Breaking The Ice

There are still those among us who deny global warming. Seriously, it’s true. There are even more among us who deny that humans have had a hand in it. The evidence of the latter is weaker than that of the former, but neither can be reasonably denied. In any event, the question of what to do about it is on the back burner while nations vie with one another to figure out ways to exploit the situation for profit. The opening of the Northwest passage due to the melting of the ice caps has nations actively devising ways to gain an advantage in the pursuit of gas and oil reserves in that region of the world as they simultaneously plan ways to rescue those who will most assuredly run afoul in that pursuit.

A recent story was of interest in this regard. It begins, YOKOSUKA, Japan (AP) — To the world’s military leaders, the debate over climate change is long over. They are preparing for a new kind of Cold War in the Arctic, anticipating that rising temperatures there will open up a treasure trove of resources, long-dreamed-of sea lanes and a slew of potential conflicts. By Arctic standards, the region is already buzzing with military activity, and experts believe that will increase significantly in the years ahead.

I have dealt with the issue of alternative energy in previous blogs. So I will not go there again. But the scenario sketched out for us in this article suggests yet another reason to find alternatives to oil and gas to satisfy the seemingly insatiable demands of a growing human population. Not “needs,” but “demands.” The two must not be confused. We do not need to use as much energy as we do: we waste a disproportionate amount of the energy. We simply do not want to deny ourselves the indulgence. Heaven forbid!

The issues here are complex, as a brief excerpt from that always reliable source, Wikipedia, will attest: The contested sovereignty claims over the waters may complicate future shipping through the region: The Canadian government considers the Northwestern Passages part of Canadian Internal Waters, but the United States and various European countries maintain they are an international strait or transit passage, allowing free and unencumbered passage

The notion that nations will soon be vying with one another to get the upper hand in the Arctic, which is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe, is disquieting. It will not necessarily lead to open warfare, but it may indeed lead to another cold war (no pun intended) as nations seek to gain a step up in a region that promises to yield oil and natural gas and also open the way for masses of daily freight traffic — and even cruise ships — in a region of the world that has been closed off to any boating traffic whatever for most of the year for centuries past and where many an adventurous explorer has met his slow death. There may be more casualties to come. Thus the military buildup. Not for engaging in war, but for rescuing fools who risk their lives for pleasure and/or corporate (and private) profit.

Heather Conley, director of the Europe program at the London-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said militaries probably will have to rescue their own citizens in the Arctic before any confrontations arise there. “Catastrophic events, like a cruise ship suddenly sinking or an environmental accident related to the region’s oil and gas exploration, would have a profound impact in the Arctic,” she said. “The risk is not militarization; it is the lack of capabilities while economic development and human activity dramatically increases that is the real risk.”

In one sense, it is exciting to think of new possibilities, and new horizons to explore. But given the human animal and what we know about him, the possibilities bring with them the potential for conflict and catastrophe that give us pause. It will be interesting to see how this thing shakes out while we wonder why the money being spent on finding ways to exploit this region is not being used to discover alternative energies. But there I go again.


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