Poles Apart

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Victims of global warming: penguins in Antarctica and polar bears in the Arctic. Victims of global warming: penguins in Antarctica and polar bears in the Arctic.
SummaryWhile the Antarctic provides a vision of a better world, the Arctic is where our past and our present are catching up with us.

leading public health expert has said that in the 1990s, many Greenlanders were so toxic that they would have qualified as hazardous waste.”)  

Where in the south is a mass of land (and ice), a continent surrounded by ocean, up north there is the Arctic Ocean surrounded by territories belonging to the United States, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Russia, lands inhabited by indigenous people in varying degrees of adaptation to their larger political affiliation and to the rapid changes that have cast them adrift from their traditional ways. Also these are territories where a frenetic scramble has picked up pace to exploit natural resources of hydrocarbons and minerals (with the melting of ice, due to global warming, newly exposed rock is revealing more such riches).

Where the southern continent is heartbreakingly beautiful, Wheeler’s accounts of folks she meets along the way and the stories she discerns are often simply heartbreaking. The Inuit in Canada’s Arctic struggling with their new life and its side-effects of obesity and alcoholism (to the extent that local supermarkets will not even sell vanilla essence). Greenlanders working out routes to independence after having swung home rule. The Solovki monastery in Russia, forcibly rid of its monks by the Red Guards in 1923 and turned into the gulag famously visited by Maxim Gorky, who wrote of finding “no resemblance to a prison” and mystified readers for generations to come.

Once again spending part of her stay with American scientists (specifically in Greenland), she found that the Arctic attracts a different sort of person that the Antarctic: “Polar environments attract the type of support staff that used to be called “alternative”… The Arctic drew in not outsiders but misfits, people who would not submit to the routines of the south.”

Or as she put it more poignantly in Access All Areas, while the Antarctic provides a vision of a better world that could be, the Arctic is where our past and our present are catching up with us. Chilling.

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