RecensionsBook Reviews

Leonard, David Downie and Terry Fenge (eds), 2003, Northern Lights against POPs, Combatting Toxic Threats in the Arctic, Montreal and Kingston, Published for the Inuit Circumpolar Conference Canada by McGill-Queen's University Press, 354 pages, illustrations, maps, tables, figures, appendices.

  • Joanna Kafarowski

…plus d’informations

  • Joanna Kafarowski
    Natural Resources and Environmental Studies program
    University of Northern British Columbia
    Prince George, British-Columbia
    Canada, V2N 5N1
    gypsy_four@hotmail.com

Corps de l’article

As indicated by research conducted since the 1980s, contaminants have an adverse impact on northern communities reliant upon a traditional diet. Persistent organic pollutants, or POPS, are amongst the most long-lasting and pernicious of these contaminants. Originating primarily in southern areas remote from the north, POPS are highly toxic, carbon-based products or by-products of industrial activities. Referred to collectively as the "Dirty Dozen," POPs include pesticides such as DDT and aldrin, industrial chemicals such as PCBs and by-products of combustion including dioxins and furans. They are transported via air, wind and water currents to the Arctic where they bio-magnify and bio-accummulate in the fatty tissues of marine mammals such as ringed seals, beluga whales and walrus. These marine mammals are then harvested and consumed by humans as country foods. Both the natural and human environments of the circumpolar north have been affected. Some POPs are recognized as carcinogenic agents and endocrine disruptors.

Northern Lights against POPs Combatting Toxic Threats in the Arctic edited by David Leonard Downie and Terry Fenge investigates current scientific research on POPs and documents events leading up to and including the Stockholm Convention. In May, 2001, this legally binding international convention to eliminate or reduce POP emissions was signed by representatives of 111 nations. Northern Lights against POPs is divided into two sections. The first section, entitled "Persistent Organic Pollutants: Global Poisons Threaten the North," is a collection of five chapters describing cutting-edge research on the science of environmental contaminants in the north. The first chapter, "POPs, the Environment and Public Health" by Dewailly and Furgal introduces the severity of the POPs issue in Arctic regions and emphasizes the impact of POPs on human health. The authors assess effects on the immune system, neurobehavioural development, reproduction and links to cancer and osteoporosis, and pay particular attention to the combined effects of POPs. The second chapter, "Canadian Arctic Indigenous Peoples, Traditional Food Systems, and POPs" by Kuhnlein, Chan, Egeland and Receveur presents the findings of POPs-related projects by the Centre for Indigenous Peoples' Nutrition and Environment (CINE). This innovative institution was established in 1992 at McGill University in Montréal, Québec, in response to concerns of Aboriginal peoples about the integrity of their traditional food systems. CINE's governing board includes representatives from the Assembly of First Nations, Council of Yukon First Nations, Dene Nation, Inuit Circumpolar Conference, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Métis Nation of the Northwest Territories and the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake and thus, is well-situated to address Aboriginal interests. According to Kuhnlein et al.:

In its work on POPs and other contaminants in traditional food and diets, CINE has insisted on including research to understand both the benefits and the risks of traditional food use. Benefits include health-giving properties in the form of both essential nutrients and cultural perceptions of wellness. CINE's reports present these benefits in contrast to the often poorly understood physical effects of contaminants such as POPs and heavy metals. Only by understanding all of the scientific and cultural issues can properly informed decisions be made about including, reducing or eliminating certain traditional foods containing contaminants in the diet of Indigenous peoples (p. 24).

Canada is well-represented in this volume due to the pioneering work conducted by Canadians in national and international contaminant programs. Shearer and Han describe the Northern Contaminant Program in Canada while Reiersen, Wilson and Kimstach describe the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme that was developed by Arctic Council member states. The articles on these two programs outline the response of Arctic states to the presence of POPs in the north. The final article in this section by Commoner, Bartlett, Couchot and Eisl links specific North American industrial sources to the deposition of airborne dioxins in Nunavut. Through the use of rigorous scientific evidence, these authors highlight the necessity of identifying particularly egregious industrial culprits and connecting them directly with deposition in the north. Further research needs to be conducted in this area but the conclusions are thought-provoking.

The second section of the book is comprised of seven articles on regional development in environmental policy. In "Regional POPs Policy: The UNECE CLRTAP POPs Protocol," Selin examines the development of the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) in the late 1980s and links it to other seminal POPs initiatives. Downie and Bankes delve into the challenges involved in the implementation of the Stockholm Convention. Monitoring, compliance and assessment are critical to ensuring that the articles of the Convention are adhered to in a timely and effective manner. Further information on the politics involved in the ratification of the Convention would also be helpful. Currently, although 161 nations have signed the Convention, only 35 have ratified or accepted it.

The last four articles in this section by Buccini, Watt-Cloutier, Fenge, Huntington and Sparck are amongst the most riveting in the book. As Chair of the various intergovernmental bodies involved in developing the Stockholm Convention, John Buccini's article, "The Road to Stockholm: A View From the Chair," provides insight into the processes and human actors involved in environmental policy-making. The articles by Huntington and Sparck, and Fenge, highlight the role of Indigenous peoples in the environmental contaminant arena. "POPs and Inuit: Influencing the Global Agenda" by Fenge documents the emerging role of the Inuit in contributing to POPs-related programs and conventions. The concluding article by Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, continues this theme. Watt-Cloutier personalizes her contribution to the book. Her journey to maintain the traditional Inuit way of life, while also interacting on the world stage as a major player in international conventions, mirrors that of the Inuit people. She states:

As we gradually revert to a more sustaining way of life, the last thing we need is to think that our cultural way of life — including our precious country food — is adding to our turmoil. Imagine the shock, confusion, and rage that we initially felt when evidence of high levels of POPs was discovered in our cord blood and nursing milk in the mid-1980s […]. We were being poisoned — not of our own doing but from afar […]. Traditional Inuit wisdom, the teachings of the land, the power of the hunt and the consumption of our country food all contain answers to the problems we are facing. They will lead us to meet our challenges and help us to survive in this modern world that has come so rapidly to our Arctic doorstep (p. 257-258).

Geared towards a scholarly audience, Northern Lights against POPs will be of greatest benefit to students and academics studying environmental policy, contaminants and/or northern and indigenous issues. No attempt seems to have been made to make this book accessible to northern communities nor is this book available in indigenous languages. While the text is complemented by appendices, illustrations, maps, tables and figures, it lacks an index and a bibliography — both critical to this type of book.

According to editors Downie and Fenge: "The POPs story is partly one of translating science into policy. It is also a story of Arctic Indigenous peoples defending their cultures and economies in international negotiations" (p. xvii). Northern Lights against POPs showcases the work of leading POPs scientists and academics. Despite the fact that the culture, health and environment of northern Indigenous peoples are significantly impacted by POPs, few indigenous voices (with the exception of Watt-Cloutier and Sparck) emerge from this book. Additionally, the link between POPs and traditional knowledge is also glaringly absent. The emphasis placed here on Western scientific knowledge and the work of Western scientists (albeit work that may have been conducted with Indigenous partners and support) is surprising given that the book was published for the Inuit Circumpolar Conference by McGill-Queen's University Press.

Northern Lights against POPS Combatting Toxic Threats in the Arctic is a timely and informative contribution to the contaminant literature. Its publication will hopefully result in further research being conducted by and published for northern Indigenous peoples. This will ensure that Indigenous peoples maintain control over the research and publication agenda on contaminant issues so critical to the north.