The Polar Retrospective – Reducing the gap to polar regions | Polarjournal
The gap between society and the polar regions is a huge distance symbolized here: The vast expanse of Greenland as seen from the Arctic Circle Trail, where ill-equipped or ill-prepared visitors have to be rescued time and again. (Photo: Destination Arctic Circle Trail)

The Polar Retrospective takes up events of the past week that are related to the Arctic and Antarctic and focuses on one or more aspects. Today, it focuses on polar research, the traditional way of life of Arctic peoples and communication with society.

On the one hand, the Arctic and Antarctic inspire many people around the world, because in their minds they represent vastness, pristine nature, beauty and magic. At the same time, however, they also embody the effects of human activity on the planet, be it pollution, hunting and fishing or climate change. People who live and work in the polar regions or visit them are repeatedly subjected to sometimes harsh criticism over their activities. Comments are often made that people should withdraw from the former untouched regions and simply leave the management of the regions inhabited by Inuit, Sámi or other Arctic population groups in their hands and leave those people alone.

However, experts agree that such demands, which do not only come from non-polar regions, are hardly realistic in a globalized world. Rather, they reflect a large gap that has opened up between the two groups in society and which needs to be bridged to ensure that the major challenges that the Arctic and Antarctic face can be tackled and solved together.

Whaling by indigenous Arctic populations has changed considerably and become more modern, often accompanied by scientific research. But what some see as an important part of lifestyle and culture is strongly criticized by others. A way out could be achieved through objective communication and discussions. (Photo: Alaska Arctic Observatory and Knowledge Hub)

The way of life of the Arctic population, which is characterized by hunting, is certainly emblematic of the great gap between the parties. For many people outside the Arctic, killing animals such as polar bears, foxes, seals and whales is an outdated activity that is diametrically opposed to the conservation efforts that are widely promoted in such countries. For the inhabitants of the Arctic, however, hunting is not just a tradition to be cherished, but an essential part of their subsistence. They partly blame science for the poor image of these activities, as it has given a misleading picture of population sizes or the impact of human activities in the Arctic, which is difficult to dispel nowadays.

At the same time, however, the local population should also accept greater responsibility to adjust their activities to the new circumstances, cooperate more with research and politics and be open to new approaches. Both sides should not see themselves as the only experts, but should engage in an efficient exchange of opinions in objective discussions and publish the results in an understandable way. The Alaska Arctic Observatory and Knowledge Hub’s collaboration with the research community and its public relations work is a good example of how effective this can be.

To ensure that polar issues reach and are received by the population, all stakeholders need to invest more in communication and public relations. Fortunately, corresponding formats already exist. (Photo: Arctic Circle Assembly)

The indigenous population of the Arctic is not the only one affected by the gap between the public and polar matters. Other stakeholders, such as tourism, authorities and research itself, also have to contend with a great gap between themselves and the public. The increased number of search and rescue operations on the Arctic Circle Trail, which have arisen due to poor preparations and equipment combined with increased visitor numbers, is an example of this. An increasing number of hospitalizations of cruise tourists in Arctic regions is another case in point. And in research, scientists are encountering increasing skepticism and criticism of their work and results.

Here too, improved communication with the public and its various groups is necessary in order to reach as many people as possible with factually and technically correct information. The variety of different media formats is a great help here, as are technical developments such as better internet connections, including in the polar regions thanks to satellite technology and mobile communications. Coupled with programmes, projects and organizations that offer interest groups the opportunity to expand their communication skills and public relations work, a number of tools exist for effective information dissemination. As a result, the gaps to the Arctic and Antarctic should continue to be reduced on many levels in the future.

Dr. Michael Wenger, Polar Journal

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