Commentary: Polar Science and Social Purpose

  • W. Peter Adams
Keywords: Climate change, Co-management, Food chain, Government, Traditional knowledge, Native peoples, Research, Science, Self-determination, Social sciences, Canadian Arctic, Polar regions


... In 1986, I participated in a review of polar science in Canada that resulted in the publication of Canada and Polar Science (Roots, E.F., et al., 1987, report to the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, Ottawa K1A 0H4). ... This year, I was able to survey polar researchers in Canadian universities to determine whether, from their point of view, the findings described in Canada and Polar Science had become dated. In doing this, I gained the impression that there have been some changes in this matter of "relevant" northern research. These are some of my impressions; the results of my survey appear in Canada and Polar Science Revisited (Adams, W.P., 1992, Canadian Polar Commission, Suite 1710, 360 Albert Street, Ottawa K1R 7X7). First, insofar as it can be used as a measure of "relevant" science, there appears to have been some increase in social science research in the North and some gain in confidence among social researchers working there. ... Another interesting development since 1986 has been the way in which the term "global change" has captured the imaginations of a wide cross-section of the public and researchers. ... The increased public acceptance of the "relevance" of global change research appears to be particularly marked among northern residents. Ozone depletion, greenhouse warming, atmospheric and ocean pollution, and the focusing of contaminants at key points in the food chain are all examples of environmental degradation that have particularly serious implications for those who live at high latitudes. ... Also, since 1986, devolution of power to the territories has put various aspects of the management of research into the control of northerners. ... Although less marked than some of the other changes that I have tried to describe, it is my impression that university researchers are now more interested in "aboriginal science." This is a matter of very special cultural significance in terms of the involvement of native northerners in research. It is a matter about which there is a feeling of urgency in the North, as many feel that the generation that has the distinctive aboriginal view of the universe and that has the local ecological knowledge is passing. In my survey, I heard of a number of cooperative social and environmental projects that involve both Western and aboriginal science. ...