In this speculative provocation, researchers Francesco Sebregondi, Alexey Platonov, Inna Pokazanyeva, and Ildar Iakubov ask whether a full-scale, decentralized model of territorial development could be our best option to reckon with an open Arctic Ocean.
Scientists are unanimous: climate change in the Arctic is irreversible, and the melting of the polar ice caps is now unstoppable. In recent years, the prospect of an open Arctic Ocean has drawn many competing interests to the region: geopolitical tensions are on the rise as an environmental disaster looms on the horizon. Opposing a new wave of quiet colonization in the Arctic, environmentalists demand the region be regarded as an ecological sanctuary, and as such, left untouched. But, given the effect an open Arctic Ocean would have on the world’s balance of power, a strict conservationist approach is all too easily dismissed by key geopolitical players and stakeholders; as such, it is ultimately ineffective.
We need another approach. The development of activities across the soon to be open Arctic Ocean now appears as an inevitable process. Rather than resisting this development—with virtually no leverage—SEVER focuses on channeling it in the right direction.
As the Arctic ice recedes, the northern passages will gradually open up, with the potential to turn the Arctic into the new choice highway of worldwide logistics. The rerouting of global economic flows through the North could bring wealth and prosperity to this long-marginalized region. To achieve such an end, a reliable and sustainable infrastructural network needs to emerge across the vast icy landscape—one that no single Arctic country can afford to build on its own.
The Arctic will rise as one integrated territory, or it won’t rise at all. Therefore, linking circumpolar cities and ports into a distributed cross-border network must be part of any serious plan to establish the region as a new center of global exchange.
A spark is needed to start the shift from a climate of Arctic rivalry to one of cooperation towards the development of a common territory.
SEVER (SVR) is the name of a new digital token, the value of which is tied to the latitude at which it is used. Its location-sensitive architecture is designed to incentivize an influx of investment capital to the Arctic. Anyone, anywhere, can purchase SVR tokens, but their optimal economic value is reached only when they are used or stored above the Arctic Circle.
The SVR token uses a new proof-of-location protocol to verify transactions. Variations of latitude between users are translated into a fluctuation of balances, rewarding transactions that move north. By mediating the encounter between blockchain technology and the Arctic region, the SVR token creates an area of geo-targeted economic incentive.
As a currency, it will foster exchanges across and cooperation between Arctic nations. As a platform, it will support the crowdfunding of Arctic infrastructure, paving the way to a decentralized form of governance in the region.
SEVER positions itself along a promising alignment: from logistics to energy, through data management, mining, or fishing, the same industries that are starting to reconfigure their operations around blockchain technology are the ones that will benefit the most from an ice-free Arctic Ocean.
By providing a common language for machines to communicate autonomously, the SVR blockchain supports the development of automation across industries. This automation will remove the need for much of the human labor currently involved in Arctic operations. Rather than working directly in the region’s often hostile conditions, humans could be primarily tasked with overseeing, collectively, the labor of machines.
Today, there are very legitimate concerns about the environmental impact of large-scale industrial operations in the Arctic. The SVR blockchain can provide a much-needed safety net by hardcoding agreements and standards into the very protocols of autonomous machines. Which are we better off entrusting to protect the environmental health of the Arctic throughout its inevitable transformation: the laws of humans, or the scripts of machines?
An Arctic that runs at the forefront of automation and economic decentralization would lend itself naturally to a further experiment: decentralized autonomous governance.
Largely crowdfunded through a process of tokenization, the physical infrastructure of future Arctic cities would be maintained collectively by the region’s shareholding citizens. From electing representatives to deciding legislation and policies, the SVR blockchain would form an inclusive platform for decentralized decision-making. As such, it would support a shift to a collective and transparent model of Arctic governance.
Rather than approaching it as a vulnerable area in need of protection and conservation, SEVER imagines the Arctic as the frontier where our common urban future can be incubated: a future that revolves around the logics of decentralization, automation, and transparency.