Economist’s ‘Melting North’ Special Report Well Worth Reading

Environmental Editor James Astill, in an in-depth report in The Economist, provides nuanced and meticulous reporting on energy, environmental, and trade implications stemming from the profound changes under way in the Arctic.


A June 16 14-page “special report” in The Economist by Environment Editor James Astill counters the increasing concern that outstanding in-depth coverage of a complex environmental issue is a vestige of a bygone era in print media. In The Economist, at least, that just isn’t so.

Astill’s “The Melting North” report looks at Arctic glacial melting from a trade, energy, and environmental perspective and provides solid evidence-based insights in each arena. He gives readers a tangible sense of “being there” in his descriptions of “one of the world’s least explored and last wild places,” while documenting his sense that “the region is anything but inviolate.”

A color-coded temperature change heat map of the world — with the Arctic in “sizzling maroon” — documents Greenland’s more than double temperature increase compared to the global average over the past six decades. “It is hard to exaggerate how dramatic this is,” he writes at one point, while struggling throughout the piece over how best to “reconcile the environmental risks of the melting Arctic with the economic opportunities it will present” not only locally but also globally. A compelling video documents the receding Arctic ice-shelf.

Astill’s nuanced reporting deftly captures the advantages and disadvantages of the unprecedented changes under way in the Arctic, but he characterizes the plusses as more likely to benefit the area’s own small populations and the difficulties as posing profound challenges for much of the rest of the world. The kinds of images so characteristic of coastal Greenland help bring home the messages of Astill’s extensive reporting.

Astill points to “no serious doubt about the basic cause of the warming. It is, in the Arctic as everywhere, the result of an increase in heat-trapping atmospheric gases, mainly carbon dioxide released when fossil fuels are burned.”

His concluding paragraph is cautionary:

With prompt action, the worst outcomes of a warmer Arctic can still be avoided. The shrinking cap may find a new equilibrium. Most of the permafrost may remain frozen. But the Arctic will nonetheless be radically changed, to the detriment of a unique polar biome. This much is already inevitable.

The website for the Astill report includes a list of individuals, books, papers, and reports listing many of the materials he researched in preparing the article.

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One Response to Economist’s ‘Melting North’ Special Report Well Worth Reading

  1. Dan Rogers says:

    It is quite sad that The Economist continues to buy into the false proposition that global warming is caused by fossil fuel combustion. As long as otherwise learned people cling to that idea, our chances of making sensible preparations for global warming will be significantly diminished.

    One thing we should be doing is the construction of massive water diversion projects to move fresh water from the northern slopes away from the Arctic Ocean. As the climate warms, additional fresh water flowing into the Arctic Ocean could significantly reduce the ocean’s salinity in that area and reduce or shut down entirely, the “Atlantic Conveyor” and the Gulf Stream. Diverting water to the south, both in Eurasia and in north America, could help fight off desertification threatened by the warming climate.