The United States promotes a strong focus on environmental policy and the topic has long been deemed an issue of great importance. The US and other world governments involve themselves heavily in the regulation and preservation of the natural environment and the Arctic is no exception. This sample environmental science essay explores the Arctic cold rush and its ramifications on indigenous people and is only one of the wide range of subjects offered by Ultius.
Cold, Hard Cash: The Arctic Cold Rush and How it is Affecting Indigenous People and Their Environment
According to Work Arctic, a website dedicated to jobs in the Arctic, December 21st is the shortest day of the Arctic winter, and the company is currently actively recruiting for the position of camp host at the Yukon River Camp. This is one type of job currently available in the remote Arctic wilderness, but there are also other jobs – namely jobs with Russia’s Arctic gas pipeline supply companies in Bovanenkovo, Siberia – a place in the Yamal Peninsula that Russian President Vladimir Putin, already well-known for his bold opinions on foreign policy, hopes:
“could become an Arctic Saudi Arabia funneling hydrocarbons to an energy-hungry world” (Bourne).
Bovanenkovo is 19 miles from the B1 Arctic crater; an enormous natural gas deposit that could fuel the 700-mile pipeline Russia has installed – it is meant to supply over a third of Russia’s natural gas and much of its oil, according to Joel Bourne of National Geographic. As time passes and technology advances in the region, the Arctic may become home to more human beings than have ever lived there. People who are not from there, but travel there to work might benefit from knowledge about Arctic seasons, weather, real estate developments, and other information.
Life in the Arctic
The Arctic as a Homeland website is an interesting source of good information on what life in the Arctic is like. The website includes subsections on:
- Indigenous peoples’ family life and religion
- The Arctic’s frontier status
- Conflicts over land and resources
- The future of the Arctic (The Arctic as a Homeland)
A discussion section is also present of issues like:
- Renewable and non-renewable resources
- Industrial societal needs
- Political control
- Economic control
- The costs and benefits of Arctic industries
- The incoming pollution that is affecting the people, animals, and environment of the Arctic region (The Arctic as a Homeland).
Harsh yet fragile Arctic environment
Russia has the most land inside the Arctic region of any country on Earth, and the slowness of growth in the cold landscapes make destruction of plants or animals in the region potentially devastating to the delicate ecosystems that exist (The Arctic as a Homeland). For instance, the main diet of reindeer is lichen, which can take up to 30 years to grow back when removed. Dwarf willow trees a few inches tall may be as old as 100 years (The Arctic as a Homeland). Removing the vegetation from the permafrost in tundra soil causes it to erode in deep gullies which affect transportation and local migration routes for animals and indigenous people. Because of the lack of warmth year-round, the Arctic environment may take years to break down oil molecules in the case of an oil spill – much more time than a warmer climate might.
Indigenous way of life
Hunting and herding are the main ways of life for indigenous people in the Arctic. Any threats to the local species present a threat to the food security of these people. Fish and animals are the only source of protein in a land where plants and crops are unable to grow; animals also provide tools, clothing, housing, and equipment that locals need to survive (The Arctic as a Homeland). Animal life in the Arctic includes:
- Brown bears
- Other small mammals
Challenges of the Arctic
Life is harsh in the Arctic, posing many challenges. As in all climates, there are many hazards faced by those who dwell in the region.
Some of the greatest threats include:
Thus, local environmental knowledge is a premium in the area; without it, people might very well die.
Cold rush industrial Intrusion
Mining the Yamal Peninsula
Siberia is not all freezing temperatures. According to Public Radio International (PRI), the city of Novosibirsk in the southern part of Siberia is only a bit colder than certain parts of Maine, Minnesota, and Colorado (Simone). The area has been populated by the Nenets nomadic reindeer hunters for thousands of years, and was also the scene of Joseph Stalin’s prison camps at one point in history (Bourne). As the planet warms, the Arctic ices continue to thaw at a rapid pace – Gazprom, the Russian oil company which was the first to drill offshore in the Arctic, and Novatek, also Russian, are currently drilling and have put Greenpeace protesters in jail and confiscated their ships in order to do so (Bourne). The U.S. Geological Survey has found that about a fifth of the world’s remaining oil and gas is above the Arctic Circle, and other minerals are also abundant there (Bourne). Canada has been mining iron, gold, and diamonds in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, and cargo ships are able to navigate from Europe to Eastern Asia as the ice on the Siberian coast is melted for several months a year (Bourne).
Deterrents to Arctic mining
Leaving oil and gas hydrocarbons in the earth may offer a better chance at preventing global warming. Greenpeace supports this endeavor as they are against all off-shore drilling, not just because of the havoc it can wreak on the environment (like BP’s record-breaking oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2012), but because drilling can release carbon into the atmosphere of the planet. This raises the temperature of the planet and is already occurring as the permafrost melts in the Arctic region (Bourne; Mufson; Trimble). As Trimble noted on the Greenpeace website, melting sea ice allows offshore drilling to expand where it was previously prevented. President Obama banned leasing Arctic regions from 2015-2017, but in March of 2016 decided to lease out portions of the Arctic again (Safina and Earle). It is unclear what the next president will do (Trimble). Hillary Clinton, a presidential hopeful for the Democrats, has already expressed her intention to prevent drilling in the Arctic (Pashley).
Arctic craters due to the cold rush?
B1 is only one of many enormous craters that have appeared in the Yamal area in northern Russia. It was noticed by helicopter pilots in Yamal in mid-July of 2014, and herders in the area reported that a second crater had been found – then a third, in Siberia (EarthSky). Scientists investigating the mysterious B1 and its sisters found unusual amounts of methane in them, and originally believed that methane explosions had caused the craters to explode due to global warming (EarthSky). Then about 20 or 30 more craters appeared in Siberia – they are no longer thought to be associated with methane explosions, but could still be associated with melting permafrost, which causes a release of methane as the ice melts in the region (EarthSky). They may be related to pingos, which are ice plugs concealed under ice as the region warms, then melting to reveal cavities in the earth; however, the ejection of rocks from the craters suggests an explosion of sorts (EarthSky). There may be a relationship to the methane plumes the University of Stockholm reported on the floor of the Arctic Ocean in 2015 (EarthSky).
Impact upon indigenous people and species
Issues in Alaska
As the world continues to change, oil royalties from oil companies are changing the lives of indigenous peoples who live in Alaska; The Guardian stated that the money can improve schools, be used to create rec centers and auto industry jobs (Macalister). Barrow is Alaska’s oil capital, and locals have higher than usual rate of mental issues such as suicide and depression as subsistence hunting of local animals is threatened by drilling (Macalister). The huge of amounts of money offered to indigenous communities by oil companies for oil land leasing are often overwhelming – the groups are unsure of what to do with it, in many cases. This problem has compounded during the political career of Sarah Palin, whose governorship of Alaska was much criticized for its indifference to indigenous peoples. Traditionally, it has not been necessary to disburse huge amounts of money into the community, and the groups feel their lands are being taken advantage of (Macalister). There is no doubt that the indigenous people of Siberia feel the same way.
Arctic indigens–The Netnets
The people who live in the Arctic and Siberian region are known as the Nenets, and have lived in the area for hundreds of years (Taylor). The Nenets are indigenous, and rely on reindeer for food, clothing, tools, and transportation on the tundra – they are a migrating people (Taylor). During the Siberian winter, temperatures in the region can be as low as -50 degrees, Celsius, or -58 Fahrenheit, according to Taylor. The taiga region in southern Siberia is the only place to find moss and lichen pastures that allow the reindeer, and by proxy the Nenets to survive the harsh winters (Taylor). The area they migrate to in the North is across the Ob River, a tundra too harsh for trees along the Kara Sea; the Yamal Peninsula is a peatland that reaches into the Kara Sea. Yamal is located above the Arctic Circle, and it means “the end of the world” in Nenet language (Taylor).
Artic cold rush threats to way of life
Due to the drilling and resource extraction interests of the rest of the world, the Nenet way of life is being threatened – although not all Nenet dread it; some embrace the change (Taylor). The infrastructures coming into the area are necessary for oil extraction, and have affected the Nenets’ migration routes as reindeer are afraid of the roads and the area is becoming polluted (Taylor). As in other parts of the world with oppressed indigenous peoples, Nenet families were separated and their children forced to attend government-run boarding schools in the past, disallowed from speaking their native tongue (Taylor). The Nenet survive on reindeer meat, which is frozen, raw, or boiled; salmon, muksun, and whitefish; and mountain cranberries (Taylor). Life in the cities has continued to draw young adults away from the tundra, where Taylor noted they have difficulty adjusting to life off the land suffering from:
as well as the aforementioned familial and cultural disruptions.
Disruptions of reindeer migration
Reindeer often have a hard time walking over tundra with no snow on it, and their food sources are disappearing along with the wintry landscape. Freshwater lakes which provide fish for the Nenet are also disappearing and draining off as permafrost melts (Taylor). Sergei Hudi is a Nenet herder, and said:
“We are afraid that with all these new industries, we will not be able to migrate anymore. And if we cannot migrate anymore, our people may just disappear altogether” (as cited in Taylor).
Hudi is referring not just to the oil and gas industries, but to the mining industry from Canada, the railroads, and the fresh sea channel connecting Europe and East Asia causing substantial marine pollution (Taylor). The release of gasses into the atmosphere may number in the billions of tons and could dangerously affect the entire planet if drilling is allowed to continue there (Taylor).
Attempts to lessen the impact upon Arctic environment
President Obama blocked oil drilling along the Atlantic seaboard, including the Arctic, for two years, causing Shell Oil to abandon a billion dollar deal to drill in the Arctic Ocean it had established there prior to the block (Pashley). As his term nears its end, his administration is attempting to extend the drilling ban to 2022, and make it difficult for the following presidencies to allow it again.
Other Businesses in the Arctic
According to the Arctic Economic Council (AEC),
“businesses are what will drive economic development throughout the circumpolar region.”
The Arctic is also saddled with its very own unique set of business barriers, and certainly some benefits, as well. On April 13, 2016, the AEC adopted a set of documents concerning:
- A three-year strategic plan
- Membership dues
- Memberships terms and conditions
Finland, Russia, Canada, Iceland, Denmark, the United States, Norway, and Sweden all participated in creating the documents and standards. The Inuit Circumpolar Council, Saami Council, Gwichi’in Council International, and the Aleut International Association also participated (AEC). The first meeting of the AEC was held in 2014 in Iqaluit, Nunavut Canada, and the organization has a 42-member board with six permanent participant organizations. Finland will chair the organization in 2017, a position that was previously held by the United States (AEC). Hopefully the involvement of the indigenous organizations will help temper the business decisions that are made in the Arctic.
Participants of the artic cold rush
Among the participating businesses are Russia’s largest shipping company, Pao Sovcomflot or SCF Group. SCF Group is using the Northern Sea Route in order to move freight faster to other countries. Norway’s participating companies include:
- Seafood Norway
- The Federation of Norwegian Industries
- The Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise
- The Norwegian Shipowners’ Association
- The Norwegian Hospitality Association
- Norwegian Oil and Gas Association (AEC)
The executive team of AEC includes:
- Evgeny Ambrozov of Sovcomflot
- Tom Paddon of Baffinland Iron Mines Limited
- Tara Sweeney of Alaska Slope Regional Corporation
- Tero Vauraste of Arctia Shipping (AEC)
On April 25, 2016, the AEC hosted the Arctic Broadband Summit, presumably to discuss broadband in the Arctic (AEC).
Living in the Arctic is not for the faint of heart, but neither is it impossible. There is no doubt that the Northern Sea Trade Route and the AEC will bring industry to the region – but can it be done without the destruction of indigenous peoples’ ways of life and preservation of the wildlife, plant life, and permafrost that the Arctic is so dependent upon? How will the indigenous people of the Arctic ultimately be affected by the intrusion of industry and the outside world into their lives, and what will future communities in the Arctic look like? Will global warming destroy the environment altogether and result in catastrophic problems for the planet, or will the human race find a way to include the indigenous peoples of the Arctic in a plan that will result in a more positive result? These questions all have yet to be answered, but the race to the Arctic has begun, and industry has reached this remote, cold region of the planet. With the participation of the local communities, there is hope that we can keep the destruction to a minimum.
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