Since a while, the School of Ocean Sciences has a body that to address issues of diversity in the wider context within the school. It's called "Ocean Colours" and once in a while we have a meeting, with one or several presentations, and hopefully a lot of discussion. I remember a meeting where someone introduced us to lots of scientists of colour that we might name-check in our lectures, to break the centuries-old habit of only doing that with straight white men. These, after all, have a way of coming out on top when everybody else falls by the wayside. But not on our shift!
The day came that I would give a talk. There was a small database of ready-made talks, and one of them was about glaciology, sexism and racism. As I am the module lead on our only glaciological model, I felt like it was up to me to take that and run with it.
The day was coming closer and closer and I was still busy with my teaching and my academic integrity obligations! In the end, I prepared it the day before. Not ideal! But that is how such things often pan out.
The presentation came in three parts. It started with the gender imbalance in glaciology. Nobody is surprised about that. It's a science! You don't find science with gender balance very often. Maybe biology is ahead, but glaciology is quite close to physics, and that says it all. And not everyone thinks high latitude fieldwork is for women. But we have spoken about the gender balance in our field before.
|“Peter and Dagmar Freuchen,” by Irving Penn (1947).Photograph by Irving Penn / © The Irving Penn Foundation. Seemed a good illustration of gender expectations at the time...|
The original presentation I was using cited a 2010 article about gender balance in glaciological journals; it showed that authorship is predominantly male by quite a large margin. I wondered if anything had improved since then, and totted up the first authors in a recent issue of the Journal of Glaciology. Still 80% male first authors!
There might be an additional complication glaciology has that says it doesn't have, and it is remote fieldwork. I know that that can sometimes go wrong, both from the media and from friends. If someone is sexually harassing you and you really I have no way of getting away from them, that is worth them when it is just in the office or something. I thought I'd look up some literature about this, but I was a bit shocked by the sheer amount there is. I let that speak for itself!
A topic in the original presentation did I decided was a bit less important was names. Quite some unsavoury people have been engaged in exploration and research, and have, as a result of that, had landmarks named after them. And the suggestion was that that legacy could be broken by renaming them. Many of these landmarks would have an original name given by the local population, rather than by European travellers. Not all, of course; for instance, a great name in historical glaciology is Louis Agassiz. One of the landmarks named after him is a lake that stopped existing almost 12,000 years ago. That wouldn't have an original name anyone would be able to remember. But Agassiz turned out to be a man with quite problematic views. A medal named after him has already been renamed; should the lake follow? But this renaming is more an issue for nation states and whoever else is in charge of defining names. Not really something the glaciological community can do much about!
The second main topic of the presentation of us racism. The regional presentation did not go into ethnicity of authors of glacial logical journals, but I suppose that might be a bit tricky. What it did go into was that Arctic indigenous peoples, and indigenous people in or near mountain ranges, suffer disproportionally from melting ice. I did not think that case was strongly made. Which doesn't mean it's not true! But it also claimed there is no way for indigenous people to be involved in glaciological research. And I knew that that wasn't quite true.
When I leave the Norway, some of my colleagues formed the Secretariat of the Arctic Council. And that council was specifically set up to make sure that indigenous people are included in, and benefit from, glaciological research. All countries with Arctic territories are members, and organisations that represent all the indigenous peoples (as far as I know). And they try to achieve exactly what the presentation suggested isn’t being tried to achieve. And how is that going? To be honest, I didn’t have the time to properly find out. But I did see they managed to negotiate legally binding agreements. I checked one out; it obliged the signatories to encourage the involvement of indigenous peoples in all aspects of Arctic research. So that is easy to comply with! But one has to start somewhere.
It looked like the present day situation was affecting the functioning of the Arctic Council, though. The various member states rotate position of chair, and the current chair is Russia. And I drew the conclusion that that was the reason that on the front page of the Arctic Council website, it says "the Arctic Council is pausing all official meetings of the Council and its subsidiary bodies until further notice". A big spanner in the works! We’ll have to see how this pans out. But clearly a start has been made…