The recent IPCC Report on Climate Change rang a short but loud alarm on social media, then quickly disappeared from the minds of the public. Their usage of powerful language and impactful symbolism for the state of our globe as "Code Red" seemed to mostly resonate among those already passionately battling the climate crisis.
Yet contained within this report (and past reports) was an interesting section regarding 5 different narratives of our future, or as Dr. Stone writes:
"Each narrative pairs a different socioeconomic development scenario with a different carbon emissions pathway, resulting in a Choose Your Own Adventure-style series of endings to the story of 21st- century climate change" (Stone 2021)
The 5 narratives are quite imaginable, where some highlight the successes of humans overcoming this crisis in a timely and ethical manner, and others depict human-kind falling into the apocalyptic scenarios we made so many movies about.
Today, we'll attempt to "contextualize" the complex issue of climate change into our semi-global scope. To do this, let me introduce you to a fun warm-up game I use to coach young children: Treasure Island.
Treasure Island is one of my favorite games to play, especially at early stages of coaching when I am still getting to know some of my players.
The game is simple. You split up the group into "teams/pirates" of 3~5, and make a small pile of "treasure" such as bibs, cones, shoes etc. Each player has a ball at their feet, and begin inside their boxed out "territory".
When the beginning whistle blows, everyone tries to dribble up to "Treasure Island", grab one treasure, and bring it back into their territory. You can only take one treasure at a time, and once all the treasure has been taken away from the main island, the players can now begin to take each others treasure.
Many often disagree with my affection for this game, as it always ends in chaos. Other than the problem that kids sometimes bump into each other after the excitement of grabbing a treasure, the biggest problem is cheating.
"Coach! So and so took 3 treasures. Coach! They don't have their ball, so they can't travel. Coach! Coach! Coach!"
Other's are impatient – as I often just stand and watch – and decide to confront the other player.
"I saw you take 3 cones, you have to give 2 back."
Some simply just keep going until I call game.
The reason I love this game so much is because in many odd ways, it tells me about the character my team is going to have in the coming season. Who's assertive? Who's very competitive? Who likes to follow the rules no matter what? Who does the work all by herself, showing off to me that she got 16 cones in total?
In some very unique cases, two or three teams decide to make a "pact" and target another group for all their treasure. By the end of the game, I end up with a group of angry children, who have an odd affection to cones and bibs.
I have a lot to gain and seemingly little to lose from doing this game. I learn a lot about the group and individuals I will be working with, while also learning how I can most effectively work with the team if they are disturbed or disappointed.
The most I'd lose out of it is a crying child and a pile of torn up cones and bibs.
Now, replace the teams of 6~8 year old children with powerful nations such as the US or Russia, and "Treasure Island" with exploitable natural resources. Through doing this, we can recap the passed 400 to 500 years of human history quite well.
Under the broad conception of "terra nullius", which translates to "nobodies land" in Latin, many empires looked to conquer and exploit lands that were unmarked by "civilization". The energetic and forward looking people went and began to claim the "treasures", which extended from fur, land, waters, and of course, other human-beings.
However as land began to grow scarce, these complex groups of people turned to each other. They were attempting to claim each others "treasure" as their own. But at this point, the resources they want to claim are beyond just the economics or "rationale", but they have embedded themselves within the collective identity of the people. Just like how some of my players grew affectionate to the plastic cones.
The conflicts between these two groups can erupt to such a height, that they often forget why they are fighting each other; while the cones and bibs lay without value in the back. When problems get out of hand, a transnational organization may attempt to intercede, such as the United Nations or the coach of a youth team.
But the consequences of such activities on a global level is incomparable to the little game I play with my team.
The cones and bibs metamorphose into mountains, rivers, oceans, homes, forests, and living beings. They get thrown about, ripped apart, and forgotten by "ideological fictions" that exist within the complex game of globalization.
And now, to modern day.
There's a new, emerging "Treasure Island". It's the tip of the global north, also known as the Arctic Circle.
The incredible value of the Arctic Circle is an ironic one. Only through the changing climate that emerged out of the previous bout for global hegemony and control of the other "Treasure Islands" – such as the Middle East, African continent, or the Americas – did this new area begin to emerge.
As you can see in the images below, the sea ice coverage of the Arctic Sea has drastically decreased. You may have heard of the dire consequence of such loss of ice, but for the "ambitious" people at the frontier, it poses an incredible opportunity. Here's the first irony: Denial and Gain.
Denial and Gain
Some people may ponder:
"Why would wealthy and powerful people deny or ignore climate change if it impacts everyone?"
The answer is quite simple: there's so much to gain from it.
Receding ice coverage of the Arctic Sea is projected to allow humans to access a wide variety of valuable natural resources (one of them being fossil fuels) and new efficient trade routes.
Even people like Donald Trump, who was notorious for his lack of attention to the consequences of climate change, understood this.
He famously tweeted a image of Trump Tower in Greenland, and also "jokingly" mentioned he'd buy the island. Of course, the Danish – who claim Greenland as their own – did not appreciate this.
Greenland is one of the prominent landmasses in the Arctic Region, and control over this area will provide a great advantage on many various fronts.
In such ways, the irony is that denying the changing climate and its adverse affects, create the moral, ideological, and political opportunity to exploit the new "Treasure Island".
Saving and Destroying the World
The second irony is that advancing into the Arctic region is framed as "helping fight climate change". This is most famously done through the Russian fight to legitimizing the "Northern Sea Route".
Russia has claimed that the melting ice of the region will open up a far more efficient trade route, reducing the amount of energy required to transport goods across continents. Which in turn, will "help combat climate change".
The irony is blatantly obvious here.
This trade route is only made possible through the continuation of the degrading globe, which will give access to more fossil fuels and will further exacerbate the problem. The irony doesn't end with the obvious.
Bringing the World Together and Apart
The trade route will connect Europe and China far more efficiently than now, allowing for the globe to become connected more than ever.
But it also splits people apart – pulling our species away from the possibility of true global peace. This problem arises due to the difficulty and ambiguity in deciding maritime borders.
As the Arctic region melts, it becomes more lucrative. So the nations surrounding it are attempting to claim the previously unclaimed, inhabitable, and unprofitable area. The image below depicts what each nation has proposed to be "theirs", and it is up to the United Nations to divide one of the last "terra nulluis" of our globe.
However, as it has been made clear through events such as the annexation of Crimea, the current situation in Afghanistan, and the global pandemic, our "transnational" governing bodies have lost its legitimacy.
Some nations, especially Russia and China, have been proactive in taking things into their own hands.
For example, Russia has "staked claim" to the North Pole by planting their flag into the top of the globe. Reminiscent of when European colonizers came to the US and "marked their territory". Russia and other countries in this area have also began beefing up their military in the region, suggesting that international conflict could emerge out of this.
China on the other hand, has brought much controversy in Asia by "buying" land through private companies in places such as Hokkaido in Japan, and Jeju Island of South Korea. These two islands provide crucial natural resources and serve as ports for international trade. If the Northern Sea Route becomes viable in the coming years, control over these two islands will no doubt be at the center of the economic success of these 3 nations.
Chinese companies have already purchased thousands of acres on these islands, with some estimates showing that these real estate companies already own more than 1% of the island. Furthermore, in 2017, a Chinese media outlet published that "Hokkaido could become China’s 32nd province in 10 years" (Source). It is no surprise that right-wing parties have taken advantage of these movements to further control their national borders.
Is such ways, the issue of climate change extend beyond the heatwaves, the floods, and the hurricanes; into realms of international trade, national borders, and ironically, extraction of more natural resources.
However, that is because the game of Treasure Island and our odd affection to these "cones" and "bibs" have made it so.
The first step is to recognize this fact. That the "cones" that divide us and them are artificial. That there is more to the game than hoarding all the treasure. That in fact, the last time we played "Treasure Island" on this globe, mass atrocities, trans-generational traumas, and pointless suffering occurred.