TOOC Module 9

Week 9 Looking Forward: The Circumpolar World in 2050


This module’s objective is:

  • to begin to contemplate the changing nature of the Circumpolar World in an S&T enabled environment

The world is changing; that much is certain. How fast the change is occurring is hard to determine. Will the changes affect the whole North equally? Will the North catch up with the South, keep up with the urban and industrial regions, stay behind or fall further off the S&T race?  No one knows, of course.

In this module, the focus will be on the possibilities–a world where science fiction intersects with practical realities. The prospects are remarkable: food factories in Arctic communities, space-based energy sources, remotely controlled work and digital health care. We will look at some of the more dramatic and potentially transformative technologies under development. Most will fail. In other areas, the technological changes will occur far faster than anyone anticipates.

Looking forward is exciting and unnerving.   While it is impossible to be precise about the future, you must, for yourself, determine if you think the changes will be small, dramatic, of life-changing.  Planning and investing for the future depends in large measure on the assumptions one carries forward about S&T changes.   It is possible that the Far North will be enriched and enhanced through technology in dramatic ways.  It is also possible that the destruction of work will be profoundly unsettling, undercutting the very foundations of the Northern economy.

We are looking forward into the darkness, not knowing what will occur but being uncertain, at best, about the future.

For what it is worth, I should tell you that I am moderate in my expectations.  I believe there will be a substantial erosion of northern work, with substantial economic impacts.  I also believe that there will be major improvements in Arctic quality of life, particularly in energy, health care, connectivity and food security.

Laurence C. Smith: The North and the World’s Future

We are used to seeing the North as marginal, largely ignored and controlled by outsiders. Laurence Smith sees it differently.  As you contemplate the impact of S&T on the development of the North, give a listen to Smith’s vision for a North that moves from the periphery to front and centre in determining the future of the world.



The Circumpolar World in 2050

Anticipating the future is difficult. Many assumptions about the future turn out to be faulty. Go back and check out Paul Ehrlich, The Population Bomb, which forecast a demographic crisis and a collapse in the world’s food supply. It did not happen. Climate change forecasters (and I am one who believes that there has been substantial human induced climate change) have offered apocalyptic views of impending disaster — but their dire forecasts have not yet come true.

So, as we contemplate the world of 2050 and wonder about the future of scientific and technological innovation, remember to be cautious. We will over-estimate some technologies and under-estimate others. and we will not know until years later which is which.  Nuclear power could solve the energy challenges of the Far North or remain an underutilized energy source.  Digital medicine could replace doctors and nurses, and revolutionize northern health care. Or not. We could see many high paying jobs stripped out of the northern economy and could see much of the mining and resource work done from distant command centers. The future could, indeed, be very different from the present.

So, check out a few forecasts of the World in 2050 and contemplate which vision of the future you think is most compelling.


Michio Kaku, The Physics of the Future


(This is a long video, so you may wish to sample it. I found it impossible to stop watching!  He raises compelling questions.)


The World in 2050

Ilfaur Ragmar Grimsson, President of Iceland, The Future of the Arctic


Olav Orheim, “The Future of the Arctic: A New Source of Riches


Charles Emmerson, The Future of the Arctic in Brief


Oran Young, “The Future of the Arctic Region”


Arctic Death Spiral


Meeting the Needs of the North

You are on your own here. Give serious thought to what you think about this issue — your “guess” is likely as correct as anyone else. Will technology produce new opportunities? Will resource wealth bring prosperity to the whole region?  Will Indigenous peoples benefit from the changes or suffer from the rapid push of southern-promoted change? What about climate change, geopolitical conflict and broad societal shifts?

The main issue for this course is simple: can northerners use scientific and technological innovation to meet the needs of the North. Who knows? Can the North do better than it is at present? Absolutely.