The North Pole in Peril

Once upon a time, the serene stillness of the Arctic and Antarctic was a perfect metaphor for human indifference to both regions. The onset of global warming, however, has changed everything, especially in the Arctic.

PARIS – Ever since mankind began to map the world, the north and south poles have fascinated us, both poetically and scientifically. But, save for a few whalers and explorers, not many people ever went to have a closer look. The serene stillness of the Arctic and Antarctic was a perfect match for human indifference. The onset of global warming, however, has changed everything.

Of course, that old indifference was not universal. In a rare spurt of collective political intelligence, and in order to prevent any risk of international conflict, an international treaty was signed in 1959 to govern Antarctica. This treaty dedicated Antarctica to exclusively peaceful aims. It recognized the existing territorial claims, declared them “frozen,” and forbade all physical assertions of sovereignty on the land of Antarctica.

The nature and content of that treaty were purely diplomatic. Only after its ratification did the first environmental issues arise. These were added to a revised treaty in 1972 by a convention on seal protection, followed, in 1980, by a convention on wildlife preservation. Most importantly, a protocol signed in Madrid in 1991, dealt with protecting the Antarctic environment.

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.


Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.;

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated cookie policy and privacy policy.