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Top Ten Things Every American Should Know About the Arctic

In an effort to better inform public policy and cultivate an engaged citizenry, the Institute of the North recently assembled a range of Arctic subject matter experts as part of the Alaska Press Club Conference and posed the question, “What are the top things every American should know about the Arctic?”

The resulting thought-provoking conversation resulted in this top ten list. The list is not comprehensive, but provides a valuable foundation for future conversations and learning about the Arctic.

  1. People live in the Arctic. There are four million people with a close cultural dependence on a healthy environment who live across the circumpolar North. Many of them have lived in the Arctic year-round for millennia.
  2. The Arctic—and Alaska in particular—is a strategic location both in terms of security and access to resources.
  3. The Arctic is emerging as a hot topic because of the perceived tension in extracting resources in a way compatible with people who live in the Arctic. With the increasing opportunity for new access to resources comes the opportunity to “do it right”—planning for supporting communities, economic activities, natural resource use and cultures.
  4. Rather than a story of conflict, in many ways the Arctic is model of cooperation, e.g. sharing of research internationally, Arctic Council Search and Rescue agreement, developing Oil Spill Prevention and Response Agreement.
  5. No region or community is in 100% agreement on specific issues except for their commitment to the wellness of the community. Multiple perspectives exist, each with their own validity. All are necessary in decision-making.
  6. In the history of Alaska, industry has moved much faster than government—and trade has driven public policy. It is important to consider how to bring industry benefits to communities.
  7. Alaska Native corporate and tribal structures are complex—regional corporations are different from tribal or village or regional tribal organizations.
  8. The Arctic is an environment full of natural variation where it is difficult to make hard and fast predictions. We have the responsibility to learn as much as we can by drawing on scientific and traditional knowledge.
  9. The United States is an Arctic nation, and Alaska’s needs include a strong economy, providing energy security, a national science agenda, supportive infrastructure and circumpolar governance.
  10. What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic. The Arctic has physical, tangible connections to the rest of the world as a source, e.g. migratory species, and as a sink, e.g. receiving pollutants via ocean currents. 

Each of these statements deserves a more complete description and thorough investigation. The Institute of the North is committed to developing an Arctic 101 so that all Alaskans understand these issues better. This type of understanding is needed as much in Anchorage and Juneau, as in Barrow and Kotzebue and throughout the United States. In an increasingly busy and complex Arctic, Alaskans—and Americans—need to fully understand these critical issues.

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