Anthropology and Environment Society
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
Thomas Hylland Eriksen (University of Oslo)
The town of Longyearbyen, Svalbard is witnessing accelerated change in manifold aspects. The impacts of climate change are omnipresent: temperature rise, extreme weather such as heavy rain periods, melting glaciers, thawing permafrost, disappearing sea ice, occurrence of avalanches, erosion and landslides. In a parallel manner, the former economic backbone of the community - the mining industry - is diminishing, while mass tourism is rising. Environmental consequences of both trends are substantial. Local power is limited due to the delicate geo-political status of the archipelago, which generates frustration and uncertainty in terms of (not only climate) change mitigation and adaptation. These developments influence the structure of the town's population, causing less stability, less integration and more transience. It is not trivial to define the "local community" because it is being contested and deconstructed as the changes speed up. Several, in some cases only vaguely interlinked communities identify with the place, which leads to a feeling of segregation. This is strengthened by the mismatch between the official Norwegian policy promoting Longyearbyen as a Norwegian community, and the reality of numerous foreign citizens (including people from Thailand or the Philippines) settling down, looking for jobs, housing and education for their children. In this small town with 2,500 inhabitants, global forces are translated into local side-effects, challenging the future of the place that is said to warm up faster than any other on the planet. The talk summarizes preliminary results of the first 8 months (out of the planned 2 years) in the field.