Unintended ConsequencesBy http://profile.typepad.com/1237764140s22740 // April 15, 2011 in Location
Had dinner with an entrepreneurial businessman last night, guy I used to work with in a law firm but who quickly left that for several bigger, better, sexier things since. On the way home on the car radio I heard a bit of Jonathan Raban's interview of Sarah Wheeler from a Town Hall event in Seattle last month, broadcast on KUOW.
Sarah Wheeler was talking about her book, "The Magnetic North: Notes from the Arctic Circle" (good title), concerning "the native peoples, corporations and scientists that make their homes in the far north."
I was struck with the follow passage from the interview, and want to share it (this is quoting Sarah Wheeler at the event, answering a question):
"A lot of the stuff I found in the Arctic was about unintended consequences. Which is something that interests me about life in general, my own life.
"What happened was something called the Arctic paradox, which is that lots of people that live furthest away from contaminants, are the ones most affected by them.
"For example, remember PCBs, really the most horrible things that we ever invented, for flame retardants and everything for household use? Almost every country in the developed world banned then for use in the 1970s, and they have not been used since.
"They got into the marine food chain.
"And like a lot of the nastiest things, they're not water soluble, they're lipid soluble, so they like animals for the high fat content and, for obvious reasons, in the polar regions, in cold places, animals have much higher fat content.
"And by the twin evil processes of bio accumulation and bio magnification, these PCBs, broken down, moved up the food chain. And there's a lot of data on this. They're finding now, in polar bear cubs at birth, a really high level of PCB remnants in their brains.
"And of course all these people who eat "country food," the food that they hunt, they're at the top of the food chain. And there's a bunch of people in Northeast Greenland who qualify as hazardous waste! It's beyond parody."