Environmental awareness lagging behind pollution: local impact of coal mining in Spitsbergen and the rise of public awareness

Authors: Anna Abramova*, California State University, Long Beach, Department of Geography, USA, Dan Costa Baciu, University of California Santa Barbara, Department of English, USA
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Environmental Science, Cryosphere
Keywords: Environmental awareness, coal mining, Spitsbergen.
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/8/2020
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 4:35 PM
Room: Beverly, Sheraton, IM Pei Tower, Terrace Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Spitsbergen is the northernmost permanently inhabited Arctic island, and it has a coal mining history that covers over a century. Combining on-site geochemical screening of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons with historical evaluation of local industry as well as historical analysis of public media activity based on large collections of books and periodicals published both locally and internationally, we show how cycles of production are immediately followed by cycles of pollution on the ground, but only later followed by sustained public awareness. Although news from the Arctic reaches both local and distant audiences almost immediately, considerable time passes until public opinion forms, making awareness often come decades too late both locally and globally. Spitsbergen offers a relevant case study because it is permanently inhabited and urbanized although somewhat remote from the most vibrant centers of global economy. These characteristics give us a record in public media that is both uninterrupted by seasonal breaks and relatively free of noise. However, the phenomena that we observed are not unique for the Arctic. We have elsewhere demonstrated that similar delays for the formation of public opinion and sustained awareness are rather common. Sustained awareness, both locally and globally, is the result of a much longer and more complex process. Overall, our findings suggest that in critical circumstances, in which sustained public awareness is relevant, it may not be sufficient to wait until pollution attracts news, and news leads to the evolution of sustained awareness over usual pathways.

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