Thoughts on an Arctic Relational Ethic

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Activist and photographer Subhankar Banerjee begins “Arctic Voices” with a description of things big and small. There are “big animals, big migrations, big hunting, big land, big rivers, big ocean and big sky… big coal, big oil, big warming, big spills, big pollution, big legislations, and big lawsuits… small animals, small migrations, small hunting, small rivers, small warming, small spills, small pollution, small legislations, and small lawsuits.” In this piece I look to Judith Butler’s notion of precarity and precariousness to argue for the reframing of ontological beliefs that guard the abusive relationship humanity has with the Arctic. I argue that in fact our future is as forbidding as it is because our very ontology puts life on this planet at risk. In doing so, I examine nineteenth-century pastoral literature to understand how our current abuse of the earth might have come to be. Finally, I lean on Butler’s work on and politically regulated frameworks to argue that we cannot move forward toward justice for and restoration of the Arctic if we do not fully apprehend the nature of our being.