The Thunder Child

Science Fiction and Fantasy
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Vol 1, Issue #3
"Stand By For Mars!"
March 2006

Non-Fiction Book Reviews
by Caroline Miniscule

Silent Snow: The Slow Poisoning of the Arctic
Marla Cone
Grove Press

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Author Marla Cone has made her journalistic career out of covering environmental issues, including a 15 year stint for the Los Angeles Times. She's won two national awards for her environmental reporting.

When chemicals are spilled in urban centers, sprayed on farm fields, and synthesized in factories, they become hitchhikers embarking on a global voyage. Carried by winds, waves and rivers, they move drop by drop, migrating from the cities of the United States, Europe, and Russia into the bodies of Arctic animals and people a world away.

If you were to ask the average person in a city in the U.S. or Europe what they considered to be the most polluted place on the planet, you would probably not get the answer - the Arctic. The Arctic, in the remoteness of its location and the sparseness of its inhabitants, would seem to be the last place on Earth to have a pollution problem.

Introduction: A Moral Compass in a Vast, Lonely Land
Part 1: The Arctic Paradox
1. Blowing in the Wind: A Contaminant's Long Journey North
2. Unexpected Poisons: Serendipity at the Top of the World
3. The World's Unfortunate Laboratory
4. Plight of the Ice Bear: Top of the World, Top of the Food Web
5. Ties That Bind in Greenland
6. A Fish Can't Feed a Village: Alaska's Communal Hunts

Part II: Scientists Seeking Order Out of Chaos
7. Fear is Toxic, Too: Communicating Risk to Canada's Inuit
8. Into the Brains of Babes: Searching for Clues in Faroese Children
9. Beyond Silent Spring: A Global Assault on Sex Hormones and Immune Systems
10. The Arctic in Flux: Global Conspirators and the Whims of Climate
11. Islands of Sudden Change: The Evolution of the Aleutians

Part III: Solutions and Predictions
12. The Diagnosis: Scientists Write a Prescription
13. POPs and Politics: Taking the First Step Toward a Solution
14. The Chain of Evil Continues Unbroken: The Arctic's New Toxic Legacies

Epilogue: Survival of the Fittest: Walking in the Inuit's Footsteps

Yet, paradoxically, scientists have discovered that the Arctic is the most polluted location on Earth. How can this be?

When most people think of pollution, they think of the garbage thrown out onto the streets by people to lazy to carry it to a trash bit twenty feet from them. They think of exhaust from cars and buses on city streets which is almost overpowering on the ground, but surely dissipates into harmlessness once you walk through it holding your breath. But pollution is much more than that. It's artificial chemicals spewed into the air or pumped into the oceans by industrial factories that are the major pollutants.

Why is the Arctic, with little industry and few inhabitants, in crisis? The "grasshopper effect" is partially to blame:

As winter descends [on a city], the PCBs left behind are trapped there, hibernating in a blanket of snow. But come spring, when temperatures warm again, they are set free, and they start globe-trotting. Earth's atmosphere is like a giant beer distillery, with ontinuous cycles of heating and cooling and condensing, and chemicals like PCBs are constantly seeking equilibrium in the environment, seeking out cold climates. They move from the air to the soil and the air to the ocean, and back again, in a phenomenon called the "grasshopper effect."

When temperatures rise, the compounds evaporate in the heat, and drift along slowlyt in the atmosphere...When temperatures cool, the condense and fall to the ground...Over the coming years, they continually rise and fall like this, hopping across the world, in search of a cold environment where they can eternally rest. Within a few years, they have joined the others that took a faster route to the North Pole. No one knows the precise amount of PCBs that are flowing to the Arctic, but by one estimate sixty-seven tons, mostly in the form of gases, arrive there every year.

And stay there.

It's the nature of artificially created chemicals.

In Silent Snow, author Marla Cone paints a grim picture of the "web of life," which impacts everyone as well as everything on Earth, and strives to bring home to her audience the inexorable tragedy that is overtaking the Artic, and, inevitably, everyone else.

In the Arctic, you are what you eat. Because PCBs are not easily expelled from an animal's body, they accumulate there - this means that animals at the top of the food web have eaten all the contaminants consumed by their prey and their prey's prey. Arctic food ladders have as many as five rungs, and at each step up, the chemicals can magnify in concentration twenty-fold or more in a phenomenon known as biomagnification. Occupying the top rung are people and polar bears, which can carry millions, perhaps billions, of times more PCBs than the waters where they harvest their foods.

Cone presents these chilling facts in the first three chapters of her book. The remaining chapters provide the 'human touch,' telling the stories of the scientists who discovered this 'Arctic paradox,' and how they did it, and the stories of the native peoples (both Inuit and Greenlanders) who are living with the consequences of it.

With so much concentrated chemicals in their bodies, the immune systems of animals and people have broken down. Illness is rampant, the ability to recover from illnesses compromised.

Cognitive abilities - the ability to think - are compromised. The full impact on humans is yet to be determined, but scientists predict many animal species in the Arctic will be extinct in ten years.

What can be done to help the people and creatures of the Arctic - and therefore the rest of the world? Cone presents solutions - which will only occur if there is a vast groundswell of public opinion and pressure brought to bear on the generators of this toxicity.

Read this book. It will chill you, but hopefully it will galvanize you into action, also.

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