Jonah: I’m Jonah Chester
Clay: I’m Clay Catlin, and you’re listening to Animal/Human
Jonah: This show is a production of IU’s College of Arts and Sciences and a proud part of the 2018 Themester. Each episode, we talk with a different IU researcher to examine where we, as humans, belong in the animal kingdom.
Clay: We also examine the interactions of humans and animals in art, literature and science. In this episode, Jonah sits down with Dr. Stephanie Kane, a professor in the School of Global and International studies.
Jonah: Dr. Kane researches the arctic circle and how the politics in an ever-changing region impact animals and humans native to the area. She’s teaching a course this semester called “Arctic Encounters; Animals, Humans and Ships” that examines this issue. Dr. Kane: Okay, yeah, my name is Stephanie Kane and I’m a professor in the Department of International Studies in the School for Global and International Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU. I teach courses in environment and health, which is one of our six concentrations in the international studies department. My research is on flooding. I study water in general and the relationships between humans and water, generally in cities. This last project that I’m writing about is about flooding and flood control in Winnipeg, Canada. It’s a way for me to understand how we as humans embed ourselves into the earth’s crust and how we rely on both geoscience and engineering in order to create our cities.
Jonah: So, you’re teaching a class this semester called Arctic Encounters; Animals, People and Ships , can you tell me a little about the class? How exactly do those subject intersect?
Dr. Kane: The arctic, as everybody knows, is on the top of our planet and due to global climate change it’s warming up quicker than anywhere else in the lower latitudes. It’s a very complicated political space because you have eight different nation-states that border that space and have some kind of territorial claim on parts of the water off their coast. There’s [also] so many indigenous peoples living their, who live on ice, which is now melting. So, the sovereignty of combined indigenous people and nation-states is complicating things and now it’s rapidly changing because the very terrain on which people live and the state of the water is shifting. It creates a very different set-up. So, animals, of course, aren’t really part of our politics, but they are affected by our governmental regimes. And so, the very rich and important ecology of the arctic will be shaped by whatever humans do in the next few decades and hundreds of years. One of the things that’s happening is because the arctic is opening up, in the sense of becoming water rather than ice, people from lower latitudes (who don’t know how to live on ice like indigenous peoples) think, “Ahh we can go in there, we can take our ships in there, we can exploit mineral resources and we can shorten our time of travel between Asia and Europe and the United states.” So global markets will be able to start criss-crossing that space that will become open. There’s still a lot of ice, and it’s still mostly closed. The Northwest passage is just beginning to open up...big ships go in there with ice-breakers, so i want you to imagine for a moment ships going and breaking up ice in their way and creating huge hunks of ice that then stop the animals...from being able to access their migration routes and access their food sources. It’s the same with the inuit indigenous people who live in the Canadian archipelago. For them ice is not an obstacle, it’s a normal way to get around. So, what happens when they encounter these gigantic container ships or tourist vessels that have no emergency support? So there’s a lot going on and we’re really at this critical moment. So, in this class, we’re going to study this relationship between the animals, the people and the ships.
Jonah: So, in this case of industry versus the environment versus the natural wildlife of the area versus the inhabitants of the area, obviously there are a lot of factors at play. How do you predict this battle, this dispute, playing out over the course of let’s say the next thirty years?
Dr. Kane: Well, there are a lot of things happening. One of the important things that’s happened for indigenous people is, and it has a terrible acronym, UNDRIP- the United Nations Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous People. That requires all governmental and non-governmental activity to consider the ways of life of indigenous peoples and include them in designing the passageways and the new spaces that will be developed in the arctic. So, that has never existed before the late 20th century. That combines with the law of the sea which is UNCLOSe-United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. UNCLOSe is very dumb when it comes to ice. And this is really the basis of the Ice Law Project that I’m part of (and this course is very much drawing on the Ice Law Project)-- but the idea is that the international laws of the sea basically say, “Well, if it’s water and it’s off your legal territorial coast it’s open.” So, when you think about it, what happens when your an inuit community and you have lived on this ice since time immemorial and it’s melting? Do you automatically lose your sovereignty? Can ships say, “Wow! I can go through there, because, after all, it’s water, right?” So, it’s this sort of critical moment where we have to balance the rights of indigenous peoples, take account of environmental factors, especially the food chains and ecologies of animals, and give way to these exploitations of resources which a lot of people are talking about as resource-making. In other words, how do you have this frozen wasteland suddenly turn into a commercial venture? How is that going to happen? And who should have a say over how that happens?
Jonah: So, the damage is to not just the environment and ecologies, but the native communities as well. Is there a way to reverse this? How do these communities bounce back from that, how do they adapt to it? Or do they just have to get used to it?
Dr. Kane: Well, that’s a great question of course and that’s what we’ll be talking about [in the class], because nobody has the answer to those questions. So, clearly, we’re not going to make it colder. Although it’s in our power to make it warmer, it's not in our power to refreeze things. Assuming that we have time, we have to adapt (as you say) and we have to adapt in a way that is environmentally sound and environmentally just. That means it has to involve social justice. So there's a couple of different ways that people are thinking about. One is to create marine protected areas that we have had in other places. There’s one being created now in inland Caster Sound. A marine protected area is an area which is kind of like a no go area where ships aren’t allowed. It happens that ships aren’t already really going there (to Caster Sound), so that’s one of the reason they picked it. Another reason is that it has a Pellinea in it, which is cool thing that you only see in the arctic. It's these spaces in the ice where warm bubbles come up and because the water is warm animals come there and they can stick their heads up to breathe and they can eat. For inuit they’re also places they go to hunt, because they attract animals. So we can find these rich ecological sites and we can try to protect them. We can also set off areas where we can create infrastructure for shipping and attract these container ships and other ships to go through these particular spaces. So we’ll provide them with water and food and emergency care in these corridors. So they’re designing some areas that will be protected and other areas that will be prepared with infrastructure to accept industrialization of some sort or another. So these are the kinds of things that we’re looking to do in the future in a kind of rational and sustainable way.
Jonah: The Ice Law Project has to do pretty heavily with this. It’s, thematically, very similar to the class your teaching this semester. Can you kind of give our listeners an intro to what that is? You mentioned it very briefly a little while ago.
Dr. Kane: It’s not a very gigantic project. It was started by a geographer named Phil Steinberg at the University of Durham. He has brought together an interdisciplinary and international group of people to talk about this problem, that the law doesn’t really get the problem of ice. So, when international law is written for the maritime world, it thinks in terms of land and water. So, how do you define your national sovereignty at the edge of your territory? Well, you go along your coastline and you go along the water and you can go X number of miles past that. So it thinks in terms of these land and water boundaries. Of course land, in itself, is neatly divided. But, there’s no consideration of ice, or rather ice as used as land. How do you think about people’s rights when their land is disappearing because the ice is melting and the ice is melting because of the industrialization of arctic? Also, just the practicalities. You have ice shelves and all sort of ice formations. When there is ice and it does work as land and ships cant bump into it and it is the sovereign territory of indigenous peoples, how do you draw the line how do you think about ice as a legal material substance that has to be accounted for? No one has done that. So the Ice law project brings together not only geographers, but people in maritime law in culture--like me, I'm an anthropoloigst--political scientist and all kinds of different disciplines. There are about 20 of us who are considered with the problem from multiple directions and who come together from these subjects. I’m on one of the six subprojects, the mobilities and migration project. We think about animals, peoples and ships (which is how i came up with the idea for the course).
Jonah: You mentioned UNDRIP, aside from that, is the international community really taking any action right now? Because, I understand the arctic circle right now is a very politically active zone. So, what is the UN doing to protect this, if they’re doing anything at all?
Dr. Kane: Well, you have the polar council, which is an organization that is made up of not only the eight immediate countries surrounding the arctic circle, but a few of the countries that are kind of near the arctic. The council also has indigenous people, but I don’t think they can vote, but they do participate. So that is the central international body that’s thinking through these things in a systematic way and putting out reports that frame the questions and suggest directions for the future. You know, the arctic has been a politicized place for a long time, because its a militarized space. So under the ice U.S. and Russian submarines have been circulating, you know, since the cold war. There’s a lot going on up there that we don’t really know about. It’s not as pristine as you might’ve thought. It’s not like this is the first time industrialized or militarized actors have made use of that space.
Jonah: So you’ve done research on water around the world. You may not have been to the arctic in person, but you’re certainly an expert on it. How did you get into this field of research? It's very fascinating, but it seems very specific. I’m interested in the twists and turns that got you to where you are today.
Dr. Kane: Yeah, that’s a really long story that we need a separate interview for. I knew you were going to ask me that, so I’ve thought about one moment in my trajectory that i could give you.. So, I’d always been a biology major and I’d always been interested in animal behavior. When I graduated college all I wanted to do was travel and see different places and go to different forests and environments. But, I didn’t have any money. So I got a series of jobs as a lab technician in neuropsychopharmacology labs, in which we experimented on mice and rats, which meant we shot them up with drugs and then chopped off their heads and then looked at how the drugs worked on neurotransmitters. I would work in the lab and I would save my money and then go off and travel. There was this turning point where I had decided that I can’t keep working in the lab. I’ve got to do my own search. So I started graduate school and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I was experimenting and i decided to take portuguese and then I got a scholarship to go to brazil. I was in the zoology department and my project was to record bird songs because I was trying not to kill anything in the process. So I figured if I could record their sounds then i wouldn't actually have to kill them and take them back in a jar of formaldehyde. So I was going all around the country doing this and I was in the Amazon and a bunch of people from World Wildlife Foundation were doing a project studying the decrease in the bird population in the forest. They had nets up in the forest and they were capturing the birds to see how fast they were dying due to human impact. I thought this was totally depressing. Because, you’re just sort of seeing how bad we are without being able to think about how to change things. I was doing my work and I was in the middle of nowhere with people in a little hut and I was standing outside the hut and looking at their field they had slashed and burned in order to have food later on. I’m looking at this and thinking, “If we’re going to just not watch everything die, we have to figure out how to turn things around and in order to turn things around we have to understand why humans are doing what they're doing.” It was that kind of moment of awareness where I realized that if I cared about the animals and I wanted to help, then I needed to study people. That was a pretty fundamental shift and when I came back I finished my masters in zoology and transferred to cultural anthropology. So there's an example of a twist and turn.
Jonah: So you went from pumping drugs into mice to studying arctic maritime interactions between peoples and ships. I have to admit when you said a lot of twists and turns I was not expecting that level of pivoting. You mentioned something interesting during that. You study people in order to reflect on or relationship to animals. Can you elaborate on that a little more? I think it’s very interesting how you came to that mindset.
Dr. Kane: Yeah, well you know, we’re in the anthropocene, as the geologists are arguing, which means we are now geological actors. We are now, as a species, capable of affecting the planet as a whole. In this way you know the political ecology of water talks about the politics. When I started out in ecology, you could go off to a place in the forest and look at how the animals interact. But every place in the world is now confined or somehow impacted by humans. Even the faraway frozen arctic is impacted. So you kind of...I’m trying to uhh figure out what... Let me just take a step back. There was a moment, in Brazil, when I was sitting on the floor of the forest. I was waiting for birds to come and sing so I could record them. I realized i was so frustrated because you can’t really talk to a bird, right? They’re far away and you don’t want to trap them to talk to them. I’m a New Yorker and I’m kind of talkative so it was kind of frustrating. So I’m kind of finding my way around from another direction to examine what our relationship with animals is. How can we have a relationship that allows them to be who they are, without confining them in a zoo to study them? So, in my future project I think I want to go back to trying to think about birds and people on coasts and how they relate to the ocean and the birdlife. I’m just really trying to get a sense of that very deep but at the same time distant relationship between us and animals.
Jonah: How do you imagine the relationship between animals and humans will evolve in the arctic in the coming years, given your experience not just in the arctic but around the world?
Dr. Kane: In answering this I'm really relying on the work of the anthropologist Claudio Aporta with whom I work on the migration and mobilities subgroup of the Ice Law Project. He has worked with the inuit to map the ways that they traverse the icy terrain and where they go to hunt and to fish and to have gatherings and where they have lived before in a more dispersed way. So, the idea that’s kind of coming out of our group is that as we move forward into opening the arctic to exploitation that we really key into the inuit knowledge and their relationships to animals. Where animals migrate, for example. How they move around the landscape, which animals relate to each other and to humans. Using that knowledge we can try to guide industrial development in directions that are least harmful. Is there a way to really take advantage of indigenous knowledge to create a world that allows arctic life to persist as we know it.
Clay: This show is a project of the Indiana University College of Arts and Sciences Themester.
Jonah: A special thanks to Dr. Kane today for taking time out of her day to speak with me.
Clay: Editing, hosting, and mixing for this episode was done by Jonah.
Jonah: On the next episode, Clay sits down with Dr. Brandon Barker. Together they’ll discuss how our myths and folklore influence our perceptions of animals.
Clay: That’s everything from why coyotes are sneaky to why snakes get such a bad rep in the stories that we tell.
Jonah: Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time.