I currently lead the ERC Starting Grant project “Greening the Poles: Science, the Environment, and the Creation of the Modern Arctic and Antarctic”. It’s a five year project (running 2017-22) that investigates how and why environmental concerns have become so important to our conceptions of the polar regions today. Through a historical study of both the Arctic and Antarctic from 1945 to the turn of the past century, the project explores the connections between how environments are described – particularly through the natural sciences and economics – and the judgments made about how those environments should be administered. The key hypothesis of this project is that the process of describing an environment cannot be separated from the process of controlling and managing it. Changing perceptions of concepts such as development, ecological fragility, and wilderness have provided frames for describing and understanding the polar regions. Why has natural resource extraction been deemed appropriate (or even necessary) in some contexts, and wholly forbidden in others? Why did the concept of sustainable development become important during the 1980s? Can we think of scientific research programs as instruments of colonialism? And why did national parks and conservation agreements become politically useful? GRETPOL will produce a new understanding of how far from being the passive frames for human action, environments (in the polar regions but indeed also beyond) are constructed by human agency.

The project is based at the Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment at KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

GRETPOL has included the following members:

Lize-Marié van der Watt, researcher at KTH

Kati Lindström, researcher at KTH

Dmitry Arzyutov, post-doc at the University of Oulu

Justiina Dahl, research officer at the Swedish Research Council

Tayana Arakchaa, most recently postdoc at KTH

Roman Khandozhko, researcher at the Higher School of Economics, St Petersburg

Janet Martin-Nielsen, independent scholar

So far we’ve achieved some pretty good results, if I do say so myself. Dmitry Arzyutov completed a brilliant dissertation on the environmental history of the Cold War Soviet Arctic, from Novaya Zemlya to the gulag camps of eastern Siberia. Janet Martin-Nielsen has published an article on France’s evolving relationship with Antarctica, with a monograph in progress. Lize-Marié van der Watt, Peder Roberts, and Justiina Dahl collaborated on a short article on the value of the “polar” as a concept, and Peder has also published an article arguing that the “science criterion” in Antarctica rests on a dangerously thin foundation in the age of climate change.