TOOC Module 7

Week 7 Making S&T Innovation Work for the Circumpolar World

This module’s objectives are:

  • to consider the policies and strategies needed in the North to promote an innovation-based society
  • to understand northern conditions in light of global realities

In most parts of the world, the discussion of technological innovation is separate from broader socio-economic and political realities.  It is a standard joke that scientists live in a world of their own, disconnected from the so-called ‘real world.’  We cannot allow our discussion to make this mistake. Put differently, the reality is that most of the money being spent on northern science and technology is focused on ecological issues–pursuing the pure science interests of scientists and humanity at large–and very little is driven by the North and is targeted at problems or issues identified by the North.

The North has unique needs (as do all regions of the world).  In particular, the North is looking for support in addressing a whole list of questions. Northerners speak eloquently about their challenges, but are less forthcoming about opportunities in the region.

Challenges identified include:

  • Indigenous language and cultural survival
  • cold weather clothing, equipment, housing and public spaces
  • advanced weather monitoring
  • the special requirements of small villages, particularly those in remote locations
  • monitoring environmental change, especially associated with resource development
  • search, rescue and remote communications
  • 21st century work, both in terms of the loss of work through technology and the creation of new opportunities for northern-based employment.
  • responding to climate change effects
  • food security and fresh food production
  • low cost and sustainable energy sources
  • improved and low cost transportation
  • intra-regional communication (including crossing language barriers)
  • remote and small town health care delivery
  • supply and delivery of manufactured goods
  • appropriate means of political engagement and community empowerment

It is also vital that northerners understand that they are not the only ones in the world facing the problems of the North.  Employment loss through technology is happening world-wide.  Rural areas globally are experiencing rapid population decline.  Climate change is not limited to the Arctic. And on it goes.

In the second half of the module, we are going to explore similarities with other parts of the world, a reality that will enhance scientific and technological attention on issues of value to the North.  It seems odd, having made the case for northern uniqueness, to suggest that the North is not on its own. The North can get beyond northern exceptionalism, and realize that they have a common cause (and therefore share research and development needs and have complementary markets for goods and services) with people in rural and isolated areas around the world.  In other words, many of the challenges of the North and the potential solutions are not necessarily unique to the Circumpolar World.

There are many places with circumstances comparable to the North (in some, but not all, ways):

  • the outback of Australia
  • the Pacific Islands
  • the Amazon basin in South America
  • the southern tip of South America
  • sparsely populated areas of Africa
  • non-Urban areas in Central Asia
  • non-Urban areas in the Middle East

In this part of the module, we will consider how these other remote and rural areas are addressing the challenges of the 21st Century and exploring the possibilities of Scientific and Technological innovation.

Bill Gates: Micorsoft Founder Turns His Attention to Energy

Energy is one of the most important factors in the development of the North, both as a source of growth (oil, gas, coal and hydro-electric development) and as a major part of the high cost of living in the North.  Energy matters in the North more than anywhere else because of the extreme cold, sparse populations, vast distances, and the logistical challenges of delivering energy supplies to northern communities.  Are there solutions? Bill Gates thinks that S&T have the solutions.



Food Factories

One of the most glaring challenges in the North involves the provision of fresh and cost-effective food.  Northern food prices are typically extremely high, and northern residents (especially Indigenous peoples) do not generally have high incomes.  But the question is a serious one.  Given geographic and climatic realities, the simple truth is that the Arctic presents few possibilities for regional food production.  Enter the food factories.  These are prefabricated hydroponic warehouses, able to produce substantial quantities of food on a regular, year round basis.  Are they cost effective?  Not clear quite yet, but various research and development teams are developing prototypes and pilots.  Some northern communities have built and operated greenhouses, but these tend to be volunteer projects and are difficulty to sustain.  However, that is not the case in Iceland, where the free geothermal heat sources allow for the production of numerous vegetables and fruits that otherwise would have to be imported at considerable costs.

Take a look at a couple of examples:

Check out this story on Northern Greenhouses:



Northern communities are often a long way from full equipped medical centres  Many northerners cite poor and unreliable health care as one of the greatest shortcomings of living in the far North.  Tele-health — essentially, using digital technologies to share medical information and services — provides a potential solution.  After all, the technology exists to have surgery done remotely, to conduct mental health assessments done hundreds of miles away, and to provide high quality health care at a distance.  Not everyone is comfortable having machine and digitally-mediated health care; most want a doctor or a nurse.  But the possibility exists that people in tiny, remote Arctic communities could have first-class medical care, provided at low cost by capitalizing on low cost services provided by doctors and nurses in the developing world.  Is the North ready for such changes?

Check out some of the possibilities:

Remote Surgery:


Remote Nursing Education: 




Project X tries to push the frontiers of usable technologies.  Check out their plans for encouraging innovations in e-health. 



Providing high quality education, particularly at the high school and post-secondary level, is not only a challenge, but a function of distance, high costs and small populations.  Tele-education is a logical solution, for it allows teachers anywhere in the world to connect with students around the planet.  There are many northern tele-eduction initiatives, but there is no consensus on the utility of these systems, especially in small Indigenous communities where the level of comfort with technology-mediated instruction is not high.

Here are a couple of examples of northern tele-education.  Do you think this system can adapt to serve the North as a whole?

University of the Arctic — Bachelor of Circumpolar Studies:

Yukon College – Distance Learning Courses:

University of Alaska — Distance Learning:

But look at some of the global developments:

Khan Academy: (all grade levels)

MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses): (post-secondary)


Northern Transportation

Getting around in the North is a challenge.  It costs a lot to build and maintain Arctic and sub-Arctic roads.  Check out the cost of flying from Denmark to Greenland, or from Ottawa to Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. Moving supplies across the Arctic is generally easier in the winter — via ice roads — than in the summer time.  Short shipping seasons limit the effectiveness of using ships to carry supplies to coastal communities.  What are the alternatives? Will new or old technologies address the needs of the Far North? There are options, explore them.

Ice Roads: