The energy resources of the Arctic figure prominently in today’s energy debates, be the forum political, public or scientific. In her thesis, Hanna Lempinen, MSocSc, MA, takes a critical look at the definitions that frame the understandings of energy and its societal dimensions in these discourses.
A fresh look at “energy” and “the social”
A range of considerations can be cited that together make the Arctic seem like the world’s next treasure trove where energy is concerned: global consumption of energy is increasing; proven resources are dwindling; many energy-producing countries are politically unstable; the warming climate is melting sea ice in the north; and technological advances are making production and transportation in the region feasible.
Sparking Ms Lempinen’s interest in the topic was a dissatisfaction with the ways in which energy and its role in northern societies were discussed across forums - from the media to scientific conferences.
As she observes, “There is much more at stake in the energy issue than the production of oil and gas for international markets, although this seems to be the exclusive focus in public discussions. The energyscape in the Arctic today is broader than oil and gas: it has come to include renewable sources of energy, and coal, nuclear power and questions of consumption and availability are still very topical indeed.
Ms Lempinen hopes that her thesis will broaden the discussion of energy and northern communities in research circles, which today seem to focus largely on the encounters between Arctic indigenous peoples and the energy industry. During the research process, this choice of perspective has prompted criticism – often quite harsh – in seminars and presentations for the general public.
However, as Ms Lempinen points out, “My research design is not intended in any way to understate the value of research on indigenous peoples or the particular challenges which indigenous peoples in the north face. However, I wanted to highlight that the developments seen in the area of energy have brought their fair share of problems and been far from unequivocally welcome to the non-indigenous populations as well.”
Energy as a driver of development in the north
The materials collected and analysed for the thesis suggest that energy and the social are approached largely as separate concerns, discussed using very different concepts and distinct imaginaries. Discourses dealing with energy feature assessments by experts in the area of technology, science and economics as well key players in politics and the markets. By contrast, the social in the Arctic and the associated concerns are framed in terms of an Arctic lifeworld that differs a great deal from the world of energy.
In northern areas it seems that energy and the social meet only in plans for socioeconomic development in the region.
On this point, Ms Lempinen observes: “Talk of the relations between energy development and the social dimension are for the most part intertwined with the question of how large-scale energy projects can be carried out minimizing detrimental impacts locally and maximizing lasting benefits for the region.
Deafening silence around climate change
Perhaps the most striking feature of the energy debate in Ms Lempinen’s view is how oil and gas production is described in relation to climate change.
In this regard, she notes: “There is considerable concern over climate change as a major challenge facing Arctic communities and societies; yet, very little attention is paid to the climate impacts of energy production in the region. When energy production in the north is discussed, one always hears about the most environment- and climate-friendly production technologies and CO2 capture, but these will do very little to offset the global impacts of energy consumption.”
Information on the defence
Hanna Lempinen will defend her doctoral thesis The Elusive Social: Remapping the Soci(et)al in the Arctic Energyscape in the Faculty of Social Sciences on Friday, 16 June, at 12 noon in lecture hall 3. The Opponent will be Professor Veli-Pekka Tynkkynen of the University of Helsinki, and the Custos Professor Lassi Heininen of the University of Lapland. Refreshments will be served in the Restaurant Felli at the university following the defence.
The doctoral candidate
Hanna Lempinen (born 1983 in Oulu) completed her matriculation examination at Oulun Lyseo Upper Secondary School in 2002. She completed a master’s degree in in Social Sciences at the University of Lapland in 2010 with a major in International Relations and a master’s degree in a programme in Science Communication at the University of Oulu in 2011.
Ms Lempinen has worked in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Lapland as a teacher, in the Arctic Centre as a researcher and as a junior researcher in the doctoral programme in Northern Cultures and Natural Resource Politics. She spent time in 2014 as a visiting researcher at the Department of Geography of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, and in 2015 at the Kola Science Centre in Apatity, Russia. Since January 2017, she has worked finalizing her thesis with a grant from the Emil Aaltonen Foundation.
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Information on the publication
Hanna Lempinen: The Elusive Social: Remapping the Soci(et)al in the Arctic Energyscape. Acta Universitatis Lapponiensis 353. ISBN 978-952-337-006-7. ISSN 0788-7604. University of Lapland Printing Centre, Rovaniemi 2017. PDF: Acta electronica Universitatis Lapponiensis 220. ISBN 978-952-337-007-4. ISSN 1796-6310.