1957 saw an explosion of activity in the Arctic under the banner of the International Geophysical Year. Scientists poured into the frozen and unforgiving landscape to study ice, weather, magnetism and glaciers among a wide variety of disciplines with the aim of increasing our knowledge of the region and its implications on the so-called civilised world.
At the time, when scientists were making their tortuous journeys north and fighting to erect their heavy canvas tents, I was barely a year old. In the same year the launch of Sputnik heralded the beginning of an entire new era of technology. It was a time of optimism and the future looked bright, we could be forgiven for not understanding the sinister fate that awaited the Arctic – a fate that would be studied by a whole new generation of scientists, most not even born in 1957, when the International Polar Year once again looked at, in spectacular detail, the wonderful and fragile Arctic.
It would be erroneous to say that the Arctic and its people, the Inuit, had not already begun to experience the insidious corrosion to their lives and culture caused by the southern visitors: by 1957 they had suffered the after effects of bigoted missionaries, whalers and a trail of polar ‘explorers’. All the time, and despite often catastrophic effects on their health and environment, the Inuit behaved with kindness and magnanimity towards their guests. Now, fifty years on they have to face a threat far worse than syphilis, diphtheria, tuberculosis, floggings, alcohol, displacement, theft, corruption and the many other ills left in the wake of the visitors, this time it is their entire land and way of life that is about to collapse.
I am not a scientist and my link with the I.P.Y. will be a kayak journey through the North West Passage during which time I will record the thoughts and concerns of the hunters of the Canadian Arctic. I hope in some way to bring a sense of understanding back to the UK of how our actions are irrevocably destroying a place and culture. I have to admit I am not hopeful that my insignificant effort will make a difference but that is not a reason, in my mind, for not trying.
As I hear of multi national companies rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of drilling for yet more oil in the melting permafrost, or planning new commercial shipping routes across what was once a frozen ocean, I feel I could cry. We owe the Arctic and its people a debt; moreover we owe the entire planet a debt.
Written by Glenn Morris.
During IPY, Glenn is undertaking a kayak journey through the Arctic Ocean via Canada's North West Passage. You can find out more about this project on the project's website, Arctic Voice.
What is IPY
Friday, 21 July 2006 08:01
From IGY to IPYWritten by Polar Historians
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