Hakai Magazine

Coastal science and societies

Cover image courtesy of Island Press

Book Review: Future Arctic

Veteran writer Edward Struzik examines the present and past of the Arctic and offers his thoughts on its future.

Authored by

by James Thomson

Article body copy

Future Arctic opens with a fire: it’s June 1950 and clouds of smoke and ash from burning tundra billow south, through Canada into the United States and even across the ocean to Europe. It’s a smoky wake-up call to southerners that what happens in the North can have far-reaching effects. Today, we see evidence of that each winter as severe weather linked to an increasingly unstable polar vortex pummels the continent as far south as Texas. In Future Arctic, Edward Struzik reminds us of our inextricable ties to the North; pay attention, he insists, the Arctic matters.

As a subtitle for this book, Field Notes from a World on the Edge is slightly misleading. Readers are indeed treated to regular snapshots of life in the field as Struzik joins researchers and locals in adventures around the circumpolar Arctic, but the real substance of the book is devoted to careful analysis of data and trends, such as the rate of decline in caribou herds or the unprecedented weather and climate events of the past decade. The vignettes in the field serve to place the reader in the scene, however, and provide glimpses of life in the North: the muddy drinking water in a desolate Ellef Ringnes Island geology camp; a fretful night in a trapper’s cabin on the Peace-Athabasca Delta with a bear tearing at the screen door. At some points, though, these scenes feel unnecessarily shoehorned into the more detailed reporting, as though the pace needed a pick-me-up and Struzik defaulted to an anecdote.

Struzik’s respect for the original inhabitants of the North livens the pages of Future Arctic. He describes the compounding challenges the locals have faced over the past century—challenges that are often a result of southern ignorance or indifference. “The history of the Arctic is also one in which Inuit and First Nations interests have played second fiddle to economic, military, and sovereignty imperatives,” he writes, in what turns out to be one of the central theses of the book.

Although Future Arctic gives an excellent outline of the most salient issues facing the Arctic today, Struzik’s reporting shines especially bright when he delves into the interplay between Arctic sovereignty, indigenous rights, and the energy and resource development sectors. He argues that the future Arctic will be shaped by these forces, just as it has in the past, and his text draws lessons from the Exxon Valdez disaster, northern mining projects, the varied international approaches to subsistence and trophy hunting. The looming specter of climate change shadows Struzik’s thinking throughout the book; every forecast he makes is predicated upon the unavoidable understanding that the future Arctic will look nothing like it did in the past.

Future Arctic: Field Notes From a World on the Edge
By Edward Struzik
216 pp. Island Press