacy of

International Law.

Patomäki, Heikki; Teivainen, Teivo (2003). Globaali Demokratia. Gaudeamus.

Toiviainen, Pasi (2007). Ilmastonmuutos nyt. Muistiinpanoja maailmanlopusta. Otava.