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Arctic Yearbook 2012
Finger-Stich and Finger
environmental movements of the eighties, anxious to end the Cold War. It took another decade, by
the turn to the 21
century, for climate change to become the priority issue of Arctic environmental
policy, and less than 20 years to experience the greatest summer Arctic ice meltdown ever recorded.
But at the time of Gorbachev’s speech, climate change was not yet spoken about outside of some
small scientific groups.
Some of the environmental issues that were raised by scientists and social movements at that time
appear in the general discourse today as being secondary, even though they remain unresolved, such
as the environmental impacts of military activities, the accumulation of radioactivity and heavy metals
as well as other persistent pollutants, sea acidification, and loss of Arctic mammals. Looking back at
the environmental discourses and actions of 25 years ago raises the questions (1) of changing
environmental policy in the Arctic, as well as (2) of how the perception of environmental issues and
problems has changed over that period of time. Such a retrospective should contribute to developing
strategies for the next generation, so that the Arctic and the planet remain a liveable habitat of
biological diversity, including Homo sapiens.
Gorbachev, in his speech, highlighted in particular the need to
the state of the natural
environment and of radiation in the region and
the tundra, forest tundra and Northern forest
areas. The speech therefore called for both scientific and policy attention and action. The speech was
made in the context of the Chernobyl nuclear accident 18 months earlier, which had already severely
impacted upon the Arctic environment and its peoples. It came also after more than 40 years of
militarization, making the Arctic one of the main theaters of potential conflict between the Eastern
and Western superpowers, and Murmansk a central stage of the Soviet naval nuclear striking force.
The speech was not only a turning point because it was a preamble to the end of the Cold War, but
also because it brought the Arctic to the front stage, where global environmental changes became
most visible. Since 1987, advancing globalization and subsequent cultural and biodiversity loss,
climate warming and peaking oil production, have changed the lives and the prospects for all of us,
but particularly for Arctic peoples.
Geographically speaking, the Arctic is the region North of the 66
33’ parallel, where there is the
midnight sun in summer and full darkness in winter, and where the mean temperature of the
warmest month is mostly below 10
Celsius. In human terms, it is a homeland to about 4 million
people, including about 500,000 indigenous peoples, who speak over 40 languages across the
territories of eight nation-states (AHDR, 2004). This cultural diversity is related to the Arctic’s