Category Archives: imagined geographies

Does anyone care when a Russian rocket crashes in the Arctic?

Like the proverbial tree falling in the forest, does anyone care when a rocket crashes in the Arctic?

Russia plans to ditch a launch stage of a satellite rocket into the North Water Polynya on Saturday June 4 violate both state sovereignty and the integrity of Inuit residents who depend on the resources of this environmentally-sensitive area for their livelihoods. North Water, a 19th century whaling name for the sea area between Greenland and Ellesmere Island in the northern reaches of Baffin Bay, is kept open by wind and currents year round. A rich fishing area, currents take any pollutants south along Devon Island into Lancaster Sound.

North Water map - Pew Trusts
North Water (Courtesy Pew Trusts)

The assumption appears to be that this is not only an “empty” wilderness but a no-man’s-land, terra nullis. Worse is the assumption that no one and nothing will be damaged, and that no one cares. This is what I have called a reduction of the ecosystem to “Bare Nature”, ethically without value and consequences to which we have a reigning “non-relation”/ Although the hydrazine fuel degrades, it is toxic.

“If Canada was launching a rocket and some of it was going to be landing in the Russian Federation,. you can imagine what kind of reaction we’d have there. The Government of Canada should be defending out territorial integrity” (Paul Crowley, World Wildlife Fund Arctic Program quoted in The Globe and Mail Sat. 4 June 2016 p. A14).

Rape by rocket, however, is indicative of the attitudes of non-residents, ‘southerners’, to the Arctic. The region has been treated as an inconsequential ‘sink’ for global pollution and a margin of global disrespect for the environment. This is in part a counterpart to the romantic attitudes toward the Arctic that developed in the 19th century period of European imperialism and a search for a Northwest Passage from Atlantic to Pacific — Baffin Strait to the Bering Sea.

A further irony is that the Arctic is so poorly served by communications, satellite programs notwithstanding. This summer will see further increased in shipping through the Northwest Passage. Many countries regard this as international waters despite its proximity to the northern coastline of mainland Canada. The result may become a free-for-all, as commercial interests including fishing begin to access these waters during ice-free summer months despite the lack of navigational aids. There is almost no search and rescue capacity, which is a risk to the rising numbers of tourist cruises, now carrying tens of thousands annually.

This contradictory spatialisation in which the Arctic is exoticised as an adventure margin for tourists while being relegated to the null status of a nowher aof blankness, absence and emptiness is a serious flaw in the spatialisation of the globe as a context for human action and activity. Both positions do not truly engage with the concrete reality of the North but indulge in an abstract metropolitan imaginary in which the region virtually becomes a kind of non-place. Rockets are dumped in regions not out of necessity but because they are thought to be empty in the ideological understandings of ill-informed people whose parochial geographies and politics leads the world to crisis.

Rob Shields (University of Alberta)

Recollections of a Child from the First Nuclear Age

In a 2014 article, “Honey, You’re Scaring the Kids,” Rebecca Onion wrote about the impact on children of a 1983 TV movie depicting nuclear warfare, and also about the adults who debated that impact.

In the fall of 1983, a TV movie ruined Alexander Zaitchik’s ninth birthday party. He wasn’t supposed to see The Day After, a two-hour film set in Lawrence, Kansas that follows a cast of everyday American characters into and through a nuclear strike, but he lingered at the top of the stairs as his family watched, catching snatches of the images and sounds.

Recalling the event years later, Zaitchik remembered his eight-year-old self anxiously playing through the circumstances of a nuclear attack. “If it happens in the afternoon, do we run toward home, or away from the city and the blast? If it happens at night, do we let our parents huddle over us in the basement, or do we stand on the rooftop, chests forward, praying the first shock wave dematerializes our family without pain?”

Preoccupied, Zaitchik wrote, he barely noticed his birthday celebration. “It was the first birthday party I felt no excitement over. The ice cream cake was tasteless. The Return of the Jedi action figures I unwrapped were pieces of plastic, destined to burn up with everything else.”

Disagreement over effects the movie might have had on children polarized on right-left lines, similar to controversy today about the affective consequences of climate-change messaging. Then, as now, a narrative juxtaposition of blind complacency with stark questions about human survival generated discomfort and politicized discord over the uses of anxiety. These conflicts were rooted in different evaluations both of children themselves, and of the role of emotion in public discourse:

Discussions of the movie’s impact revealed sharp lines between conservative voices who preferred to steer clear of what they termed emotional reactions (or, as William F. Buckley, Jr. would put it, “junk thought”) in policy discussions, and activists who found a bloodless conversation about the issues to be dangerous and inhuman.

Rebecca Onion notes that both conservatives and liberals, in quite different ways, used and still use children as things to think with, judge with, and feel with. Children furnished voices that were not their own. They were transformed into condensed imagery: on one hand, the Romanticist innocent and truth-teller; on the other, the irrational dependent:

For both sides, children’s fears stand in as a proxy for all of our emotional responses around issues of apocalyptic risk: our “hysterias,” nightmares, and forebodings. The idea that conservative ideology is free from such responses is part of a self-presentation deeply rooted in ideals of rational masculinity. Kids are afraid; moms are afraid; therapists make soothing noises; men know the truth of the risks, see the real possible futures, and act accordingly.

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