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Thermal geopolitics? Arctic futures and the contested materiality of frozen soils and sea ice

Authors: Klaus Dodds*, Royal Holloway, University of London
Topics: Polar Regions, Political Geography
Keywords: Geopolitics, Permafrost, Sea Ice, Melting, Thawing
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

“Thermal geopolitics” is used as a framing device to examine how permafrost surfaces as a figure of both concern and hope in the northern polar region. Our discussion of frozen soils is attentive to what we consider what we might term the everyday volumetrics of life, and how they are being altered by thaw and melt. Sea ice and permafrost undergoing seasonal melting and thawing, which in many cases enables life forms to thrive and take advantage of summer light, open water, and additional moisture. Human and non-human communities, over millennia, have learnt to work with what might be considered “normal” thermal regimes. Frozen soils are integral to “thermal geopolitics,” because the state of permafrost has shaped the scope and potential of settler colonial states such as Canada to “land” the northern fringes of the North American Arctic. Abnormal thawing poses not only existential challenges to smaller Indigenous/native settlements but also settler colonial infrastructures. In the Arctic, thawing permafrost is generative of disaster imaginaries, a new and unwelcome world where the effects of contemporary global warming are felt first. Polar soils prove to be anything but inert companions in this interrogation of ‘thermal geopolitics’.

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