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  • Anna Soer

Interspecies ethics of care for Arctic geopolitics


"The Arctic Council is the leading intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States, Arctic Indigenous peoples and other Arctic inhabitants on common Arctic issues, in particular on issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic." (Arctic Council, 2021)

Since the establishment of the Arctic Council in 1996, sustainability seems to be the core focus, and the core identity even, of regional geo-governance: 8 Arctic countries, 6 Indigenous Permanent Participant organizations, 35 Observers, and out of the 6 Working Groups, all relate to environmental protection with one in particular focusing on flora and fauna conservation. Fauna, non-human wildlife, will be of specific interest here. In addition to this attention to environmental protection from this regional institution, the eternal debate surrounding commercial seal hunting, especially in Northern Canada, which made international headlines with several Greenpeace campaigns, begs the question of this regional developmental equilibrium, between environmental ethics and livelihood imperatives for local (Indigenous) communities. A political question of the voice, place, and power of non-human life forms within our geopolitical strategies, often rendered passive in regional studies and overall bodies of work by policy makers. Further even, a deep questioning of anthropocentric political trajectories within a sustainability paradigm: How can we, geo-political science scholars and policy makers, understand sustainability in the Arctic from a wildlife ethics point of view?

Wildlife. Wild/life. Where does the ‘wild’ of life begin and where does it end? Is this ‘wild’ life an ‘it’, a ‘they’, a ‘he’, a ‘she’, or should we even refer to this wildlife as one whole? Wildlife is controversial, is debated, is fluid, is complex, starting from our relationship as a human species to what we consider to be wild. From an environmental paradigm to an ecosystem paradigm, where we situate wildlife and how we situate ourselves in relationship to this wildlife dictates particular world views on the dynamics of this relationship and whether the ‘wild’ of ‘wildlife’ truly exists at all. A 'wild' somehow outside of domestication according to its definition: one of the first question here comes again, who is this 'we' who domesticates? The romantic idea/ideal of a pristine wilderness outside of human touch, outside of human ‘perversions’ deeply misunderstands the place and role of peoples within their geographical location, the fundamental role Indigenous peoples have in the managing of their territory since millennia (Demuth, 2012). Early settlers and explorers in ‘America’ did not ‘discover’ a ‘wild’ land but willfully dismissed complex and deep relationships Indigenous peoples had and have with the ecosystems in which they lived in and continue to live in (Takaki, 1992; Turner, 2014). Present iconic Canadian wildlife such as the moose was artificially introduced on the island of Newfoundland in 1878, and controlled fires by Indigenous peoples are a key part of sustainable land management throughout the world (Mistry et al., 2005; Bergerud, 2021). Specifically, in the Arctic region, certain iconic wildlife such as the polar bear, the seal, and the reindeer hold a particular discursive place both within state politics, civil society politics, and environmental activism. Between the EU ban on seal products[1], the reindeer herding quotas in Norway[2], the touristic and cultural importance of the polar bear in Manitoba, Canada[3], and the afore-mentioned core interest of the Arctic Council in conservation, it appears that, if not wild, animal management is politically relevant in Arctic geopolitics. Instead of viewing ‘the non-human animal’ as a passive, object-like actor, in echo of the research question of how can we understand sustainability in the Arctic from a wildlife ethics point of view, the aim here is to depart from a pure anthropocentric geopolitical view to incorporate this ‘animal’ as an active actor of the Arctic actor-network dynamics (Johnson et al., 2014; Halberstam and Nyong’o, 2018). By this, I do not mean that a polar bear somehow gains the cognitive abilities to directly participate at the Arctic Council’s meetings, but I mean to inquire about the possibility to envision a different set of geopolitical logic within these actor-network dynamics, from sovereignty claims to governance powers, to development trajectories. Instead of viewing Arctic geopolitics as a set of insular human actors, the incorporation of non-human actors such as animals, ice, seas, oceans, redirects the political weight we give as geo-political scientists to these actors regarding their regional significance, both practically and symbolically.

This article therefore aims to discuss the theory of the geopolitical framing of the Arctic region through the incorporation of animal politics, reframing non-human animals as active geopolitical actors, inquiring therefore on the implications of such a reframing. This discussion is divided into three main axes: Firstly, the question of sustainability arises as a main point of concern. The socio-political frames behind conservation and preservation inform how non-human animals are understood in relationship to who humans are understood to be. This leads to a questioning of the role of sciences, both social and natural, to understand how this wildlife-human geopolitical frame for states and other regional actors inform how the non-human animal's voice and power within regional geopolitical dynamics is placed. Secondly, this focus on sustainability through Arctic geopolitical power dynamics unfolds into a further discussion on the link between identity-making and anthropocentrism, and the differences in world views between an environmental socio-political paradigm and an ecosystem socio-political paradigm; which further complicates the seemingly Manichean divide between humans and non-human animals. Lastly, the practical implications of the ethics of non-human Arctic geopolitics develops into a final discussion on how to envision sustainable development in such a perspective, between private and public interests, their collisions, and between moral integrity and economic sovereignty.


“It is true that we could probably live in today's world without the seal, as long as we would have money to go to the local Northern Store where we could buy many things, except for the seal and caribou. The seal, however, provides us with more than just food and clothes. It provides us with our identity." (Peter et al., 2002)

Keeping in mind the cruciality of addressing Nunavut's food insecurity, one might wonder about the feasibility and sustainability of renouncing seal and caribou meat(Arriagada, 2017; Statistics Canada, 2020). Why would one want Inuit to give up seal and caribou in the first place? The sustainability argument behind a ban on hunting regarding animal ethics and our relationship to wildlife is shaped by our response to emotional affect. From cognitive bias towards mammals, from cute big round eyes to cute offspring, to emotional connection to these particular species is weaponized and readily utilized by environmental groups to pursue a particular worldview on how humans should interact with their environment (Marland, 2014; Farquhar, 2020; Manfredo et al., 2020). From an ecological perspective where humans are one species interacting among many others and where hunting or fishing is a matter of survival within this ecosystem (Peter et al., 2002; Watson, Alessa and Glaspell, 2003), to a perspective of environmental hierarchy and humans-as-exploiters (Bourdeau, 2004; Bacon, 2019; Kuokkanen, 2020), clashes of worldviews is further fueled by contemporary society’s information and communication networks to engage politically along these perspectives. The large campaign by Greenpeace and other environmental organisations to ban seal hunting (Harter, 2004; Marland, 2014; Levy, 2020) showcased the discrepancy in ontological realities: what is the human? What is ‘being human’ in this world? Both ontologically and epistemologically, the two worldviews are informed by different cultural and historical backgrounds: one informed by the ravages of the industrial revolution and individualistic consumerist logics, and the other informed by sustainable traditional livelihoods within space and time, both however existing within the frames of settler colonialism where land exploitation and the subsequent dismissal and removal of its Indigenous inhabitants is the foundation of its workings (Whyte, 2018; Liboiron, 2021). One is therefore informed by the need for human removal from nature for nature to survive, and the other by the holistic relationship between humans and non-human life forms. The ‘wild animal’ holds vastly different ethical meanings depending on the perspective. While this statement is generalist, and a closer analysis of both current Indigenous practices and environmental activism will give a more nuanced depiction of motivations (Levy, 2020), the overall message from the seal hunting-ban campaign reinforced an ongoing strife between on the one hand the romantic pursue of preservation and on the other hand conservation as best practice; on the one hand a removal of human impact and on the other the responsibility of humans within their ecosystem. The debate surrounding conservation and preservation, while informed by human extractivist dynamics and endless discussions on anthropocentrism or ecocentrism(Norton, 1986; Miller, Minteer and Malan, 2011), highlights a strange universalist tendency: while human society as a whole within the Age of Anthropocene is responsible for the climate crisis, this does not mean that human activity locally is detrimental and unsustainable. Nor does this mean that in order to justify human presence and action within nature, survival or ‘greater good’ should be the only reasons. Indigenous peoples should not have to ‘survive’ in order to enjoy their traditional practices which have been done sustainably for thousands of years, to pretend otherwise is following a paternalistic, a-agentic, colonial logic. The sustainability argument of human relationship with nature revolves around the issue of agency and freedom: agency and freedom of people to decide how to live, as well as agency and freedom of non-human life forms to exist. While the endeavor to question this matter of agency is of key importance to respond to the question of what does ‘being human’ mean, this discussion is a closed, catch-22 circle: how can one question the agency of animals without including animals in the conversation? As Eva Meijer pointed out, it is not enough to wonder ‘about’ animals, the key is to think ‘with’ animals, hence shaping a political animal, in the spirit and legacy of Kymlicka and Donaldson (Donaldson and Kymlicka, 2011; Meijer, 2019). A deconstruction of anthropocentric geopolitics is not only developed through an inclusion of animal ethics, but though the construction of ‘belonging’ of non-human life forms within our Arctic and beyond geopolitical infrastructures, infrastructures constructed on an imperial model shaped by (post)Cold War dynamics (Johnson et al., 2014; Halberstam and Nyong’o, 2018; Koopman et al., 2021). The point of tension between preservation and conservation will remain vague and unresolved until colonial structures of interactions are not deconstructed to further allow for not only different modes of human society, but also different modes of life forms to gain political status. Inclusion in this sense is not enough, as the structures remain the same. The geopolitical framing in this particular example of seal-hunting ban is one informed by particular logics of the dominant society, a western, capitalist, European-centric frame of reference, molding the ‘seal’ to correspond to a certain set of moral requisites: animal welfare free from human harm.

A set of moral requisites utilizing recent scientific discoveries of animal sentience and cognitive abilities. The feeling of pain, happiness, and even love, non-human animals feel just as humans feel: a rock-hard argument against the consumption of meat or non-human animal-derived products. It becomes a matter of defending humanity as capable of empathy: if one is against the death penalty or torture, one should also be against the killing of non-human animals(de Waal, 2006; Wohlleben, 2017). A double discourse is here made: on the one hand a fundamental difference is made between humans’ place within the world and non-human life forms, through the paradigms of humans-as-destroyers and the ideal of nature-as-pristine; while on the other hand an intrinsic link is made between humans and non-human life forms where we are alike in our abilities to feel. Humanhood, the ability to feel, is compared to animalhood where non-human animals now also feel. We are all alike. A duality of positioning, between similitude and difference, that shapes the discrepancies in world views regarding preservation and conservation, but also regarding the way non-human life is incorporated within our regional political and developmental dynamics. From global warming to natural resources uses, to border disputes, the internationality of the Arctic is one of the main arguments behind the candidacy of multiple non-Arctic states as Observers at the Arctic Council. China used its migratory birds as a reason for why the Arctic is relevant for China’s biodiversity[4]. Switzerland and India argued that they face the same challenges in the high mountains as the Arctic faces, from poor infrastructures to glaciers melting(Estermann, 2020; Rashmi, 2021). The effects of climate change in the Arctic have international repercussions. Indeed, what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic. What does the argument of China for the protection of its biodiversity say about the ethics of non-human animal care in diplomacy? Natural science, while methodologically argued to be as neutral as possible, is anything but neutral and is inscribed within a larger ontological view and within a particular interest trajectory of those who fund the research. From public interest to private interests to civil society interests, the scope and framing of scientific research consequently influences the relationships between the different world views and influences the answer behind the question of ‘what does it mean to be human in this world?’. China investing in research on the Arctic is not banal but part of their Polar Silk Road initiative and part of their larger plan of regional development and diplomatic strategic positioning(Nakano and Li, 2018). This problematizes therefore what it is meant behind the ‘ethics’ of non-human animal care: this justification behind the protection of biodiversity is for ‘with’ non-human animals, but non-human animals are used to justify human involvement and development. Non-human animals are not actors, but recipients of human actors. The role and responsibility of science in ethics is therefore two-fold, within the discipline and within the interaction between the discipline and other fields. Within the discipline, the relationship with non-human life forms forces the questioning and problematization of how non-human animals are used for experiments, from laboratory work to field work. Priorities are laid between what constitutes the greater good and what is morally acceptable(Festing and Wilkinson, 2007). The balance found shifts and varies depending on the actors and what non-human animals are included: the threshold for human compassion for dogs used in laboratory is much lower than for rats or oysters or worms. The creation of a moral hierarchy between species is justified in return by scientific research to determine the level of ‘consciousness’ within individuals of the species. Without questioning if this hierarchization is morally right or wrong or sustainable, the very fact that methodologically science justifies its own practices also in accordance to socially acceptable levels of compassion or behavior de-neutralizes the field. Science is not neutral as science is constructed around the social conditioning of those who perform this science. The performance of science is therefore political: the ethics of non-human animal care goes beyond the simple level of wondering about their consciousness but includes the political relevance of non-human animal agency both within science and interdisciplinary. From a concern of the internationality of the Arctic from a Natural Science perspective, the internationality of the Arctic now reaches the realm of politics, from species-performance to the ethics of care.

Our performance as a species, what we determine to be human and non-human and how, is therefore intrinsic to our performance as sovereign entities, from individuality to statehood to regionality, from the personal politics to the collective politics. When non-human animalhood becomes political, what is meant by this ‘political’? A ‘political’ of the individual, a non-human personhood, or a ‘political’ of what the individual represents, a representative for its entire species, or a ‘political’ of the species as a whole, where the individual is blended into the group? Where we delineate the political of animalhood defines the agency we attach to our idea of the animal either as an individual or as a representative. Where we delineate humanhood is how we situate ourselves within the physical and symbolic worlds. The physical world and the symbolic world therefore hold ethical, moral, and societal weights: how we interact in this world, in this age of climate crisis, is how we are to be perceived by one another. By this, I mean that how we choose to situate ourselves ecologically is a direct political strategy of reputation for not only individuals but also larger entities such as states and institutions(DeLuca, 2005; Adkin, 2016). Sustainability and the ethics of care for non-human animals are large parts of social movements, such as veganism or Extinction Rebellion, parts of cultural and social traditions such vegetarianism in Hinduism, part of state-propaganda or interests as China has demonstrated for the Arctic as previously mentioned, or even part of organizations and institutions, such as the United Nations and its Sustainable Development Goals or Greenpeace and Peta. When Canada declared Churchill (Manitoba) to be the capital of polar bears, or when Canada lauds its nature as selling points for tourism, sustainability and care of non-human life forms becomes a matter of international reputation economically and politically. When Canada emphasizes its commitment to sustainable development within the Arctic Council, Canada is forging itself a reputation geared towards the future: it is posing itself as a responsible, future-oriented leader, as well as a caring and peaceful partner(Arctic Council, 2015; Medby, 2019). The polar bear is no longer an individual with agency and potential personhood, but a geopolitical diplomatic tool. Of course, this is a very utilitarian and slightly cynical reading of Canada’s perspective on its wildlife and wilderness as a whole, the complexity of reality with its numerous actors from wildlife activists to indigenous peoples to private businesses or local public offices offers a more nuanced reading where the polar bear, or any other Nordic wildlife, represents much more than a diplomatic tool(Peter et al., 2002). Nonetheless, from a realist perspective, the State’s attachment to its reputation allows for its positioning globally against other competing states for regional and international legitimacy politically and economically. Sustainability is a fruitful economic plan, where even oil companies such as Shell or BP invest in renewable resources, and so states also find their interest in positioning themselves positively on this international economic chessboard. To come back to China, the use of its migratory birds to advertise their potential role in and linkage to the Arctic comes within a larger context of international pressure on environmental standards, as core to the Arctic Council vision of sustainability. The birds, here again, instead of being granted intrinsic value, are diplomatic tools serving a larger economic and political goal of regional influence. The crux of the problem is exactly this: for non-human animals to exist politically, they must be ‘granted’ rights. The power imbalance between our international political and economic structures catered to our sole human-species interests and non-human life forms being at the mercy of human actions halts the possibility of ‘thinking with’ non-human life forms, to quote Eva Meijer once more. The few examples of non-humans, such as rivers, being granted personhood in front of the law(Gordon, 2018; O’Donnell and Talbot-Jones, 2018; Clark et al., no date) do not address the underlying logical fallacy here: instead of addressing why must non-human life forms conform to human structure, why can human-made structures not conform to non-human life forms structures? For sustainability to be achieved, it is not enough to ‘include’ the interests of other life forms within our priorities and interests, we must engage in an ontological reshaping of the place of humanhood within the physical and symbolic worlds, otherwise non-human life forms will always depend on humanity for their survival. Can we truly conceive of an ethical relationship when the power balance is clearly skewed towards a certain set of actors? Where are ethics in the Age of the Anthropocene?


The Age of the Anthropocene: what a way to start a discussion on anthropocentrism and de-centering the human. The emblematic name, encompassing the times of human rule and global impact, from the atmosphere to the depth of the Earth, from microplastics to oil spills, from noise to settlements; sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste, the world in its globality is now shaped by human action and degradation(Ehlers and Krafft, 2006; Lewis and Maslin, 2015; Dalby, 2020). The Anthropocene shaping an anthropocentric world. How then to deconstruct this anthropocentrism within our developmental governance of the Arctic? How to understand our identity and our place outside of this paradigm? To understand the imbrication of anthropocentric worldviews within the Arctic’s regional development, an analysis of three sectors highlights the stark contrast in the place of the wild animal in our collective understandings: from Indigenous place-making within their ecosystems, to the anthropomorphic political strategy of environmental NGOs like Peta or Greenpeace, to ecoliterature and ecocriticism in Nordic children's literature.

In Indigenous place-makings in the Canadian North, situating the human within the ecosystem is exactly this: human as a species, depended on the ecosystem and its diversity to subsist. It is not one or the other, it is not humans first and non-human life forms second, it is not human interests first, and non-human interests second, because there is no such thing as a possible separation of interests when survival depends on sustainable coexistence, when ‘existing’ in place means existing ‘with’ place (Peter et al., 2002; Todd, 2015a; Laugrand, 2018). Western capitalist and ideological frameworks mean very little in such a contrasting worldview: anthropocentrism as a worldview cannot be applied. Indigenous relationships with non-human life forms should therefore not be conceptualized through a lens of either utilitarian use or some anthropomorphic dynamic because the cultural frameworks relating to this dynamic are not binary. This initial perspective on human/non-human interaction come to provide a first critique on the term Anthropocene itself: is this Anthropocene truly encompassing all of humanity? While mapping out pollution centers and dynamics behind pollution makes it clear that certain populations and systems are more responsible for climate change than others, is there a point is making a differentiated analysis of the accuracy of the ‘Anthropocene’? A critical look onto the Anthropocene quickly reveals how system dynamics such as colonialism and imperialism hide the voices and agencies of those who become subjected to those dynamics(Johnson et al., 2014; Todd, 2015b; Di Chiro, 2017; Liboiron, 2021). Consequently, when within a western framework, where supposedly global terms such as the Anthropocene are developed and popularized, and possibly simplified as well, nuances and those very same unequal dynamics are flattened and discarded to situate the analysis on a global scale, forgetting that space is also local. As such, the relationship to the local and the effect of the global to the local, for instance something as global and devastating as the climate crisis, are to be put back to the forefront. The theoretical approach to understand how humans are to be in space should serve as a baseline to address the global-in-the-local and the local-in-the-global that our survival to the climate crisis depends on. As previously mentioned, inclusion is not enough as it does not permit a true systemic change, a true regime change. To come back to the role of diplomacy and regional geopolitics, whose voices are heard shape how we frame our responses: when certain humans and cultural frameworks take center stage, our sense of identity as a species and how we relate to other species dictates how we view our place within space and how we would utilize it. From this center stage, the ‘wild animal’, as mentioned previously, holds different epistemological meanings according to these cultural and societal frameworks.

Development governance in the Arctic, by being informed by sustainable practices, would deconstruct the imperial dimension of the concept of the Anthropocene by becoming centered on a local, bottom-up approach, from its technical perspectives to its onto-epistemological foundations(Shadian, 2006; Simon, Canada, and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, 2017; Dawson et al., 2020; Simon, 2021). Making sense of the world through making sense of human relationship to non-human life forms relates directly to the intrinsic link between humanhood and place-making: how to understand a sustainable Arctic without understanding the intricacies and differences of the human geography of the region first? The diversity of interests, as mentioned in the first section, deconstructs a first oversimplified view we might have on human/non-human interactions, especially Indigenous; nonetheless, as highlighted by recent scientific studies of mapping and environmental assessment in Northern America, Indigenous knowledges remain foundational.

This shift away from anthropocentrism is directly contrasted to the political campaigns by Greenpeace and Peta regarding their efforts against seal-hunting in the Canadian North. From image composition of their posters, to costumes during protests, to literally giving seals ‘a [human] voice’, Greenpeace and Peta engage in a different logic of public mobilization towards a particular understanding of how the Arctic’s developmental trajectory should be governed, by which principles and by who(Harter, 2004; Rodgers and Ingram, 2019). The strategies used were directly informed by the strong uses of the affect in order to generate a response among the public: anthropomorphic logics of impersonation mirrored human emotions within the seals, thereby creating an equivalence between human suffering and non-human suffering; the seal being killed and separated from its kin, its mother, the seal being skinned and clubbed and shown in graphic images provokes a gut reaction of disgust and anger(Marland, 2014; Farquhar, 2020; Greving and Kimmerle, 2021). How could anyone hurt such a beautiful, friendly-looking, cute, animal? Instead of focusing on over-fishing in some Arctic regions, certain polar non-human animals such as the emblematic seal and polar bear serve as international political rally symbols for international NGOs in their fight for how they conceive a sustainable developmental trajectory to be; a certain trajectory informed by ontological views on human nature, a nature of human-as-destroyer where in order to exist, nature should be ‘free’ from humans. An ethical and political standpoint on non-human animal care: humans do not need animal-derived products to survive and looking at our current track-record, we are destroying the planet and therefore should not cause any more harm. Again, a questioning of who this ‘we’ is is warranted: who is destroying the planet? Who does not need animal-derived products to subsist? The universalization of a certain approach to non-human animal ethics runs into the problem of deforming the local to fit a certain global idea of morality, an idea of morality denying its own locality of its own ontological and epistemological background. The performance of ethics through anthropomorphism, while attempting to bridge the gap in hierarchy between non-human life forms and humans, does not deconstruct the same logic that gave birth to this hierarchy in the first place, a worldview based on utilitarian and hierarchical anthropocentrism(Weitzenfeld and Joy, 2014). A catch-22 where the ethical, moral high ground is both projected to be morally superior while continuing the same system it superficially denounces: a biopolitics of Arctic development politics, where supposed sustainability is subjected to political hijacking and weaponization by interest groups. For crying out loud, emotional instrumentalization for political gains through anthropomorphism by environmental NGOs within the context of Arctic wild/life offers a fertile ground for explorations and meaning making of concepts such as ecocriticism; especially within one of the core groups targeted by animal rights campaigns and by Indigenous population for cultural revitalization, namely children.

Nordic children’s ecoliterature relates to how children are presented a relationship to their natural environment: what is nature and who they are in nature(Goga et al., 2018). Why are children relevant in Arctic development? Children are the present and the future, they are our current and next generation, they are part of who we are as a collective right now and tomorrow, they shape the decisions and policies of today and tomorrow. Children are an active part of our society, whether they have the same capacities as adults or not. Children are not only toddlers or pre-adolescent, but they are also 16-year-olds, 17-year-olds. They can drive, sometimes vote, consume, they can gather and protest, they can work. Children are not passive recipients of society but active member thereof. The artificiality of determining when and where childhood stops stems from cultural delineation of our stages of life, and what is conceived behind those stages[5]. Hence, Arctic development depends on how this new generation is shaped and educated about the place in which they live in; how they perceive their world shape how they act in the world, both locally and globally; how they conceive their place within this world and with other life forms. Essentially, how children are educated shape consequent actions on their part. This might seem to be a deterministic argument, but my argument stands against this essentialist, deterministic view on children’s agency within society: children have agency to change society and they have agency to decide their personhood within the world. Recent mass protests demanding systemic change facing the climate crisis, and online mobilizations around societal issues, show how children can not only have personal opinions, but are also capable of instigating change. Children are not empty vessels who suddenly gain cognitive capacity when declared adults at 18 years old. Therefore, children’s ecoliterature is important to understand how children are also influenced by the media they consume to view nature a particular way. The edited volume by Goga, Guania-Uluru, Hallås, and Nyrnes(Goga et al., 2018) detail how ecoliterature in Nordic countries examplify relational dynamics between children and their discursively contructed environment: how is the environement portrayed, detailed, animated, explained in relationship to them? For instance, the vastly popular ecofantasy by Frida Nilsson Ishavspirater (2015), and the romantic pastoral story of Tonje Glimmerdal by Maria Parr (2009) both depict the intricate relationship of nurture nature has: from a Rousseau-inspired pastoral emphasis on a child’s upbringing, Aslaug Nyrnes argues that the second story by Maria Parr precisely adapts a French literary tradition of the pastoral idyll within the context of Nordic literature, this time influenced by winter. The ecofantasy by Nilsson triggers an interesting conversation between the child and its surrounding nature and wildlife, specifically the relationship between use and intrinsic value of non-human species, even if they are doted with consciousness and sentience. What to do? How to reconcile both the ethics of non-human animal care and the need for survival? On the one hand an altruistic place-positioning within the ecosystem, and the other the realization of bodily needs for consumption of food to survive. Our theoretical debates on the ethics of care for non-human life forms have come to conflict with our flesh. The needs of the body versus the needs of the mind. Mind versus matter. When the relationship to animalhood shapes who you are, how to transgress this emotional attachment to survive? What if this premise was wrong to begin with: why is killing to survive inherently wrong? This premise is used by international environmental NGOs to depict all hunting and fishing as animal cruelty, as shown by the imagery used by Greenpeace and Peta during the seal-hunting ban campaign. But what is cruelty? The ecofantasy by Nilsson exactly problematizes this notion of cruelty and compassion, as shown by the complexity of the main character’s relationship to wolves, between love and care, and fear and hatred. The encounter with the wolves, the encounter with nature and wilderness, that what is not influenced by culture(Garrard, 2012), forces a deep questioning of human specificity in light of our dependence on our body, is our mind truly that distinguished if it fails to uphold facing bodily needs? Where is our sense of humanity when compassion does not keep us alive? The human specificity of intellect and sentience comes to be deeply critiqued when facing the wolves who, like the characters in the story, also need to eat to survive. Is surviving cruelty then? The wrongness of killing wildlife, based on our emotional compass of how we value the other non-human life form and our cultural background, is therefore no longer only a matter of children’s morality and development, but a matter of situating the human within its world, again. Children, when reading such a story, come to question their own moral compass and their sense of self: where to give priority and when? The Mind versus Matter debate triggered by a children’s ecofantasy echoes into adulthood and larger societal debates: when ontological positionings shift between place and time, the encounter of multiple positionings give rise to deep societal divides, such as witnessed during the seal-hunting ban between Indigenous Inuit and a western worldview and moral compass(Peter et al., 2002; Farquhar, 2020). Ecocriticism here therefore forces a critique on the anthrocentrism of certain ontological logics. When the wolf gains human qualities to become appealing to the main character, the intrinsic value of the wolf here also depends on the power of the child to decide its epistemological fate(Goga et al., 2018). Where is the wolf in the world in accordance to the place of the human? Between domination and harmony, between nature as neither cruel nor kind, and nature romanticized, between nature as pastoral or idyll or nature as wilderness outside of culture, the open concept of nature and its wildlife is shaped by ontological understandings of how not only the child should interact with said nature but how society at large should conduct itself in its regard. Children’s literature is an opening look into a society’s cultural background and political standpoint on development, especially ‘sustainable development’ or even ‘green capitalism’. These two terms subsequently come to reflect particular worldviews on the use humans can make of both non-human life forms and other elements; from decolonizing practices to ‘fairytales of eternal growth’, to quote Greta Thunberg, questioning the role of wildlife and human positioning in the making of our societal structures come to light in the analysis of the Arctic political and economic chessboard.


Green capitalism or green colonialism? When the private sector and the public sector merge, the interests of the ruling class become unified across the sectors as they are one and the same, representing one and the same people. When imperial hegemonic states use private companies to spread their power through space, sustainable development becomes a greenwashed way to say colonialism (Banerjee, 2003; Parson and Ray, 2018). Greenwashing is not only the specificity of the private sector, with companies using ecology as a publicity stunt; but is well rooted into States using ecology and sustainability to score diplomacy-points in international organizations like the UN and to further enhance their economic positioning on this same international chessboard. Sustainability is not truly about sustainable living, but about maintaining the powerful in power for as long as possible, to maintain the current distribution of power the same for as long as possible. The fairytales of eternal growth, from continued traditional extractivist capitalism to ecomodernism, are not only economic in nature, but reflect the political power game as well. By power game, I mean that the interests of a few dictate how concepts such as sustainability and growth are defined to encompass the interests of a few powerful and not others; how concepts such as sustainability and growth are emptied of their revolutionary substance to be molded into a particular ontological and epistemological understanding of who should be the future(Banerjee, 2003; Johnson et al., 2014; Dalby, 2019, 2020). The embodiment of the future of humanity is therefore shaped by the historio-cultural background of a few powerful States, colonial imperial States, marked by eugenics and anthropocentrism. When the value of a tree is defined by either its further use when cut or by its value for the entertainment of a few, and is not considered ecologically, this tree becomes the symbol of international relations between the few powerful and the masses. Without going into a Marxist reading of international power imbalance, so to go beyond class-based struggles and to understand power relations as intersectional(Crenshaw, 2017), an emphasis on the discrepancy between the very few ultra-powerful political and economic elites and the mass of un-powerful highlights the hierarchical nature of current world dynamics: this numerical imbalance already shows the predatorous, scavengerous state of world relations, from human-to-human to human-to-non-human life forms and elements relations. What role does the wild non-human animal play here? The personae formed by States and collectives using token non-human animals is reflective of the aforementioned power game. The polar bear of Canada, the reindeer of Scandinavia, the seal of Nunavut and Greenland, the whale of Norway, the fox of the Arctic Council logo… non-human animals convey a political message. What message then when the private sector becomes State business? When interests collide between the actors, where collaboration could have emerged, instead, conflicts become emblematic of larger social divides: the Norwegian legal battle opposing Sami reindeer herders and the State regarding reindeer quotas or regarding the establishment of windmill farms in the middle of reindeer grazing routes, show how, from an effort towards sustainability, what happens in reality is a continuation of existing power imbalance and colonial behavior(Lawrence, 2014; Normann, 2021). Windmill farms being constructed without Sami participation or approval, and quotas being drafted without consultation, are both symptomatic of green colonialism: where environmental sustainability is only but a mirage hiding colonial interests(Lawrence, 2014; Normann, 2021). The Norilsk oil spill might have had the opportunity to ring the alarm bells to stir the region and States into a more sustainable development path, instead, President Putin declared that he doubted that humans were truly behind the glaciers melting, all the while pressing for sustainability in their Presidency of the Arctic Council(Staalesen, 2021; The Russian Federation and Russian Chairmanship, 2021). The oil production was part of a larger development plan for the region, axing itself on resource exploitation; with the oil spill, Indigenous populations depending on fish now find themselves with a devastated home, and the 1.2-billion-dollar fine is not going to magically annul the effects of the spill(Bykova and Sulyandziga, 2021). When Greenpeace launched its campaign against seal hunting, subsequently pushing for a EU ban, their moral compass and ethical guidelines failed to understand the inter-relation between seal hunting and livelihood for many inhabitants of Northern Canada and Greenland, mainly Indigenous. The large fund raising, lobbying, demonstrations, boat actions… the money involved in this campaign failed to be invested in situation analysis, as if it had been, perhaps a more nuanced, realistic and concrete approach to seal hunting might have prevented the devastation the EU ban had and still has on Inuit livelihood opportunities, a strife hindering EU’s participation at the Arctic Council(Phillips, 2009; OBSERVERS, n.d.). The EU’s wish to be perceived as a haven of peace and ecological living transformed into a narrow view on sustainability which did not encompass the interests of those it directly harmed by its policies. What is sustainability if it is not socially sustainable for all?

These three examples of collision of interests highlight how, from an ideal of environmental sustainability, from an ethics of care, or from a logic of development, the concept of sustainability can be hijacked to further enhance ongoing existing colonial political dynamics, undermining Indigenous, local populations for the interests of both the private sector and the state. These cruxes are emblematic of how green growth or even ecomodernism hold no value if they are not accompanied by systemic change. The fairytales of eternal economic growth are only fairytales if growth continues to be understood as colonial. Where is the place of the non-human animal in this? The presence of non-human animal interests and their equal consideration counter-balance dynamics of power imposition through colonial logics. When all the strata of society are formed through colonial heritage, from the legal system to education to urban planning to consumption and production, unrooting and displacing which interests are considered is a step towards disassembling the cogs of deep-rooted colonialism. An ethics of non-human animal care is therefore not only an attempt to deconstruct anthropocentrism but is intrinsically linked to deconstruct colonial patterns as well. Greenland's recent elections and the government's decision to ban all future oil explorations set a new tone defining both sovereignty and economy: Greenlandic economic viability sails away from exploitative logics arguing thereby against unsustainable exploitation of their natural reserves and destruction of their environment, potentially turned away vital income for the island’s ambitions of independence from Denmark(Buttler, 2021). Money is not enough to justify destruction.


So, how can we, geo-political science scholars and policy makers, understand sustainability in the Arctic from a wildlife ethics point of view? Firstly, wildlife is not only wildlife: wildlife has meanings, has power, and impacts Arctic geopolitics in ways that are going to be increasingly instrumental. Non-human animals serving as reputation tools for States, as PR posters for NGOs, as livelihood and ecological together-living for Indigenous populations, as resources for the private sector, all therefore trigger a questioning of their political position within regional power dynamics. Where are the animals? Who talks for and about them and how? This problematization of anthropocentrism comes within a larger context of the Age of the Anthropocene, where an all-englobing concept such as this not only erases the subtilities and nuances of the differentiated impacts by different human groups and populations, but also erases the agency of non-human life forms. The ethics of care are not only specifically for human care but can also encompass non-human animals. The Covid19 pandemic, a zoonotic disease, forces a deep questioning of human to non-human relations, not only through inclusion of non-human animals and other life forms and elements, but through a restructuring of human dynamics within the world. Recognising agency of non-human animals does not indeed mean their inclusion within our existing legal and institutional structures, I hardly see a polar bear or a seal give an address to defend their interests, but means a decentering process of human agency. Rearranging the Arctic poses the fundamental question of who speaks and for what purpose. This question is not only valid for interhuman relations, highlighting the power struggle, but is also valid for interspecies relations. An interspecies political ethics addresses the flaw of current talks around development and ecology: sustainability cannot only be for humans and cannot only depend on humans. Ensuring the future comes through ensuring human decentering. This management of risk through deconstructing anthropocentrism posits wildlife as a different layer of political discourse: geopolitical dynamics through the non-human animal. There are the politics of the Panda, now come the politics of the Seal, the Polar Bear, the Reindeer or even the Fish. The symbolism behind those iconic species should however not hide the deep human-gaze behind the formation of these species: the polar bear is the polar bear because we give meaning to the polar bear, therefore consequently repeating the same logics of anthropocentrism. A biopolitical dynamic. How to think 'with' instead 'of' questions our ability to communicate: in a structure made around human interactions and therefore human communication strategies, decentering the human within geopolitics entails a decentering of communication. From diplomacy to regional politics, to growth and sustainability, to the ethics of care, to now communication, deconstructing the concept of the Anthropocene is a holistic endeavor. An endeavor at risk of falling null because of this same holism: how to conceive action without delineating? How to conceive action without delineating species? How to conceive action without delineating actors? An ethics of care for non-human animals problematizes agency. Is there such a thing as interspecies care that does not revolve around the centering of one’s perception onto the other to include said-other into care? If inclusion is not enough, then are ethics of non-human animal care only but a theoretical game that has no chance of ever being fully realized within human structures, where the human will always dominate the power game? The purpose of this essay is not to offer a guideline or a best practice on how to deconstruct anthropocentrism, but to look at how different human perceptions perceive non-human life forms and what they do with them, how these different epistemological and ontological foundations form different forms of existing and belonging ecologically. Decentering geopolitics away from pure anthropocentrism is a matter of sustainable survival during this climate crisis, as solutions to this crisis come through ecological sustainable management. How to prepare for a world where there is no ‘post’-climate crisis comes through a shifting of our positionings within our diverse and complex societies: the collapse of societal models, of current capitalist economic models, and how to go beyond this collapse is perhaps the most important plan of action for the coming times. The Arctic, particularly vulnerable to this climate crisis, must consequently be approached using a decolonial, de-anthropocentric perspective in order to engage in a sustainable, ecological, relationship with the place and its inhabitants, both human and non-human, and interspecies ethics of care are one way to enter this discussion.


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[1] Regulation 1007/2009 implemented in 2009 banning seal hunt and commercialization of seals within the EU with the exception of Inuit hunted seals. [2] In 2012, the Norwegian government ordered the culling of 40,000 reindeers, angering and frustrating the Saami communities, main owners of reindeers, who called not only for a renegotiation of these numbers but also called for more self-determination regarding their reindeer husbandry(Grande, 2020). [3] Churchill (Manitoba, Canada) has been declared Polar Bear Capital of Canada due to its large numbers of bear sightings, phrase also repeated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on November 1st 2018 during his visit for the opening of the rail line in Churchill: " This means that families will once again be connected to each other, that tourists will visit the polar bear capital of Canada and that the port will resume its operations. And that’s just not a line, “polar bear capital of Canada.” As we drove in from the airport half an hour ago, I spotted my first polar bear in Churchill." [4] Intervention by Mr. Gao Feng, Chinese special representative for Arctic affaires, during the Asian Interests and the Path forward in the new Arctic conference held by the Wilson Center. February 8 2021. [5] See (Rousseau, 1762) for a comprehensive historical discussion on the role of education within a European context, an essay at the time which fundamentally changed European perceptions on children and the education they must receive through their 'enlightenment' with nature, the constant source of freedom and curiosity this nature proves to be.

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