Thursday, 2 August 2012

Chronicling the War of Nature vs. Greed: A Review of Gwich'in, Inupiat & Inuit "Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point" ISBN: 9781609803858

Chronicling the War of Nature vs. Greed: A Review of Gwich'in, Inupiat & Inuit "Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point" ISBN: 9781609803858
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Subject: Chronicling the War of Nature vs. Greed: A Review of "Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point"

Chronicling the War of Nature vs. Greed: A Review of "Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point"
By Eleanor J Bader,
Truthout - Book Review -
This article is a Truthout original.
Reprinted with permission of the author
July 24, 2012

Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point
Edited by Subhankar Banerjee
Seven Stories Press
New York, 2012
  • Hardcover
  • 560
  • July 3, 2012
  • 9781609803858

"...According to editor Subhankar Banerjee, "the Arctic is warming
at a rate double that of the rest of the planet." This, of
course, has already had a discernible impact on the animals,
fish and people of the region - and beyond. As rising
temperatures have put many scientists and everyday folks on
high alert, they are increasingly primed for battle against
profit-hungry corporations and the drill-baby-drill crowd, who
see the Arctic's immense stock of coal, oil and other natural
resources as a tremendous boon - environment be damned.

The 31 essays in "Arctic Voices" contest this destructive
greed. Some focus on the indigenous cultures that stand to be
eradicated by the folly of energy companies; others address
the visible destruction of the lands and waters of Alaska,
Russia, Iceland and Greenland. Dozens of photos - both black-
and-white and color - hammer the realities of contamination
and pollution. It's a sobering read, especially for urban
dwellers whose existence is far removed from the subsistence
lifestyle of the Gwich'in, Inupiat and Inuit people.

"We're all connected to the northern hemisphere," Banerjee
writes in an introduction to the volume: "

    Hundreds of millions of birds migrate to the Arctic each
    spring from every corner of the earth - including Yellow
    Wagtail from Kolkata - for nesting and rearing their young
    and resting - a planetary celebration of global
    interconnectedness. On the other hand, caribou, whale and
    fish migrate hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles,
    connecting numerous indigenous communities through
    subsistence food harvests - local and regional
    interconnectedness. However, daily industrial toxins
    migrate to the Arctic from every part of our planet,
    making animals and humans of the Arctic among the most
    contaminated inhabitants of the earth.

Indeed, Banerjee notes that the breast milk of women in
Greenland and northern Canada is "as toxic as hazardous
waste." Additionally, author Marla Cone, in an excerpt from a
book entitled "Silent Snow," presents evidence that Inuit
women, who eat a diet rich in whale and seal meat, have high
levels of mercury and PCBs in their bodies. As a result, when
they breast feed, these poisons are passed to their offspring,
putting them at risk of cancer and other diseases.

But let's step back a bit. Martha Shaa Tlaa Williams' essay,
"A Brief History of Native Solidarity," puts today's crisis in
historical perspective by zeroing in on the mistreatment of
Native populations both before and subsequent to Alaskan
statehood. As early as the 1920s, she reports, Native
communities challenged racist laws that barred Indian children
from public schools and took issue with pervasive stereotypes
that viewed them as savage and unsanitary fodder for Christian
missionaries. More than 30 years later, when Alaska became the
49th state in 1959, the average indigenous person had only a
sixth-grade education, infant mortality rates were extremely
high and tuberculosis was epidemic. Worse, the average
lifespan of Alaskan Natives was just 34.7.

Despite these obvious problems, Williams writes that "the
proverbial Phoenix rose from the ashes as a direct result of
the Statehood Act." The Act specifically said that the state
could claim lands only if they were "vacant, unappropriated
and unreserved," but Williams concludes that the Alaskan
government simply grabbed what it wanted.

The upshot was that indigenous people's property rights were
often trampled - land and waterways that had long been relied
upon for sustenance were taken for nuclear testing and the
building of massive dams. While Native people prevailed in
stopping Project Chariot, a 1959 plan to detonate enormous
atomic bombs on Alaska's north slope, they have been less
successful in stopping either dam construction or corporate

Pamela A. Miller's "Broken Promises: The Reality of Big Oil in
America's Arctic," presents the rationale for opening up the
coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil
companies. Essentially, pro-drilling forces have always argued
that the process would not harm the environment. Take a
statement issued by BP when Prudhoe Bay was first opened to
development in the late 1970s: "No unsightly drilling rigs are
left to mar the landscape; they are moved as soon as their
task is done. Only a relatively small system of flow lines
will be installed above ground to carry the oil from each well
to the gathering centers. Formal clean-up programs keep
Prudhoe Bay part of the wilderness."

Not so, Miller writes. In fact, since oil was discovered in
Prudhoe Bay in 1968 and the pipeline began removing it in
1977, an area the size of Rhode Island has been continually
plundered. What's more, more than 6,100 exploratory and
production wells, 500 miles of roads, two refineries, 20
airports, 1,000 miles of pipelines, 27 production plants,
hundreds of residences and numerous power plants have been
erected and now cover 1,000 square miles of once-pristine
land. "Prudhoe Bay air pollution emissions have been detected
nearly 200 miles away in Barrow, Alaska," Miller writes. "The
oil industry on Alaska's north slope annually emits
approximately 70,413 tons of nitrogen oxides, which contribute
to smog and acid rain. This is more than twice the amount
emitted by Washington, D.C. according to the Environmental
Protection Agency, more than many other U.S. cities." Among
the pollutants found: Carbon monoxide, methane, sulfur dioxide
and volatile organic compounds.

As if this weren't heinous enough, Miller reports that more
than one spill occurs each and every day. Although such
accidents rarely make national news, she writes that there
have been 6,000 spills of 2.7 million gallons since 1998. And
predictably, recovery is nearly impossible due to ice, snow
and cold, even in an era of global warming. Furthermore,
Miller concludes that more than 100 sites are already badly
contaminated - a fact substantiated by a 600 percent spike in
respiratory illnesses in and around Prudhoe Bay.

That the oil industry shrugs this off - and minimizes the
damage wrought by large-scale disasters like the Exxon Valdez
spill and BP explosion - has not only enraged
environmentalists, both Native and not, it has led to action
and organizing. Indeed, for the first time in decades, Native
groups have banded together to fight big oil and preserve the
cultural continuity that has defined their people for tens of
thousands of years. Their reverence for, and connection to,
the earth - its animals, water, mountains and land - is
beautifully described in "Arctic Voices," and each essay is as
much a prayer as a call to activism.

Despite the area's relatively small population - on the
American side, 65 Native communities are home to an estimated
27,500 people - their fierce commitment to their way of life
makes them a force to be reckoned with. Just ask George W.
Bush. Much to his displeasure, GWB's attempt to open the
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development was
defeated thanks in part to opposition by a group called the
Gwich'in Streering Committee. That said, the struggle is far
from over, and the task remains twofold: to clean up the
damage that has already been done and to stop further
encroachment. It's a tall order.

"Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point" is an eye-
opening account of a precious place that few of us will ever
visit. At the same time, the many writers included in the
anthology not only share their love of nature, but also raise
important questions about our reliance on oil, gas and coal.
In addition, one basic point drives the collection. In the
words of Sheila Watt-Cloutier, former chair of the Inuit
Circumpolar Council: "The Arctic is the barometer of the
health of the planet and if the Arctic is poisoned, so are we

If she's right, and there is plenty of scientific evidence to
back her claim, we're nearing the point of no return. The
contributors to Arctic Voices - scientists, indigenous people,
environmental activists, researchers and scholars - have given
us the tools we need to understand the calamity. As Vandana
Shiva, author of "Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and
Development," writes, "The earth and her beings have been
speaking. We stay deaf at our peril."

[Eleanor J. Bader is a freelance writer, teacher and feminist
activist from Brooklyn, New York. She writes for The Brooklyn
Rail,, and other
progressive blogs and publications.]

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By Elizabeth McGowan, InsideClimate News - Report
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