CRF Blog

Magnetic North

by Bill Hayes

Previously Sara Wheeler wrote Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica. Now she examines the other pole in The Magnetic North: Notes From the Arctic Circle.

From the New York Times Book Review:

Since the 1960s, cultural disintegration has clobbered the native peoples of the Arctic. The invaders, the pollutants, the brutal relocation tactics and the resources sought may vary, but the effects on the Inuit don’t. “Every nation devastates native cultures, even if it doesn’t actually kill everyone off. Russians did it with bureaucracy, Americans with money, Canadians (in the end) with kindness. Swedes and Finns did it with chain saws that chopped down forests. And everyone did it with booze and syphilis.” Today’s inhabited Arctic is awash in the legacies “of miscarried cultural assimilation and racial marginalization.”

Why all the carnage in the past 50 years? The answer is mostly this: The region “produces about a tenth of the world’s oil and a quarter of its gas.” Usually with Russia or the United States at the helm, the industry “delivers some fresh ecological catastrophe to the tundra as every month passes.” Few of them make headlines. As everyone’s “nuclear rubbish dump,” and a favorite testing site for nuclear warheads, parts of the Arctic Ocean, and sites around it, are the most radioactive on earth. The Russian Sami’s reindeer meat? Glowing. [more]