The Norwegian territory of Svalbard has been open to citizens of the world since 1920. But don’t call it a utopia.
What I discovered was a historical accident, rooted in environmental determinism and shaped by economics, that is being irreversibly upended. There’s a dismal symmetry at play: As climate change renders the rest of the planet as hostile to human life as the far north, we too must make the choice between throwing up walls and letting them down. Svalbard’s geopolitics provide an imperfect but alternative vision of how places can be governed, whom they can accommodate, and how communities can form.