Archive | April 2023

Arctic Culture and Climate

There were two exhibitions just starting at the British Museum in March 2020 when the UK went into its first lockdown in response to Covid-19. One was Tantra and I read the exhibition guide for that last year. The other was Arctic Culture and Climate.

The circumpolar North has been inhabited for nearly 30,000 years. The exhibition explored this history and the ways the peoples of the Arctic have adapted to their environment, as well as examining the impacts of climate change happening now and how Arctic peoples are responding.

It starts with looking at how Arctic peoples in the past and now have arranged their lives to work with the seasons and the different weather and conditions that resulted. This involved moving with herds of reindeer or occupying specific sites only for short periods in the year. Some activities were only performed in certain seasons and some animals only hunting at certain times. The book then looks at the ways Arctic peoples used the materials available to them to produce clothes, tools and vehicles. Particularly in terms of clothes and the use of sealskin and furs the Arctic peoples were technologically sophisticated at an early age. When the Vikings reached these lands they found their clothes and tools quite inadequate.

There is consideration of the evidence for pre-historic settlement of the Arctic. Much is considered to be underwater in the Bering Strait – once a land bridge between Russia and the Americas but submerged at the end of the Ice Age. It’s also worth noting that many recent archeological finds are the result of commercial development of the sites and this has happened less in the very far North. Some have been found and the material that has been discovered is challenging the colonial view of the peoples of the circumpolar North. Whether people started in the east, in Siberia, and moved west is not clear. The finds in north-east Russia appear to be oldest, but the evidence is far from complete. Regardless, there was much communication and trade around the arctic circle, much more so than there was north to south.There is a discussion of the contact between the Arctic and the southern peoples from the sixteenth century onwards and the impacts of trade and colonization.

Lastly, the exhibition looked at the lives of the peoples of the circumpolar North as they are today. It talks about indigenous liberation movements and the campaign for rights to land and traditional hunting practices. It also looks at how traditional technologies have incorporated modern materials. The impact of climate change is particularly felt by the Arctic peoples as they are closest to some of the most dramatic effects. Loss of ice and rising sea levels affect the animal populations, hunting techniques and the land that settlements are built on. Over the last 30,000 years, there have been several periods of warming and cooling which have caused great change in the lives of the peoples living through them and it is hard from this distance to know how well people adapted. It seems that modern peoples have more ability to know what it is happening, but less flexibility to change how we live.

The book itself is lovely: a hardback book with a white cover and some gorgeous photographs of objects and landscapes. In amongst the pages covering the exhibition artifacts are essays looking at art, or specific clothes-making techniques, or one town’s experience of the effects of climate change. It’s a shame I missed the exhibition as this book made me wish I’d seen it.

Is it really green?

With so much conflicting information, and quite a lot of green-washing, out there about reducing our carbon footprints and living more sustainable lives, a book that helps you make better choices is very welcome. Georgina Wilson-Powell’s Is it really green? is just that book.

The first question to answer is whether or not the fact that this book has been printed is really green. I could have chosen to get it as an ebook, but I find that anything more like a textbook, where I might want to move around in the book rather than just read from start to finish, is better as a physical book. In this case, Is it really green? is printed on recycled, matte paper using vegetable inks and is produced with as minimal emissions as possible. The production and use of ebook readers has a carbon footprint too. In order to make using an ebook reader greener than reading print books, you’d need to read 25 ebooks a year. So, if you read fewer than 25 books in a year, it’s greener to read them as physical books. I checked my ebook reader to see how many ebooks I’d read last year and it was 24. I read a mix of ebooks and physical books and probably read just as many physical books as I did ebooks. This year I’ll be tracking it and am aiming to read at least 25 ebooks. At the end of March, I’d read six ebooks and five print books, so not a bad start to the year.

Is it really green? has short answers to many questions divided into areas such as Green Kitchen, Green Wardrobe, Green Technology, Travel, Family and Relationships and Green Shopping. My motivation for buying the book was to answer the question whether washing up by hand is greener than using a dishwasher. Newer, efficient dishwashers are greener than washing up by hand, but getting a dishwasher means re-doing my entire kitchen so it’ll have to wait for now. For a lot of the questions, the answer is a variation of ‘it depends’ because it does depend on where you live, how you act, and what’s available to you. Wilson-Powell gives you the information you need to assess your situation and make the greenest choice.

While my life is relatively low carbon, I still found a few more things I could easily change that would help. There was also plenty in there I could do but will take a bit more time and effort. This book helps to identify a few steps that you can easily take. And when those become habit, there are more ideas. I think this is a book I’ll come back to regularly.