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The Arctic As A Homeland
by Piers Vitebsky
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Conflicts Over Land And Resources In The Modern World
Another Kind Of Cost: Local And Incoming Pollution
  The extraction of resources causes pollution and environmental degradation. Valdez was the site of a disastrous oil spill in 1988, when a tanker sailed onto the rocks and thereby destroyed marine life over an enormous area. A representative of the Khanty in the west Siberian oil fields has described the cumulative long-term pollution caused by oil floating two inches thick on the rivers, killing all life on the way. In this one small area, he calculates that this has ruined 28 rivers which were previously used for commercial fishing and 25 million acres of reindeer pasture. Part of the tragedy is that oil and gas deposits often occur in exactly the same places as the best fishing grounds.
  Local military activity has also damaged the environment. The Arctic became increasingly militarised during the 'Cold War' between the early 1950s and the late 1980s. Military bases have restricted the movements of Native peoples and in some places have even forced them out of their homes altogether. They have also often littered the landscape with rubbish. During this period, nuclear testing on the Soviet island of Novaya Zemlya heavily contaminated most reindeer pastures across the whole of Russia and Scandinavia with pollution.
  But not all the pollution in the Arctic is created locally. Much of it is produced far away, in the industrial cities of the temperate zones. These airborne pollutants may be carried to the Arctic by prevailing winds or by the Earth's rotation. An 'ozone hole', like the one discovered in the Antarctic, may be forming in the Arctic too. Smoke drifting from industrialised countries causes 'Arctic haze', while toxic chemicals are absorbed by plant and animal life. The reindeer pastures in Scandinavia were contaminated in 1986 by radioactive fallout from the meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear power station, far to the south in the Ukraine.
  These poisons enter the food chain, where they pass up from plankton to whales, or from lichen to reindeer, and ultimately into the human body. At each stage, the toxic substance becomes more concentrated. Along the coast, seals are now found which contain a higher percentage of mercury than the ore from which the mercury has been obtained in the first place. Heavy metals and other toxins pass through Inuit mothers' milk into young babies. Inland, radiation in the meat which they eat has caused a sudden increase of cancer in the younger generations of Siberian reindeer herders.
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The Arctic is a Homeland, by Piers Vitebsky.
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