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Circumpolar Peoples v. The Great Polar Melt
Alex Steffen, 24 Nov 04

Global warming is now trashing the Arctic -- melting the polar ice cap, thawing the permafrost and radically altering the landscape. This March, when ally Ben Saunders attempted to make the first ever solo and unsupported ski crossing of the Arctic Ocean (from Russia to Canada via the North Pole), he had to swim a lot of open water. Some predict that a navigable Northwest Passage around the top of Canada will be a reality by the end of the decade.

But the Arctic isn't just icebergs and polar bears. People live there too, and the North Pole melt is hammering their ways of life:

REYKJAVIK - What are the words used by indigenous peoples in the Arctic for "hornet," "robin," "elk," "barn owl" or "salmon?"

If you don't know, you're not alone. Many indigenous languages have no words for legions of new animals, insects and plants advancing north as global warming thaws the polar ice and lets forests creep over tundra.

"We can't even describe what we're seeing," said Sheila Watt-Cloutier, chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference which says it represents 155,000 people in Canada, Alaska, Greenland and Russia.

But circumpolar peoples aren't just sitting around moping: indeed, there appears to be something of an explosion of Arctic activism. The Sami, Native Alaskans, the Inuit, the Koryaks, Nanai, Itelmens and Chukchis -- all are engaged in lots of cultural survival work, political mobilization, technological and cultural innovation, even legal action, like lawsuits against the Bush Administration's inaction on climate.

You don't survive in the Arctic by being a wimp. Don't count the circumpolar cultures out of the fight.

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I know it'll be terrible in the long term, but what you describe - animals migrating north, a navigable Northwest Passage - actually sound like good things.

Posted by: salas on 24 Nov 04

I would hope that the circumpolar peoples make a strong coalition with the island peoples who are in jeopardy with sea-level rising. You know, like Tuvalu which has begun preparing for the seemingly inevitable immersion.

Posted by: gmoke on 24 Nov 04


I try, but I really can't see the Inuit agreeing with you.

The destruction of yet another habitat is a good thing? The destruction of many peoples' way of life is a good thing?

Posted by: Frank Shearar on 25 Nov 04



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