McLean Lecture Series: “Cold, Dark, and Dangerous: The Arctic and Outer Space” with Prof. Michael Byers

The UBC International Canadian Studies Centre in collaboration with Green College is pleased to present the 2019 McLean Lecture Series.

Entitled “Cold, Dark, and Dangerous: The Arctic and Outer Space”, the series will be delivered by Professor Michael Byers, the Brenda and David McLean Chair in Canadian Studies.  For more information on Professor Byers, please see the bio below.

The three lectures will take place on the following dates:

  • Wednesday, February 13: “Our 3D Arctic”
  • Tuesday, March 5: “Space Force? Security and Cooperation in the Arctic and Space”
  • Tuesday, March 19: “Look up! Canada as an Arctic and Space Nation”

The lectures will be held in the Green College Coach House (6201 Cecil Green Park Road) on the UBC Point Grey campus from 7:30pm- 8:30pm. Receptions will follow each lecture.



Lecture # 1:  “Our 3D Arctic” (Wednesday February 13)

The Arctic cannot fully be understood without including Outer Space, from low Earth orbit to distant stars. It is time for a paradigm shift in our view of the Arctic, so that we see it anew in 3D: centred on the North Pole but extending ,000s of kilometres across the top of the planet, several kilometres down into the Arctic Ocean, 35,000 kilometres up to geostationary orbit, and billions of kilometres beyond that to other galaxies and stars. In the first of his McLean Lectures in Canadian Studies, Michael Byers explains our 3D Arctic in terms of its geographical, cultural, technological, political and legal connections to Outer Space, and points out the implications these have for the disciplines of international relations, international law and political geography.

Lecture # 2: “Space Force? Security and Cooperation in the Arctic and Space” (Tuesday March 5)

Donald Trump announced the creation of a ‘Space Force’ last summer. The US President assumes that Space will become a ‘war fighting domain’, and there is at least some support for his assumption. For instance, in 2007, China tested its ability to destroy operational satellites by targeting a derelict satellite with a ground-based missile. However, that Chinese test created more than 35,000 pieces of debris larger than one centimetre, all of which pose severe threats to other satellites and spacecraft. Upon seeing the consequences of the test, all countries, including China, have refrained from testing anti-satellite weapons in ways that could create more debris. There is, in fact, a remarkable amount of cooperation in Space, with the International Space Station being just the most prominent example. There is also a great deal of cooperation in the Arctic, with Russia and Western states working closely together on search and rescue, fisheries management, and scientific research—even after the 2014 annexation of Crimea. This lecture explores the reasons for all this cooperation, including that the Arctic and Space are both remote regions with extreme environments, that both suffer from ‘tragedies of the commons’, and that both are ‘militarized’ but not substantially ‘weaponized’.

Lecture # 3: “Look up! Canada as an Arctic and Space Nation” (Tuesday March 19)

Canada is the second largest country in world, and 40 percent of Canada is Arctic. Canada has the longest coastline in the world, most of it in the Arctic. The Arctic is central to our history, culture, and self-identity. We are the “True North Strong and Free”.

In 1962, Canada became the third country in Space, with a satellite for studying the ionosphere—a layer of the upper atmosphere of critical importance to long-range radio transmissions. A decade later, Canada became the first country to launch a civilian communications satellite, enabling the CBC to broadcast from sea to sea to sea.

The Arctic and Space are inextricably linked. In addition to being central to Arctic communications, satellites are essential tools for Arctic navigation, security, search and rescue, ice and weather forecasting, fisheries, prospecting, and science.

Yet Canada is now failing in both the Arctic and Space. Arctic eco-systems are being decimated by climate change, while Arctic communities are ravaged by suicide, substance-abuse, diabetes, tuberculosis, and other diseases of poverty. Canada’s two largest Space companies have been lost to the United States, and our national Space program is focused on industry subsidies and political photo-ops rather than research and exploration.

In his third McLean Lecture in Canadian Studies, Michael Byers will call on Canadians to seize the opportunities presented by geography, history, education and technology. He will advance a vision of Canada as a leading Arctic and Space nation. It is a vision that promotes international cooperation, social and economic development, environmental protection—and national pride.



About the speaker:

Michael Byers holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law. His work focuses on Outer Space, the Arctic, climate change, the laws of war, and Canadian foreign policy. Dr. Byers has been a Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford University, a Professor of Law at Duke University, and a Visiting Professor at the universities of Cape Town, Tel Aviv, Nord (Norway) and Novosibirsk (Russia). His most recent book is International Law and the Arctic (Cambridge University Press), which won the 2013 Donner Prize. Dr. Byers is a regular contributor to the Globe and Mail newspaper.