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Polarized climates: the distinctive histories of climate change and politics in the Arctic and Antarctica since the beginning of the Cold War

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Abstract

This paper suggests that the Polar Regions are excellent places for thinking about historical interactions between climate change, science, and politics from the beginning of the Cold War up to the present. Since the second half of the 1940s, science has played a central role in contesting claims to political authority in both the Arctic and the Antarctic. Research conducted in the Polar Regions has made a major contribution to the science of climate change on a global scale, and research agendas have been closely connected in the two regions. Viewed from a comparative perspective, however, the historical experiences of global warming in the Arctic and Antarctica have been quite different. Climate research has suggested that warming is generally happening faster over much of the Arctic than the Antarctic. In addition, the recent histories of the two regions show that climate change in the Arctic is destabilizing politics there, whereas in Antarctica climate change is helping to reinforce the existing political structures framed by the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS). A comparative approach to the history of climate change in the Polar Regions helps to demonstrate that science, politics, and environmental change have each played important roles without making any single factor deterministic. WIREs Clim Change 2012, 3:145–159. doi: 10.1002/wcc.161

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