Award winner 2007:
Sheila Watt- Cloutier
Sheila Watt-Cloutier, born 1953, was awarded the Rachel Carson Prize 2007 for her contribution to show the world how climatic changes and environmental poisons affect human individuals and cultures in polar areas.
The prize was presented to her by meteorologist Siri Kalvig.
Sheila Watt-Cloutier is a Canadian Inuit, residing in Iqaluit, Nunavut. She has been president for the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, which is a general interest group for 155.000 Inuits in Canada, USA, Greenland and Russia. Through her strong engagement in several areas - ranging from the UN to the citizens of the Islands of the Pacific Ocean - she is calling attention to the changes that will appear globally, and which are already an established fact in Polar regions.
Climatic changes represent a threat to the whole planet, and have, in the Arctic regions, already shown to be effectuated. Whole cultures, such as the Inuit culture, are in danger of disappearing with the ice.
Game of change
The Arctic regions have experienced a temperature rise twice as large as the rest of the world during the last decades. When the ice is disappearing, the basis for the traditional Inuit culture is vanishing. Hunting on the ice is becoming too hazardous.
For a people already living in the suspense between traditional and modern culture, the identity and belonging is additionally put to the test when their own history and foundation literally is melting away. "The Arctic is the world's barometer of climate change. We are the early warning system for the world," says Sheila Watt-Cloutier.
In addition to the global warming, the Arctic regions are also experiencing concentration of environmental toxins such as DDT, PCB and other organic components. These are mainly transported over large distances, also as far as from South-East Asia, but they show the most prominent effects in the coldest regions. Such environmental toxins are poorly degraded, and accumulate in the fatty tissues of fish and mammals, including humans. Since the Inuit traditional diet includes a substantial amount of animals high up in the food chain, they are exposed to a high toxic stress. As a matter of fact, the content of environmental toxins in the breast milk of women in Greenland is so high that they are recommended not to breast feed their children.
Sheila Watt-Cloutier considers it a human right to be able to live in harmony with nature and the traditions. She has, in many fora, presented the Inuit cause and asserted their right not to be affected by the life style and high CO2 discharges of other societies, and to have the right to live the way they always have done. As an Inuit leader, she also has collaborated with minority groups on low-lying islands that face the risk of inundation by the rise of sea water level. Through this she has eluciated the connection between ruining the environment and human rights.
"We are in essence fighting for our right to be cold", says Sheila Watt-Cloutier. "Global warming connects us all. Use what happens in the Arctic as a vehicle to connect us all, so that we may understand that the planet and its people are one. The Inuit hunter who falls through the depleting and unpredictable sea ice is connected to the cars we drive, the industries we rely upon and the disposable world we have become.