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Alex Steffen, 18 Feb 04

I just got back from a writing retreat at the excellent Mesa Refuge, where, among many other fine and fun accomplishments, I finished reading Kim Stanley Robinson's Antarctica, the first in his series of ecothrillers about politics, activism and science in our greenhouse world. Definitely worth a read, full of ruminations about the politics of science, fabulous descriptions of the Antarctic landscape, and a twisty plot involving the collapse of the Antarctic treaties, oil exploration and a bizarre and very cool polar subculture.

However, sometimes the future just won't stay where we put it. No sooner do I get home than I get this link from Sarah: Antarctica's resources 'at risk':

"Antarctic organisms face an onslaught by prospectors anxious to exploit their unique nature, the United Nations says.

"The UN University says "extremophiles", creatures adapted to life in the polar wastes, are being relentlessly hunted in what is virtually a new gold rush.

"A successful search could uncover new drugs, industrial compounds and some commercial applications, the UN says.

"It says the existing Antarctic Treaty System cannot adequately regulate the possible consequences to Antarctica."

So here we have a genuine 21st century neobiological industrial pollution issue: the destruction of extreme habitats, like Antarctic lakes or Ocean floor vents, by those looking to "discover" new organisms with industrial uses. Maybe we can get a jump on this one now? Or do we need someone to rush out and write the extremophile "Silent Spring"?

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