Arctic Voices Review
Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point edited by Subhankar Banerjee is a book of activists, scholars, scientists, and even indigenous elders who come together to share stories, perspectives, and science in an effort to halt the destruction of the Arctic region.
Right from the beginning I’m emotionally connected with this book because of one particular quote by the famous philosopher and environmental activist Vandana Shiva:
“When we think of wars in our times, our minds turn to Iraq and Afghanistan. But the bigger war is the war against the planet. This war has its roots in an economy that fails to respect ecological and ethical limits – limits to inequality, limits to injustice, limits to greed and economic concentration.”
The reader is introduced to the narrator, Subhankar Banerjee, who opens with an explanation of his interests in the Arctic as well as how he started his journey there. Right away the book gives first hand accounts of a phenomenon I had never heard of called the Arctic Haze. It is described via a factsheet as a brownish thin haze that limits visibility in distant horizons during spring. The arctic haze is as large as the size of Africa and is a mixture of particulates and acidic pollutants including hydrocarbons, soot, and sulfates. The chemical compositions are traceable by their unique id’s or chemical footprints back to pulp and paper mills, power plants, and oil and gas activities from the developed world in North America, Europe, and Asia. It is hypothesized by some that the ‘Arctic Haze’ may be further contributing to warming in the Arctic.
In addition to the serious tone and theme of the book are stories that humanize a culture long forgotten in today’s modern world. The story told by Nancy Lord takes place in Bethel, Alaska where she recounts a gathering of Elders from various nearby sea villages. They gather to talk about their historical knowledge of where the best hunting grounds are for different animals. But they also talk about the changes they now face including worries such as how thick the ice is (something they never worried about before) and how they’ve lost the best fishing grounds to the trawling fleets. They worry that the Bering Sea is being overfished and destroyed by vast commercial fishing activities. The midwater trawl fleet fishes over deep waters but ends up catching non-target species and the bottom trawlers are scraping the seafloor, toppling corals, and scouring sediments that are home to clams and worms. As it stands, the Bering Sea is supplying a substantial amount of the world’s craving for seafood. Fish and Shellfish catches for American companies make up almost half by weight of all fisheries production in US waters, according to the book! The Yup’ik Elders are quoted:
“This needs to be protected. Let the fish and the rest grow out there.”
Arctic Voices chronicles how the Elders are worried that the steep declines of marine mammals, birds, and fish will disrupt their livelihood they call subsistence. You can sense the raw anxiety these people are feeling as this story explains the details of their special gathering.
We Are The Caribou People
Another tale told by Elder Sarah James of the Gwich’in Nation is an inescapable read. It’s the story of how the Gwich’in reacted when they heard the announcement made by then U.S. President George W. Bush when he declared the coastal plains of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge open for oil development and a priority for his energy policy. This especially disturbed the Gwich’in people because this land is the calving grounds of the Porcupine River caribou herd. Sarah speaks deeply and passionately about how the caribou are an extension of who they are. She describes how they rely on the caribou for food, shelter, tools, and clothing and one gathers they connect to the caribou on some other level. She goes on explaining that this was the catalyst that set the Gwich’in people on a path to campaign against oil and gas development – because to them it was about indigenous rights, tribal rights, environmental rights, and human rights. The Daila Lama reminds us that we are all human and that we can achieve compassion with each other if we simply remind ourselves of stories like those of Elder Sarah James in Arctic Voices.
Arctic Voices is a great read that has too many features and viewpoints to share in this blog post, but I hope you get a sense of the raw emotion and the real life accounts and perspectives of what is really going on in the Arctic region. This review comes at a time when summer ice melts in the Arctic region are breaking new records for lowest amount of sea ice in the Arctic. This fact is even being exploited by Shell Corporation of Finland and Gazprom of Russia by planning offshore Arctic Oil Drilling operations. We can all do something by demanding that our governments respect what few tribal nations still exist and by supporting the development of alternative energy.
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