When the Whales Left

Daniel Helman

 

Abstract

The Arctic is warming twice as quickly as the rest of the globe. There are perhaps fifteen years left before all the perennial Arctic sea ice has melted, and climatic as well as ecosystem health is uncertain. This set of haiku is inspired by Subhankar Banerjee’s Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point (2012) and other texts, in which an ethic of habitation in nature remains. Quotation and reference to Arctic Voices help to tell the stories in the haiku. A discussion related to the convergence of art and politics, as well as a focus for sustainability—institutional as well as technological—is included.

Keywords

climate change, caribou, whale, Arctic Voices, oil, sustainability

 

Introduction

Ecological ideas are often strongly personal. When we are positively impacted by spending time in natural settings—as current work with Nature Deficit Disorder suggests—the changes are to the mood and inner workings of a person.  Because of this focus, this work starts with a personal history. The ecological aspects are woven in—yet the personal is important to understand the motivation behind work in conservation.

In the Fall of 2014, I enrolled in a doctoral program in Arizona to receive training in sustainability education, a field that has been an interest of mine since I experienced what was either a spiritual awakening or a mental breakdown (either one makes as much sense)—while I was away at university in England, just before the last decade of the 20th century. I chose to see it as an awakening, and that has led me to change what I do in my life. I took up meditation. I dropped out of college for a time and went back home to work and see what personal improvements could come. I returned to university and designed my own degree major in aesthetics and beauty. I worked as an artist, focusing on nature and creating naive forms. When the money that was supporting my art ran out, I went on to teach in adult schools and then off to a masters program in geology, the subject I had been studying before the breakdown in England. My training is in the arts and the sciences; I feel fortunate to have had such broad and broadening experiences.

Sustainability is a field in flux (Kates et al., 2001). The term arose at about the same time as global warming caught the attention of media, replacing the term conservation that I and many others recall from our youth in the 1970s. It was a time of OP shorts and Vans shoes and disco music and Star Wars and also ICBMs, and I and many of my contemporaries feared Soviet missiles and imminent nuclear war. The computer age had dawned as well, but massive amounts of connectivity and e-waste were yet to be (Dertouzos & Moses, 1979).

More recently, I learned in one of my doctoral courses that the Arctic is now home to intense contamination from industry. Heavy metals and organic pollutants travel and are concentrated at the Earth’s poles, a migration not unlike that of birds finding a home in the airways, journeying far from where they start. It is an odd situation. Mother’s milk among Alaska natives or First Nation peoples is often so contaminated that it can be classified as a toxic waste under federal guidelines (Cone, 2012).

I hadn’t thought about the airways, the movement of molecules and their accumulation in what many think of as pristine and untouched. This series of poems is an homage to the Arctic from one who was moved to try and distil some of the thoughts and beauty that arise in the tragedy of reaching the limits of our reach here on Earth. Most were inspired by passages in Subhankar Banerjee’s collection of essays Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point (2012a). My process was to reflect and then see what was central and touching. I chose haiku for its power to make a person slow down, and also for the wonderful tradition in Japan of writing collections of haiku that are read in sequence, so that the effect of each builds on the previous ones. The result is a lyrical mood, connected both to nature and the experience of surprise. I think it was a good choice for reaching deeply into the heart of the devastation that is here in the 21st century.

In the next section, there is a long series of texts based on Arctic Voices—each followed by a haiku based on the selection. Next comes a discussion of causes and solutions for climate change, with a focus on the convergence of art and politics. The full set of haiku are given at the end, and the list of references follows that.

A final thought: central to the notion of sustainability is a triple bottom line—living in harmony with ecology, economy and society (Elkington, 1998). But without beauty, there is something else missing altogether. Indeed, it is where the arts, science and beauty meet that people are most inspired to work for change.

Textual Basis for the Haiku (Selections)

As described by Lord (2012) and many others, the Bering Sea is situated on a broad continental shelf—and while this type of oceanic environment was common during the Mesozoic period of Earth’s history, it is less common now.  The combination of shallow waters, upwellings, and seasonal movements of currents and ice create wonderful conditions for life. The ocean is literally teeming with organisms. There are more than 450 species of fish, crustaceans and mollusks inhabiting the waters, plus 25 different species of cetaceans, including the North Pacific right whale. The local airways host 20 million seabirds of 50 different species. Its biodiversity is immense.

Shallow seas are rich

Teeming with plankton and krill

Fifteen good years left

Climate change will mean a warmer Bering Sea. Lord (2012) continues with details. Both terrestrial and marine organisms depend on oxygen for life. As the oceans warm, marine organisms will be adversely affected. Oxygen (and other gases) escape into the atmosphere at a greater rate from warmer waters—and there will be less oxygen for marine life. This is a significant change where waters are typically very cold. Warmer waters (especially as fresh meltwater mixes in) will increase the stratification of the various layers in the Bering Sea, and that will sequester some nutrients away from organisms that are accustomed to access. The bio-productivity of the Bering Sea will decrease.  The warming will also liberate pollutants, notably mercury, and this will become more prominent in the food web. The top predators (e.g. marine mammals) will be most affected.

But there is a much worse element of the warming that may occur. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is far more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO2, and also more persistent. The Arctic is home to immense stores of frozen methane in the form of methane clathrate. The release of methane into the atmosphere in a similar scenario is thought to have caused the mass extinction at the end of the Permian Period 250 million years ago where 70 percent of all land-based species went extinct. Much of the frozen methane clathrate now lies under the Bering Sea.  A warmer ocean will start its release. (Lord, 2012).

Methane clathrate melts

From permafrost and sea floor

Greenhouse gas anew

Mowat (2012) relates a story of tragedy. Changing weather brings famine, and typically people will share food so that all can survive. Yet demographics may play a part in starvation, as newcomers to an area might not be aware of customs and their rationale—even turning away people who have walked days to reach out for help. And this is the story he relates, that despite having enough to keep his dogs well fed (and fat), a man turns supplicants away to starve who would have been overjoyed with some scraps of food that were abundant. The action is incongruous with humanity and the region’s culture.

The dogs are fat still

While the people starve back home

Who asked for spare food

Magnuson (2012) writes about mineral exploration and its effects on the region. Development is moving forward:

ALCOA isn’t the only one to have Greenland in their sights. They’ve found oil. There are rare earth minerals over there. People want to open up a uranium mine. There are diamonds and gold in Greenland. There are ten to a hundred Klondikes over there, waiting to be opened up. (Magnason, 2012, 121)

The political pressures prove too much to promote longterm strategies. The financial security of development often trumps other ideas.

ALCOA is now

Courting Greenland’s pristine

Cheap coal and free land

As Shearer (2012) writes, even in hindsight, the institutional framework is not set up to address the needs of Arctic peoples.

In 2005, an Iñuit petition was filed with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, created in 1959 to uphold and investigate violations of the 1948 American Declaration of the Human Rights of Man. The Iñuit petition alleged the US government was violating the human rights of Arctic people by refusing to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Seeking caps on US emissions, the petition also called for the commission to produce plans to protect Iñuit culture and resources through adaptation assistance. The petition was rejected one year later by the commission, which maintained that the charges outlined in the petition were insufficiently supported for making a determination. The same year, the US Army Corps of Engineers issued a report stating the situation in Kivalina was ‘dire’ and that the entire town needed to be immediately relocated, at an estimated cost ranging from $100 million to $499 million, according to various government estimates.  (Shearer, 2012, 213)

Kivalina is one of many. It is not clear why the commission has rejected the claim.

Up Kivalina

The sea has taken your hand

An old pride laughs yet

The people living in the far North are often very pragmatic. Archibald (2012) relates this story of a tribal group’s decision to look for better lives—to relocate—that was split by demographics. The youth would not have stayed. The elders acquiesced.  And the villages here are no more.

Down the lake near the merlin’s nest was an archeological site where in former years researchers had unveiled the artifacts of hunters and fishermen that had been at that location for about eight thousand years. Perhaps a mile in the opposite direction from Tom’s camp, large circles of stones on the open tundra marked the location of the tents of Dené Indians who had gathered there from distant locations in 1946 to make a critical democratic decision regarding whether to remain in their traditional lifestyle on the barrens or move to modern towns. The stones held down the bases of their tents. The vote of young people to leave overpowered the vote of the Elders to remain. Only the stones, and a few derelict cabins a few miles away, remained of a people who hunted the barrens since the retreat of the glaciers. (Archibald, 2012, 173)

The impression of timeless beauty in Arctic scenes belies the changes that are coming.

With a vote of young

The stones are all that remains

Of ten thousand men

Sakakibara (2012) relates how the warming trend in the Arctic has been nearly twice the global average. This trend is set to continue, and 2025 will likely see an ice free Arctic Ocean (Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, 2005). This estimate may be overly optimistic—it may occur sooner (ACIA Scientific Report, 2005). Sea ice follows a circulation pattern within the Arctic Ocean, with some of the older ice heading past Greenland into the Atlantic Ocean each winter, while some remains in the Arctic to add depth and stability to new ice forming the next year. The annual persistence of sea ice is dropping. In summer 2009, only about 20% of sea ice was third-year or older, and 32% second-year. In 2017 this older ice was much less. The thinner platforms affect hunting, and also the habitats for seals, walruses, polar bears and whales—such that the impact on human subsistence in the region will be tremendous (IPCC, 2007).

Not fifty years left

But only fifteen before

The ice will be gone

In the introduction to Arctic Voices, Banerjee (2012b) writes of the Arctic haze, a mix of chemical pollutants and other aerosols that are present in the far North. The sulfates in the haze have been shown to originate from oil and gas development, as well as from paper mills and power plants. One could make the case that many of these are local—and indeed they are related to energy development in the Arctic—yet other pollutants are traced to industries (transportation, shipping and agriculture) in Europe, North America and Asia. The migration makes sense, since airborn pollutants will often settle out in colder regions, as the air masses lose thermal energy. The Arctic haze is persistent.

At ice edge alone

The white glow arrests the Sun

Who dances through haze

Later in the book, Banerjee (2012c) recounts the story of the increase in open water in the Arctic Ocean, and of the ensuing starvation of many of the region’s polar bears.

In 2006, Dr. Monnett and a colleague published a seven-page article in the peer-reviewed journal Polar Biology. The article reported sightings of four drowned polar bears in the Beaufort Sea in 2004. With Arctic warming, sea ice is melting at an unprecedented rate creating large expanses of open water. At times polar bears are swimming much longer distances, but after finding no sea ice to rest or feed, they are dying of exhaustion. Dr. Monnet brought all these to the world’s attention. (Banerjee, 2012c, 83)

The outcry in the media and public opinion were strong. While some of the 19 subgroups of polar bears have recovered, others are in decline. The International Union for Conservation of Nature currently lists the polar bear population as vulnerable.

Tall plants grow fast again

Now that summer comes early

As polar bears drown

Narwhals—the toothed cetacean whose fluted ‘horn’ the informed viewer will recognise in unicorn illustrations—are one of the sea mammals in the Arctic whose ecology is changing. Lopez (2012) writes eloquently of them, likening their swimming skill to ‘gliding birds on an airless day’ as they dive in groups and effortlessly swim below schools of polar cod. Their aim is to drive the fish towards the surface so rapidly that their swim bladders expand quickly, stunning them—while at the surface waiting harp seals, fulmars and kittiwakes share in the feast. Narwhals hunt along the margins of sea ice, and up to several kilometres within those margins. Like the ice, the fish stocks that the narwhal feed on are severely threatened by the changing climate. Narwhals are also traditional prey of the Iñuit of Lancaster Sound, whose lifeways are likewise hanging in the balance.

Narwhal through the ice

Slip as one being too deep

And fish explode up

Some ecological challenges are nuanced and complex. Hunting is a traditional mode of living here. As Magnuson (2012) writes, sentiments may be inflamed.

There is a deep hatred of environmental organizations in Iceland and Greenland, not least among sailors and people in rural areas. In Iceland, Paul Watson sank whaling boats in Reykjavik Harbor back in 1986. A love of whales became a symbol for the stupidity and naivety of foreigners, and whaling became a touchstone for not giving in to ‘foreign oppression’. Greenpeace became a mock term in Iceland, a synonym for terrorists. In Greenland, the situation is somewhat worse, understandably, because real economic and social harm occurred over there when the sale of seal products was prohibited in Europe. People actually lost their livelihoods. While reindeer, moose, and wild boar are still being hunted all over Europe, the seal became something you shouldn’t use or sell. I remember one of my first political debates, when I was seventeen years old. We ran into a Greek girl who was wearing a T-shirt condemning seal hunting. ‘What are they supposed to eat over in Greenland?’ I asked. ‘Why can’t they eat vegetables?’ she said. ‘Like what, Iceberg salad?’ (Magnason, 2012, 121)

Livelihoods are pitted against both conservation and sentimentality. Positive futures depend on forward vision and shared governance.

When Watson sunk ships

In Reykjavic that gray day

Starving insurance

Government policy in the Arctic is at times based on fraudulent data. This condition has arisen during regulatory capture, when the energy industry has been regulated by an agency whose leadership are people from that industry. Banerjee (2012c) cites an example of a false EPA report that was released:

Fran prepared the caribou report and sent it to Norton. After a few months he was sent a faxed copy of the report that Norton had sent to the US Senate. Fran was horrified—Norton had replaced his report with something else entirely. Fran went to the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), who then started an investigation. On October 21, 2001, in a front-page story in the Washington Post, Michael Grunwald exposed Norton’s mischief: ‘[W]hen Norton formally replied to the committee, she left out the agency’s scientific data that suggested caribou could be affected by oil drilling, while including its data that supported her case for exploration in the refuge, documents show. Norton also added data that was just wrong.’ Norton’s letter to Senator Fran Murkowski dated July 11, 2001, states, ‘Figure 2 shows the extent of [caribou] calving during 1983–2000. Concentrated calving occurred primarily outside of the 1002 Area [where drilling was proposed] in 11 of the last 18 years.’ Whereas, Fran Mauer’s original report states, ‘Figure 2 shows the extent of calving during 1983–2000. … There have been PCH calving concentrations within the 1002 Area for 27 of 30 years.’  (Banerjee, 2012c, 82–83)

This type of fraud implies government corruption. The types of institutional awareness and review procedures that are needed to uproot corruption are clear in cases such as this, but the will is lacking.

At site 1002

Millions of acres await

The fall of DC

The sentiment above stands in support of Magnason’s (2012) lament over the local conditions in Greenland and Iceland. Large industries seem to have the greatest influence.

While the sale of sealskins is prohibited in Europe, you can still spoil their habitat and sell the products created in the process. Aluminum isn’t furry. It’s not a seal, nor a jungle, nor a nesting ground. … The sale of animal products is prohibited, but you can sell the products of a factory that ruins their habitat. You’re not allowed to pick the apples but you can chop down the tree. (Magnason, 2012, 116)

Preserving habitats is not a priority.

Protect the seal’s life

But not its habitat, true

News copy is old

Energy company representatives are not above lying during planning and permitting processes in the Arctic. Ott (2012) relates a story of trying to convince a tribe not to sign off on an agreement, after having been given promises of jobs, new infrastructure, and very good mitigation in case of spills. The latter is simply not possible, as weather during most of the year prevents the kind of efforts that would be required. Yet the culture in the Arctic does not expect lies—since the environment here is harsh by nature, and true dealings are often required for survival.

‘They lie’ she says slow

And lets the idea sink

Like spilled oil on tundra

Miller (2012) reports that the North Slope oil industry is subject to more than one spill per day on average—amounting to 6,000 spills of over 2.7 million gallons of toxic substances (e.g. diesel, crude oil, or hydraulic oil) during a 14-year period from 1995-2009.

A spill each day now

In Prudhoe Bay while loons

Nest in Teshekpuk

Banerjee (2012c) describes a planning meeting where the discussion focused on mitigating oil spilled in the Arctic Ocean.

During the question-and-answer period afterward, Robert, typically, asked: ‘Can oil be cleaned up in the Arctic Ocean? And if you can’t answer yes, or if it can’t be cleaned up, why are you involved in leasing this land? And I’d also like to know if there are any studies on oil toxicity in the Arctic Ocean, and how long will it take for oil there to break down to where it’s not harmful to our marine environment?’ Persily responded: ‘I think everyone agrees that there is no good way to clean up oil from a spill in broken sea ice. I have not read anyone disagreeing with that statement, so you’re correct on that.’ (Banerjee, 2012c, 68)

The prospect of a spill is not beyond reasonable assumption, yet development continues. For example, protesters tried to disrupt operations on an Arctic oil rig in 2013 and were jailed in Russia—with a very tense series of events.  Plans are currently in place for oil exploration and production to increase in the Arctic Ocean.

There is no way known

Trapped under ice still frozen

Why risk it, don’t drill

Banerjee (2012c) recalls the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico—and how devastating and difficult it was.

Marine scientist Samantha Joye visited the Gulf seafloor nearly eight months after BP’s blowout. We saw her inside a tiny submarine and she exclaimed, ‘Yeah, it looks like everything is dead.’ (Banerjee, 2012c, 85)

A spill in Arctic waters would be much more challenging.

At the site of death

Where the Deepwater well was

Oiled sea floor is still

Ott (2012) describes the scene after the spill of the Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound in Alaska. Cleanup workers suffered from colds, flu, headaches, burning eyes, sore throats and skin rashes—with health declines following cleanup activities, leading to morbidity, disability and death in some cases. Evidence of clinical data and air quality monitoring supported the attribution of a chemical illness epidemic based on exposure to oil and dispersants, yet the government did not pursue legal action against the company related to this failure in its cleanup operations.

No Respirators

Workers cleaned oil from rocks, hope

Disabled, some dead

Cone (2012) relates how springtime is the worst season for pollutants in the Arctic. Many toxins have migrated via winds, oceans or rivers from the USA, Europe or Russia and condense in the cold of winter. Prevailing winds head north, and the cold allows for a terminus of the journey. Come spring thaw, chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are released into the ecosystem, and end up in the bodies of animals and people here.

After years and years

Nothing has changed up here

Rich with PCBs

Thompson, Ahtuangaruak, Cannon and Kingik (2012) describe respiratory illnesses during natural gas flares on the North Slope. The nitrogen oxide emissions are from the oil fields, and give the air a yellowish haze. The emissions are near their residences.

The gas flares are bright

But tiny particulates

Give asthma, no gift

Thompson, Ahtuangaruak, Cannon and Kingik (2012) also describe what would happen if there were an oil spill late in the drilling season. According to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, cleanup could not happen until the beginning of next year’s season. That would be about nine months after the spill, and the spill itself would travel approximately 300 to 500 miles during that time.

Ocean like a heart

Ships drill oil through the ice, spilled

Oil will drift nine months

Cone (2012) compares the pollution in the Arctic to the outbreaks of smallpox and other contagious diseases that settlers brought with them—destroying entire villages of native people. Currently Iñuit in the farthest reaches of the Arctic have mercury and PCB levels that are very high, with levels of nearly everyone in Greenland and half of the Canadian Iñuit who were tested exceeding international standards for exposure.

Mother’s milk suckled

Toxic waste from eating meat

That industry bit

Thompson, Ahtuangaruak, Cannon and Kingik (2012) describe how agency communications were negligent, with advice given to consume fish whose levels of PCB and DDT were moderate. Yet in the northern culture, certain parts of the fish (e.g. the livers) are considered a delicacy, and are often given to the Elders and children during a meal.  These parts have the highest concentration of toxins, and there was no effort made to warn against giving these to the most vulnerable people in the population.  A typical meal might include six livers.

If livers are shared

The most vulnerable folk

Eat industry waste

Ott (2012) describes the outcome of the lawsuit against Exxon related to damages caused by the Exxon Valdez spill. The company decided to oppose all damage claims in court vigorously. The entire case lasted nineteen years, and there were no damages for long-term losses, nor for loss of quality of life or culture. Subsistence claims were minimal—originally set at ‘a-buck-a-duck’ but then lowered to ten cents. The total cost amounted to four days of net profit for the company. During that time, sociologists helping with the disaster trauma noted increased domestic violence, substance abuse, divorces and suicides.

Here is one dollar

For each duck killed by oil spill

But food tastes hollow

Magnuson (2012) describes further changes coming to the Arctic. Phenology is the study of seasonal timings, and these are essential for the interwoven web of life—most significantly for predator-prey relations. An early bloom of a prey species of plankton, for example, may disrupt the ability of its traditional predator to survive if it is not nearby.  Changes are already occurring.

Mackerel swam into all of the country’s harbors last summer. My friends caught several while angling and had great trouble: nobody knew how to cook this fish. Cliffs that have always been teeming with birds living off capelin and other fish were left half empty; puffin burrows were full of chicks that died of starvation because the sand eels were a no-show. (Magnason, 2012, 110)

It is a chain of events that affects both migratory and local animals’ abilities to survive.

The calendar laughs

The eels did not come this year

And now puffin starve

Lord (2012) describes how some birds, such as the spectacled eider, are at particular risk. The entire world’s population of 360,000 spend the winter on the Bering Sea (on open-water leads in the ice). They feed on clams at the bottom. Changes that affect the clams will endanger the eider.

Spectacled eider

Dives to the deep bed and mud

Clams are not for sale

Largescale ocean circulation helps maintain food for sea life. Upwelling currents provide nutrients, and these in turn depend on the system of oceanic circulation remaining intact. Oceanic circulation works via differences in water density. Warm surface waters are pulled from the tropics by the sinking of cold, dense waters at the poles. The meltwater coming from the Greenland ice sheet and melting sea ice lower the salinity of the water significantly—since water with dissolved salt is denser than water without. The melt water is less dense than the extant seawater, and downwelling is thereby slowed. Lord (2012) likens the risk to the North Atlantic oceanic circulation to a person’s heart stopping.

The ocean surface

Flows to the Arctic as cold

Water stops sinking

 

Discussion

This discussion arises out of the grim picture painted in the book Arctic Voices and in the haiku poems that are based on it. The writing in the original volume is both beautiful and haunting. As an author, one feels responsible to present some sort of solutions that might help to buoy the spirit after such a deeply troubling exploration—where neglect seems to have been the rule in terms of political will. The stories are important and difficult. Yet solutions are also abundant. What is presented below is a framework upon which one might imagine real solutions being built. There is a possibility for hope.

The ecological challenge humanity faces now has its causal antecedents in the distant past, as well as in the present moment. Several hundred years of environmental degradation are not simply the fault of anything small, but rather a composite that tracks itself along two paths, like a railroad upon the steel tracks that satisfy the requirements of predictability. The first rail is a loss of leadership.

Institutionalised atrocities have arisen from centuries, if not millennia, of empire and colonisation, where effective leadership and resistance in a place have been damaged, even destroyed. In many cases, longterm connection to place and people have been supplanted by short-term (and often short-sighted) goals, resulting in an institutionalised amnesia.

This institutional amnesia can be countered by people working together to establish, and improve on, healthy institutions. Real leadership need not be lost forever. The principles of shared responsibility and process-based decision-making can be established deeply—and this should allow for governments and other major players to make decisions that will protect vulnerable places and people who inhabit our world (Van den Hove, 2000). There is the possibility to make the world more connected thereby.

A second rail in this railway of environmental degradation has to do with the needs themselves that drive war (or resource extraction) to consume what health and beauty there is in the world. Whether it is land for farming, or oil for industry, or other natural resources such as metals or wood, there have always been excuses for one group to wish and try to take possession of what is a shared resource or what belongs to some other place or group. Wars are fought for access.

Notwithstanding, humanity is at a very bright moment—when it is conceivable that cities may be nearly completely self-sustaining in resource use if energy production can be made to be cheap or nearly free (Norris & Aydil, 2012). All the agriculture, textiles and other manufacturing and production can be pursued within the bounds of a city (Burgess & Jenks, 2002). Thus the impetus for war (i.e. to gather resources from elsewhere) need not be present. It is possible for entire cities to be supplied from local goods. Though this vision is not a reality, it is a possibility. The needs that fuel expansion and environmental degradation can be met safely if clean, renewable energy is pervasive and cheap and this is nearly the case.

Shared institutional leadership and self-sustaining cities are two straight rails that can establish a way out of an environmental dystopia that has been building for millennia. The present need not be without hope for the future. There is not much time remaining, however, and the task at hand is very large. Art (including the temporal arts of poetry, song, stage, television, film, opera, etc.) are traditionally a means of building a shared vision. It has been my hope that the convergence of art and politics will be taken up by many people, and that this work can be seen as an example of how science writing and art for its own sake might build upon each other. The barriers are temporary, and will yield to the beauty that captivates the human heart.

 

Collected Haiku: When the Whales Left

 

When the Whales Left

 

Where the midnight Sun

And the lodgepole pine blow gently

The first sign was missed

 

Shallow seas are rich

Teeming with plankton and krill

Fifteen good years left

 

Methane clathrate melts

From permafrost and sea floor

Greenhouse gas anew

 

Ten thousand years now

The culture of a place grew

Rich again with wolf scat

 

The storm did not stop

And we sat inside for days

A white like bear teeth

 

The dogs are fat still

While the people starve back home

Who asked for spare food

 

ALCOA is now

Courting Greenland’s pristine

Cheap coal and free land

 

A coffin spills down

The thawing tundra slope

Now eating ice buds

 

Up Kivalina

The sea has taken your hand

An old pride laughs yet

 

With a vote of young

The stones are all that remains

Of ten thousand men

 

Not fifty years left

But only fifteen before

The ice will be gone

 

Bless the hunt people

Who sing with voices buried

Near the flesh they eat

 

At ice edge alone

The white glow arrests the Sun

Who dances through haze

 

Bowhead whales are now

Dead, swimming birds peck at flesh

Before the bright feast

 

Tall plants grow fast again

Now that summer comes early

As polar bears drown

 

Gwich’in caribou

Are not whales nor fish nor birds

Yet all are poisoned

 

Krill feed on plankton

That live just below the ice

When it’s gone, what then?

 

Narwhal through the ice

Slip as one being too deep

And fish explode up

 

Aboriginal

Environmental old law

Yet climate changes

 

When Watson sunk ships

In Reykjavic that gray day

Starving insurance

 

Blood on the drum head

As the shaman reaches up

And then has bad news

 

At site 1002

Millions of acres await

The fall of DC

 

Protect the seal’s life

But not its habitat, true

News copy is old

 

‘They lie’ she says slow

And lets the idea sink

Like spilled oil on tundra

 

Mother and cubs play

Near the floe as bearded seals

Hunt pollock or hide

 

A spill each day now

In Prudhoe Bay while loons

Nest in Teshekpuk

 

Relationship is

The friend of all industry

Until you find oil

 

Prudhoe bay with trucks

Where do they get their diesel

When hope is frozen?

 

In Prince William Sound

Chemical dispersants last

Longer than salmon

 

The Stone Age did not

From lack of stones, end that day

Melting, melt Ice Age

 

Cordoba looks fine

The water and shore are clear

With oil and dead fish

 

Drill for oil here

In bear teeth you’ll find more of

Old age, joy and death

 

There is no way known

Trapped under ice still frozen

Why risk it, don’t drill

 

Skimming spilled oil then

How can you skim where ice is

Covering the spill

 

At the site of death

Where the Deepwater well was

Oiled sea floor is still

 

No Respirators

Workers cleaned oil from rocks, hope

Disabled, some dead

 

Frozen fish in oil

Dipping for the taste and smile

Hiding mercury

 

After years and years

Nothing has changed up here

Rich with PCBs

 

The gas flares are bright

But tiny particulates

Give asthma, no gift

 

As the Arctic warms

There is no sound, no call here

Shorebirds starve alone

 

Ocean like a heart

Ships drill oil through the ice, spilled

Oil will drift nine months

 

Mother’s milk suckled

Toxic waste from eating meat

That industry bit

 

If livers are shared

The most vulnerable folk

Eat industry waste

 

Birdsong with black flies

Amused by the richness call

Upstage the wet mud

 

To hold a large loon

Your hand protects your bright face

Like the melting ice

 

Here is one dollar

For each duck killed by oil spill

But food tastes hollow

 

The calendar laughs

The eels did not come this year

And now puffin starve

 

Arctic tern flies back

With ten thousand flies in beak

Food for wet nesting

 

Godwit at home now

By the tens, hundreds come

So few aloft again

 

Can bird spackle fall

And grow a forest from dung

Gizzards grind magic

 

Caribou in snow

In the thousands come to birth

New ice, new bird song

 

Bulls of the herd turn

Their racks in rutting crack each

Nature is at peace

 

Will caribou go

Where years ago, buffalo

Ghosts come again here

 

Hunters aim from boat

Splintered head as the herd cross

The beautiful flood

 

Caribou will calve

After two thousand miles pass

There is no food left

 

The tracks are not new

Seismic survey trucks were there

From the beginning

 

Caribou are all

Boats and clothes and any food

Yes, to keep me brown

 

Helicopters lift

Reindeer meat for Soviets

Dead shaman is gone

 

Alone in the world

There is no one, no cry yet

I hear caribou

 

Clicking tendons’ din

The caribou have come far

Lichen-filled stomachs

 

Trading hides for cash

A mutual way to live

For only a time

 

Spectacled eider

Dives to the deep bed and mud

Clams are not for sale

 

A cow with one leg

Can only dance with Shiva

As death is no dream

 

Drift nets in rivers

Can the salmon survive now

In Congress, close vote

 

The ocean surface

Flows to the Arctic as cold

Water stops sinking

 

Yellowstone Park votes

This land without people, no

Native subsistence

 

What food is there left

When the whales have left Arctic

And danced to the moon?

 

References

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Banerjee, S. 2012a. Arctic voices: Resistance at the tipping point. New York: Seven Stories.

Banerjee, S. 2012b. From Kolkata to Kaktovik en route to Arctic Voices: Something like an Introduction. In Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point, edited by S. Banerjee, 1–22. New York: Seven Stories.

Banerjee, S. 2012c. BPing the Arctic? In Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point, edited by S. Banerjee,  66–90. New York: Seven Stories.

Burgess, R., & M. Jenks (eds). 2002. Compact Cities: Sustainable Urban Forms for Developing Countries. London: Routledge.

Cone, M. 2012. From Silent Snow: The Slow Poisoning of the Arctic. In Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point, edited by S. Banerjee, 125–41. New York: Seven Stories.

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Elkington, J. 1998. Partnerships from Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st‐century Business. Environmental Quality Management 8(1): 37–51. doi:10.1002/tqem.3310080106

Fair, J. 2012. In Calloused Human Hands: Tuullik, Teshekpuk, and Our Western Arctic. In Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point, edited by S. Banerjee,  387–401. New York: Seven Stories.

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Lopez, B. 2012. From Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape. In Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point, edited by S. Banerjee, 287–300. New York: Seven Stories.

Lord, N. 2012. From Early Warming: Crisis and Response in the Climate-changed North. In Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point, edited by S. Banerjee, 39–52. New York: Seven Stories.

Magnason, A. A. 2012. Protecting the Apples but Chopping the Trees. In Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point, edited by S. Banerjee, 107–121. New York: Seven Stories.

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Thank you to G. Archibald, S. Banerjee and A. Magnason, for permissions to quote from their works, and to Haymarket Books for permission to quote from C. Shearer, Kivalina: A Climate Change Story.

 

Daniel Helman holds a PhD in sustainability education, and has training in pedagogy, science and the arts. He lectures in the Faculty of Labor Relations and Trade Unions, Ton Duc Thang University, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. See further, https://tdt.academia.edu/DanielHelman

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