Arctic Circle Conference courts controversy

22.10.2018 - 15:50
Mynd með færslu
 Mynd: Kristinn Þeyr Magnússon
The sixth annual Arctic Circle Conference ended in Reykjavík this weekend, attracting some 2,000 delegates from over 60 countries, including prominent world politicians and scientists. Plastic and two-dimensional polar bears are problematic.

A minor controversy erupted when Andrés Ingi Jónsson, an Icelandic MP for the Left Greens, questioned why a major environmental conference was distributing hundreds of plastic water bottles to delegates on a daily basis.  

The very fair question was answered by Dagfinnur Sveinbjörnsson, chair of the Arctic Circle Round table, who said that Harpa Conference and Concert Centre is simply not set up to easily get around the problem of plastic bottles, but that the conference has nevertheless halved its plastic use since last year. 

Organisers were advised against using jugs and real glasses for safety reasons. There are no water fountains around the building, but water dispensers were set up for the conference and maize-based plastic was used wherever possible. Dagfinnur said it was a positive step in the right direction and that the conference is aiming to eradicate single-use plastic in the future. 

Meanwhile, the whole Arctic region is being damaged by two-dimensional, clichéd news coverage by the world’s major outlets, according to Professor of journalism Miyase Christensen, from Stockholm University. 

“International media cover the Arctic in very stereotypical ways, often in relation to Arctic climate change and global consequences of that, often in relation to what is happening to glaciers, to polar bears, and other animals,” Miyase says. 

The media draw a picture that is too simple, and simply not true. “When it comes to the Arctic and about climate change, the big issue is not really about fake news, the main issue is trust,” she says. 

Trust in the media has fallen in Sweden in recent years and it has almost collapsed in the USA. It is very difficult to get accurate information from Russia. “Russia owns more than 50 percent of the Arctic shore and unfortunately getting information from Russia about what is happening in the Arctic is getting more and more difficult.” 

Specialist outlets like Arctic Today and The Independent Barents Observer are trying to provide a more complete picture of the Arctic and their work is growing in importance—though traditional media must also be encouraged to broaden their coverage. “They mustn’t reduce the issues to just polar bears or crumbling ice. It is important, because most people get their information from these news outlets,” Miyase adds.

Alexander Elliott
Project manager
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