Unit 4: “The New Harpoon” Reading Response

Get the discussion on this article started by posting your reading response here. Please remember that you will need to post your response and then read other students' responses and post  a reply.


In this essay, Tom Kizzia says, "Few Americans are as bound to the natural world as the whale hunters of the Arctic, or as keenly affected by the warming atmosphere... yet few Americans are so immediately dependent on the continued expansion of the fossil-fuel economy that science says is causing the change."

Is there an moral question to address here?  Isn't this just the natural cycle of evolution (one species overpowers the next)?   How do we reconcile the dependence on oil with the vast changes in the Arctic way of life that Kizzia raises? Also, feel free to bring up any other points you found interesting.

Write your response in a comment to this page.

34 thoughts on “Unit 4: “The New Harpoon” Reading Response

  1. Miranda Jackovich

    This story and discussion over the changes in the environment makes us reflect on our morals. For most individuals we are to busy with our daily lives to see the effects it has on the world around us. The Arctic lifestyle is unique compared to other parts of the world. Many people who live in Alaska live off the land. The impact that modern lifestyles have on the environment affect the important resources that Alaskan’s depend on. The relationship between the oil companies and the locals had benefits but also downsides. Each side both had their own goals but had a hard time coming to a solution to balance the two. Humans have always gone through this natural cycle of evolution of draining the earth of its resources. Eventually leading to the downfall of ourselves. Mother nature has always held a natural balance that humans have disrupted. The longer this disruption goes on, the bigger the impact it will have on the world.

    1. Jessica Hernandez

      Good Afternoon,

      I agree with you comments on how we need to try and find the balance between the oil companies and the locals. How do you think this could best be solved?
      Do you think that we will drain all our resources and restart the systems of evolution?

      Thank you for a great post!

    2. Jesse Coulman

      Great post! I totally agree most people are too caught up with the day to day to notice changes around us, it happens to me frequently. I think oil will always be present in secluded locations such as this because they just have no alternative, unless we find a way to produce energy from snow. But what should be sought after is a way to reduce the negative affects of burning fossil fuels so the environmental impact can be mitigated.

    3. Briana Shaffer

      Have humans disrupted it though? or are humans the equivalent of probiotics in the gut keeping it healthy and in check? Look at the dino’s what if the asteroid didnt fall and disrupt everything? What if humans stayed the way of cavemen and never advanced what would the earth look like?

    4. Lindsey Paulsen

      I agree that there is an impact from modern lifestyle on the environment, and the resources Alaskans rely on. This being said, I find that the cultural lifestyle of coastal Alaska nNative’s is far different from that of an interior Alaska Native. They have different resources, environments, and lifestyles than Southeast residents and Aleutian residents. Good reading response!

  2. Jessica Hernandez

    I do believe that the story that was told does have da reflection on our morals. I do agree that evolution is a way of life, but I believe that humans are provoking the process to speed up. With Alaska being full of nature and wildlife the impact of the modern world has definitely made a change in lifestyle for Alaskan’s. With all the demands of human nature we are “circling the drain” and it’s not that easy to slow down.

    1. Christina Beaver

      I agree I think humans are speeding up the process of evolution. I think it’s interesting the whole “circling the drain” thing.

    2. Lane Ito

      I agree that the impact of the modern world is making a change in Alaskan lifestyles. If this keeps up, the Alaska Native people will have a difficulties adjusting to the changes which are suddenly being thrown at them.

  3. Christina Beaver

    I do think this brings up a moral thought worth addressing. Although Native Alaskans use these resources frequently is it really worth it? Nowadays life is changed and expanding so fast, even the planet can’t keep up. Is this a part of evolution? I would say yes, to some extent. I think as the world is moving it’s causing the earth to heat up, in turn, causing this problem.

    1. Victoria Murdock

      I believe that although the Native Alaskans want to keep their traditions and the teachings to the children of the villages. I don’t think it is still worth all they have to go through to maintain their ways of life.

    2. Briana Shaffer

      I think it comes down to people wanting to maintain tradition and pass down cultural norms. It might just be hardwired into the human brain to want to pass down what has been learned for generations to new generations. Maybe that is why so many cultural groups find it hard to let out dated and sometimes dangerous traditions go.

  4. Jesse Coulman

    Its true does seem like a natural cycle, of one species overpowering another, it’s something we as humans have done extremely well at throughout our history. We drove Passenger Pigeons to extinction, along with Black Rhinoceros, and many others through greed and ignorance. This time it just seems to be on a much larger scale, by destroying the world, without which we as a species will probably be the next to go extinct. I agree we need to find ways in which to produce the energy we as a civilization now require for our daily lives but where do we begin. In places such as Point Hope there really is no alternative to diesel fuel. So perhaps while working to find better solutions, cities and states who have an alternative should take a step back from fossil fuels and lean more heavily on those alternates such as hydro, solar, or wind and maybe we can stop global warming before things get worse.

    1. Olive Hager

      It would be great if we, as humans, could work together to provide these alternatives to less fortunate communities. But it is so hard to care what is happening on the other side of the planet from you, or even the next state over. There would need to be huge cultural shifts to make such changes happen.

    2. Logan Borger

      I couldn’t agree more. Ignorance and greed can’t be at the foundation of our society. I also hope that we can be better and find alternatives to fossil fuels, as our survival depends upon it.

  5. Olive Hager

    Even before humans, scientists have found evidence that there were cycles of ice ages and warmer periods of higher sea levels and less glaciers. Though humans are likely speeding this process, it is a natural occurrence. It can be difficult for humans to think of each other on a global scale and to keep everyone in all corners of the Earth in mind when they are trying to heat their homes or receive their nice paychecks from these industries that are harming small communities. I believe that humanity as a whole will adapt to the changes and these communities will likely move away from the coasts and change their traditions. Unless we can unify all of humanity, disregarding cultural differences and working toward a common goal on a planet-wide scale, things are just going to have to change. This is the way it is.

    1. Miranda Jackovich

      I thought you brought up great points in your comment. Mentioning how ice ages and warm periods are a natural occurrence was a good example. Humans have been adapting and affecting the environment for thousands of years. Endless the world comes together to fix the issues we’ve created, we will continue to speed up the process faster then we can handle it. But regardless of what is done (and not done) humans will continue to adapt. Great ideas!

    2. Travis Winterton

      As sad as it may seem, I agree that change is an inevitable part of existence, and that involves losing old traditions and methods all in the name of benefiting our society as a whole and ensuring a future for ourselves. As long as the process of change itself is slow and gradual, we will find ways to cope and adapt.

  6. Victoria Murdock

    The reading selection really makes you think about how we value our morals. I didn’t know much about the way of life in”off land” Alaska. Reading this gave me the insight on how people had to survive, and what they needed in order to do so. As far as the global warming effect, we as a human population have been going through it for centuries unknown to us until some time ago. In my opinion I do believe that the Natives should be willing to expand their ways of life, instead of depending on the sea life and the frigid temperatures. Relying on these temperatures to remain 38 below can be a strain. I say this because as a whole, humans are the main cause of things rapidly changing with the climate and the environment, as well as different species of animals.

  7. Briana shaffer

    I think the real question that should be asked is, If we discontinue our dependence on Oil , how many of us will be able to go to the way things were before? Like Tom Kizzia mentions in his Article, “Point hope today is a grid of small but comfortable homes, laid out around a new school and a diesel fired power plant- everything provided by a regional municipality with eight thousand permanent residents and an annual budget of four hundred million dollars. Oil drilling in the Arctic has paid for nearly all of it, and Oomittuk does not want to go back.” You cant just abandon something that has progressed that much. I think that is where giants like Shell have the power, they can wait. Wait until the animals die or the people leave when their only way of life is disrupted. The oil will still be there, the people may as well. Now that they are anchored with this dependence on the oil money and resources it provides.

    I found it interesting for two reasons when the article mentioned that instruments had detected a gust of pure carbon dioxide across the north pole from Europe. If warming disrupts the freezing temperatures in the north wouldn’t that eventually support the growth of more black spruce forests? Would the gusts of pure carbon dioxide just become a feeding tube for the black spruce? Producing more oxygen eventually? I think most people who fight for environmental protection and rights live in a bubble and forget that pollution comes from more than just the bubble of the U.S., Its always fun to rally and protest but forget that so many of our household products contain petroleum products. Check your shampoo and toothpastes most contain sulfates.

    People who refuse to advance will get left behind.

  8. Logan Borger

    Where there are people choosing to be ignorant, there is always a moral question to address. In this case, the question put simply: What cost are we willing to accept for our way of life? Unfortunately, the loss of native ways’ of life are a rather tragic effect of our choices, as a species, in which we thought could be reconciled with corporations and funding. Perhaps this is a natural cycle. Perhaps this was inevitable. Even if this was the case, it still doesn’t justify the toll on the environment. Reconciling our dependence on oil with the vast changes in the Arctic isn’t an easy task by any means. It will require lots of corporate involvement and people acting together towards the common purpose of preserving our environment. Sounds a little too good to be true, but perhaps someday our virtues will exceed our vices. I liked Obama’s anecdote and how he said that the melting glaciers, eroding villages, and thawing permafrost were a “glimpse of our children’s fate if the climate keeps changing faster than our efforts to address it.”

  9. Rebekah Ulrich

    Tom Kizzia in his article “Whale Hunters of The Warming Artic” really has you reflect about your own morals. Everyone is busy in their own lives, sometimes they don’t stop to think about how every decision and action they decide really effects themselves or the earth. Kizzia states “Few Americans are as bound to the natural world as the whale hunters of the Arctic, or as keenly affected by the warming atmosphere.” People that live in the artic rely on wild game and live off the land like most people do that reside in Alaska, “These days, the ice disappears so fast in spring that villagers struggle to catch bearded seals.”Kizzia stated. The climate change is affecting cultures and how they have lived for centuries, the more these signs from the artic melt that are ignored, the more drastic the change will be. It all comes back to the oil dig in the artic, the need and desire for oil and where it is coming from is overshadowing how it is effecting residing families in the artic.

  10. Lane Ito

    What happens if Alaska Native people get used to the money and modern conveniences brought by oil companies comes to an end? When I first read The New Harpoon, I was expecting climate change issues as a side effect from oil drilling in northern Alaska. However, I did not realize that the article was primarily about economic issues between oil companies and Alaska Native people.

    For centuries, Alaska Native people in the northernmost reaches of the state have lived off of subsistence hunting and by sharing with other members of their community. For example, when a group of hunters successfully beach a large bowhead whale, the kill is butchered and portions of the meat and blubber are distributed amongst all. The same process happens when hunters bring back a seal or a beluga whale. Most of these events happen on open expanses of frozen shoreline, or in boats on open water. Unfortunately, when oil companies arrived in northern Alaska to search for oil in the Arctic Ocean, issues followed. When oil is used for warming residences, supplying power to communities, and running vehicles, the excess carbon dioxide causes global warming, which melts the ice caps and turns hunting grounds into water. Additionally, oil spills pollute vast expanses of ocean and kill many animals that live in and around the ocean.

    Looking back, I knew Alaska Native people would have to risk losing their rights as hunters when the oil companies first arrived in Alaska. But what stood out to me was how the money from the oil companies given to the people has created an infrastructure which the future generations are enjoying. The extra money has enabled the development of new schoolhouses, new gyms, and modern appliances like furnaces and heaters. While these changes have brought comfort to the next generation, this has also caused the younger generation to become reliant upon modern conveniences and forget the culture of their people. This means when there is no oil left, the companies cannot give away money for school or appliances, and the next generation of Alaska Native people may struggle to carry on traditions of the past.

    “Oomittuk was preparing to join the whaling this year. He serves as a kind of referee after a whale is landed, dividing the catch among crews according to arcane rules that reach back into prehistory. It’s an exciting time, but it reminds him of the things that are disappearing, things that may not be recoverable when the oil runs out-not just the knowledge about hunting and survival or the ceremonies passed down by his grandparents but the ice itself. “When all that money goes away, what’s going to happen to this next generation?” he asked. “They say the native people were nomadic, following the animals. That’s not true about the Tikigaq people. The animals come to us. We knew they were coming, to give themselves to us. And the animals go with the ice. If the ice goes away, the animals go away.” (pg. 91)”

    This article was interesting because it mentioned the introduction of modern conveniences to the Alaska Native people, but the passage above has a remarkable point. When the ice in northern Alaska and the Arctic ocean disappears, so will the animals the people hunted as a part of their culture. Additionally, if the oil is gone, so will the money from the oil companies. With the future generation becoming dependent on modern conveniences, they will find themselves unprepared for the culture of their ancestors. If the oil runs out, I believe the native culture will need to make a concerted effort to teach the future generations traditions of the past in order to preserve their wonderful way of life.

  11. Ashley Bolyard

    Yes, the natural cycle of evolution is for one species to overpower the next. But at the same time, a species can adapt or evolve in order of survival. Galapagos finches from the Galapagos Islands are a great example of evolution in order to survive. Depending on which island the finch lives on, their beak has adapted to different diets the chosen island has to offer. (1) In “The New Harpoon” essay’s case, I believe in a fine balance between the whale hunters and the expansion of fossil-fuel economy. Personally, I believe financial gain from fossil-fuel should be reinvested into a technology that is much more sustainable and more feasible to the lifestyle of the whale hunters. However, nature is constantly changing and is unpredictable but it would be beneficial if we slowly moved away from the dependence of fossil fuels for energy.

    Work cited:
    https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/01/6/l_016_02.html

    1. Conall Birkholz

      I personally agree with your statement about reinvestment into new technologies. The oil money that these native corporations have made so far has benefited them well, but if they want to do their part in decreasing the effects of global warming on their communities, they need to reinvest into new renewable energy technologies and learn to stop relying off of fossil fuel and oil profits.

  12. Conall Birkholz

    Reading about the people of Point Hope in the article, it is quite apparent that there is a relevant moral question. When it comes to oil companies drilling in and around Alaska, it’s commonplace knowledge that using and harvesting oil is contributing to global warming, and Alaskan villages are feeling the effects of that first hand. As is stated in the article, Oviuk said that he “didn’t believe in global warming–I’ll tell you that straight up… But I teared up out there. I was thinking, every year, we don’t know if it’s the last time we’re going to see the ice.” This was after he survived a whale hunt where the ice he was on broke off from the mainland ice. People like Oviuk face the greatest moral dilemma do too these oil companies. The villages have gained great prosperity do to the oil profits, but these direct profits are what is leading to the destruction of their coastal villages and traditional way of life.

    I would not say this is the natural cycle of evolution, because there hasn’t been a point in history yet where a species as dominant as humans have existed. When the dinosaurs ruled the earth, they didn’t drastically change the climate and destroy thousands of other species habitats and resources. One significant aspect of earth is that is has always had countless biodiversity, but as humans continue to destroy the climate and habitats of many different species, this biodiversity is lost.

    While the dependence on oil in the Arctic is almost vital for Native Alaskan communities now, I think as there is a transition from fossil fuels to renewables, Native Alaskan’s will have to invest in these new technologies as well and learn new ways of financing their lifestyles. It is scientific fact that global warming is harmful to our planet, so while oil money may be good in the short term, the long term needs to take priority and decisions need to be based off that.

    1. Seth Packer

      You’re right, there is a moral question here. It’s much too cruel to just condemn entire culture to death just because we as a more prevalent culture have made their way of life unstable. But I do think you missed what the reading was saying, these villages cannot survive as they currently do without the profits that they are making from the onshore oil. What I got out of the reading was that limbo was not an option. The villages needed to either move towards oil profits or they needed to totally stop the oil and go back to their traditional ways. With the biggest problem of all being that now neither option is really available to them as Shell has pulled out and with the continuation of global warming ruining their traditional hunting grounds. A rock and hard place, if you will.

  13. Seth Packer

    If the question is survival, does morality even really matter? Sophocles would certainly tell us that yes, even when faced with our death we should hold true to our morals and beliefs, but an egoist will tell you than your morals are irrelevant in the face of death. Is there a moral question here, for the majority of Americans, of course their is. Is our way of life worth living if the consequence is that another way of life might be destroyed? How can one compare the values of civilizations? I took an anthropology class over the summer in which we were taught that values cannot be determined through through the lense of another culture, in other words how can we possible compare our way of life to there’s? so in the end its a question of do we have a moral responsibility to preserve another dying culture, my answer is no. To quote a thousand Facebook moms “Do not cry because it is over, smile because it happened ” in other words we should not strive to preserve a way of life that no longer functions any more than we should cling to a past that will never be again. If the culture we were talking about was Nazi Germany this would be a unanimous decision to leave it in the past. The point being that the particular culture shouldn’t matter as the worth of cultures cannot be compared in any meaningful way here. If that culture can no longer survive in this world then we should record all that we can about it and learn as much as possible before it’s light truly goes out. Move on, but do not forget.

  14. Travis Winterton

    I think the main question that is being asked is that weighted or not is it worth it to continue on and to protect old traditions in the name of preservation despite it seeing as if its being incompatible with our modern society. As a whole, I think a large part of this is ultimately stems from us following our evolutionary cycle, a conflict between of passing down traditions to our young, or to embrace change for the benefit our ourselves. I think the fact of people making oil expeditions in the arctic was inevitable and can be seen as part of the natural cycle of humans and animals wanting to gather resources, even if we have artificially inflated the process. I can see why the potential financial gain and need of oil from these places can be seen as necessary trumping that of protecting old native culture. Mainly as a benefit to our economy as we play an important role in the oil and fuel industry, as well as helping these villages prosper as seen in the article of the school renovation. A part of me wishes that there can be a compromise with both draining oil and protecting native culture but I think that we can’t be sitting on the fence for this issue as we eventually have to make a decision on this, unless Alaska is able to successfully invest and build up an industry in renewable energy as many have already pointed out, but that could potentially be years from now.

  15. Makayla Duhon

    I believe that there is some sort of a cycle here. History tends to repeat itself and scientists have said that the Earth gets warmer and then it has a cooling period. But I also believe that humans are responsible for making it worse. The morale question here for me is; Would you destroy the world for future inhabitants to make your life better? It’s a selfish question at first but when you put it into perspective, it makes you wonder. Can I give up my gas powered car? Can I live off of the land? What can I do to make this better? Many people need oil to survive, especially during the harsh winters in Alaska. I don’t believe there will ever be a happy medium between the oil companies and the people though. We can only try one person at a time to reduce our carbon footprint and hope that it brings a brighter future.

  16. Shurena K

    I do believe that some of the issue lies with morals. Morals are a person’s standard of beliefs/behaviors.How much do you think their standards of belief/behaviors could be swayed when faced death. Most people tend to reside in the grey area. They don’t tend to feel a moral responsibility because they feel that since other cultures across the world have grown and adapted, why can’t they? In time though as the generations change they tend to feel the nostalgia of traditions lost.

    For the people of Point Hope it’s a double edged sword. Due to shell pulling out they are now faced with limbo and neither option is viable. Their dependence on oil money gave them an improved way of life and stability to grow in their culture. Point hope today is a grid of small but comfortable homes, laid out around a new school and a diesel fired power plant- everything provided by a regional municipality with eight thousand permanent residents and an annual budget of four hundred million dollars. Oil drilling in the Arctic has paid for nearly all of it, and Oomittuk does not want to go back.” You cant just abandon something that has progressed that much. I think that is where giants like Shell have the power, they can wait. Wait until the animals die or the people leave when their only way of life is disrupted. The oil will still be there, the people may as well. Now that they are anchored with this dependence on the oil money and resources it provides.

    I do feel that some of the effects that we are seeing on the Arctic temps and in temps throughout the world is in part due to a naturally occurring cycle of evolution. Although I also believe that most of the climate changes and increases in natural disasters is not part of the natural cycle of evolution. Our species is speeding up the process.

  17. Lindsey Paulsen

    I believe that some of the issue lies with morals. Morals are the way a person sees right and wrong and what they value/believe. When facing death, it is valuable to see the good in life and know you did right by the people and world around you. People don’t act morally correct unless their belief system strongly supports it. People today lack that moral responsibility because of desensitization and comfortability in the ways of the world that may not be right. Other cultures grow and adapt everyday, so the people of Point Hope have no reason to not be able to.
    The people of Point Hope don’t exactly have it too well, but they must take pride in the moral correctness and how that intercepts with their way of life. After reading this article, I came to a profound understanding of how morals are swept aside by certain cultures, but that doesn’t make people partaking in their culture “wrong”, in my opinion, because who determines right or wrong anyway? Their dependence on oil money gave them an improved way of life and stability to grow in their culture. People can’t just abandon something that has improved so much in what is a small amount of time in the grand scheme of things. Shell stations across the world monger oil and use valuable resources to make more valuable profit. Some of the effects we’ve seen in the cold temperatures of Alaska are plain examples of the changing world, and in that case, changing values. Climate changes and natural disasters such as avalanches of earthquakes, which our state is abundant in, is only accelerating the change in Alaska.

  18. Amber Wofford

    While reading I couldn’t help but feel more helpless to help find a solution to help our earth. We are all so busy with our day to days lives that we don’t even think of how we in particular impact the planet. And even when we do think about the damage that is being done, I can’t help but think what is ONE person making changes going to help? Yes I understand that if many people made changes it would have a greater affect but unfortunately that has not happened or we would see a change. I have family that live closely with the land and would much rather eat and grow off our soil but does that mean everyone should do that and it would solve our problems? No. We would have a whole new set of problems.

  19. Daniel Allred

    The question regarding morals in The New Harpoon, is does the government represent the people’s best interests if the leaders are also making money on the oil that is ruining the land? Much of the leadership in the North Slope Borough is involved with the oil companies in one way or another. I don’t believe that someone can truly make a decision that would benefit the community if they had a financial loss because of it.
    The problem with the oil “money” that is now in the North Slope, is that now the community is unable to survive without it. If the Inupiat people didn’t have the money that the oil companies bring they would surely dwindle down to nothing. They would become abandoned and forgotten. They would hopefully adapt to the changing environments. There’s still a chance that they could regress to their old way, as a means of survival. However, there is no guarantee that the land could still support them the way it once did. They could end up victims of the natural order.

Comments are closed.