Resources in times of transformation

Welcome to REXSAC!

This is the website of the Nordforsk Center of Excellence for research on Resource Extraction and Sustainable Arctic Communities. Here you will find news and info on the exciting research carried out among our fourteen partner institutions across the circumpolar north and the local communities that we are working with.

The Arctic is a matter of definition, but however conceived it is vast – almost ten percent of the surface of the globe, but with a mere half of a tenth of one single percentage point of the Earth’s population, or four million, to put it more simply! Most of this is ocean, much of the rest is covered with ice or  seasonal snow. The Arctic is also rich on natural resources, not least minerals, oil and gas, at the same time as  the so called ‘Arctic amplification’ of global warming gives the region the world’s fastest increase of surface temperatures.

This cocktail of baseline data  is bound to create very volatile biophysical conditions and a high level of uncertainty for Arctic communities. How could we – ranging from states to international organizations to companies and citizens – how could we work to make these communities more sustainable?

This is what REXSAC is about. We can offer knowledge from many fields, including the entire spectrum of humanities, sciences, and social sciences. One of our core interests is in history and the conditions of societal change. Work in the history of Arctic resource exploitation tells us one thing: the current attention to Arctic resources  is also normal. People living in the region – Inuit and Sami, Nenets and Chukchi, and several others – have since time immemorial used local ecologies in multiple ways where seals and whales, moose and reindeer are essential resources. . There have also been forms of conviviality growing under the long era of coal and mineral extraction.

This time is different, though. With globalization and a growing world economy resources are changing in value and significance and extraction is growing in scale and is evoking a more complex geopolitics. Perhaps most importantly, the world is facing a much desired transformation to a post-petroleum age following the Paris climate agreement. This will affect Arctic communities in many and as yet unforeseen ways.

It is an additional Arctic irony that this transformation is now becoming an acknowledged priority after several decades of  talk of heavy investment in oil and gas in the north. For Arctic communities this change in rhetoric means facing a double transformation – first to question the expansion of resource extraction, change narratives and future orientation, second to abandon or at least fundamentally change one of the basic features of the resource extraction landscape. Over the long term, of course, this double transformation may if successful be a world strategy that can alleviate some of the climate-related  problems facing the Arctic, such as  melting sea ice and altered conditions for local livelihoods.

How a possible global transformation to a low- or de-carbonizing economy will affect other aspects of Arctic resource extraction is yet another big question. Do we see the beginning of a ‘lighting’ of economies so that also minerals become affected when resource productivity and new materials replace the heavy ones of the industrial epoch? Or will continued world growth put even more pressure on northern communities?

These are pressing concerns and vital and big issues that will require new ideas, solid data, new knowledge, and, perhaps most important, multiple voices to inform and democratize the discussion. In REXSAC we have assembled some 70 scholars and scientists representing literally dozens of knowledge fields. We share a considerable Arctic experience and we also bring knowledge from other parts of the world for comparisons and outlook. The Arctic is unique but it also is part of world developments and is possibly one of the regions of the world whose destiny is most dependent on what others do. This adds sizeable ethical and geopolitical components to Arctic affairs.

This website is a forum where precisely these issues will be debated. We welcome voices, ideas, views, experiences, prospects! Knowledge is one of the few, rare things that grow when you use it, and knowledge of and for the Arctic is no exception!


Sverker Sörlin
REXSAC director
Professor of Environmental History, KTH Stockholm

Image: Shell’s rig i Anchorage, Alaska July 2015. Photo: Flickr/Bureau of Safety and Environment


About Author

Sverker Sörlin Sverker Sörlin

KTH Royal Institute of Technology


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