Saturday, January 15, 2011

New Flash - As Arctic melts, U.S. ill-positioned to tap resources

Because it is all about National diplomacy and jockeying for positioin, right? It is a global competition.

Sometimes when I think humanity has progressed to the point where it will not repeat the mistakes of its past, stories like this remind me that we almost seem doomed to repeat and create our own failed destiny. Can somebody tell me why I find this story so depressing?

LINK – From the Washington Post

It is not that I think that we, the United States, can halt and reverse climate change by any of our clean energy initiatives or policies. Having been to the Philippines, and witnessed for myself just one tiny corner of Asia, I now know how clean the United States is. But staying as clean as the United States takes money. That money is going to rapid development in Asia, and in the decades to come, most carbon emissions are projected to come from that growing part of the world. China, India, Korea, Japan, and from what I witnessed, Philippines is developing at an unbelievable rate. I was shocked to discover that Makati and Quezon City has a skyline to rival that of Manhattan – and it is all new, and growing fast. And it is filthy. Breathing filters are a common accessory there, and my eyes often felt like I spent too much time in a chlorinated swimming pool.

The debate rages on. Is climate change real? Is the arctic really warming? Apparently it is, since even our military is currently trying to figure out how to use newly opened sea lanes to its advantage.

The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, has identified the Arctic as an area of key strategic interest. The U.S. military anticipates the Arctic will become "ice-free" for several summer weeks by 2030, possibly as early as 2013.

But are we causing it with our carbon emissions? I think that is the real debate, and one which climate scientists appear to agree on, but which the general public is afraid to admit – even if true.

Here is my lousy opinion: It does not matter if our carbon emissions are causing climate change or not. We should be clean anyway. We should spend the money and take the time to use our resources wisely and efficiently. I believe that is our responsibility no matter if we are causing climate change or not.

I guess that is why this story bugs me so much. Instead of taking responsibility, instead of cleaning up our messes, we instead eye each other suspiciously when planning to exploit the spoils:

Like the rest of the 5.4-million-square-mile area at the top of the world, this chunk of the U.S. Arctic is melting quickly because of accelerated climate change. The prospect of newly thawed sea lanes and a freshly accessible, resource-rich seabed has nations jockeying for position. And government and military officials are concerned the United States is not moving quickly enough to protect American interests in this vulnerable and fast-changing region.

What is the problem? It appears to be the same problem as it always has been - an opportunity to be the first to gain and control a new store of natural resources.

The Arctic is believed to hold nearly a quarter of the world's untapped natural resources and a new passage could shave as much as 40 percent of the time it takes for commercial shippers to travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Treaties? We don’t need no stinkin’ treaties:

The only international treaty that applies to the Arctic is the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, ratified by more than 150 nations. But although it helped draft the convention and subsequent revisions, the United States has not ratified the treaty; conservatives say it impinges on U.S. national sovereignty.

And let the land-grab begin:

Under the treaty, a nation that can prove its continental shelf extends past the current boundary of 200 miles off its coastline can be granted up to 150 additional miles of seabed.
"An extra 150 miles of shelf can be billions [or] trillions of dollars in resources," said Lt. Gen. Dana Atkins, commander of Alaskan Command, Joint Task Force Alaska, Alaskan North American Defense Region and the 11th Air Force.
Like other Arctic countries, the United States is gathering scientific evidence for its claim to an extended continental shelf in the Arctic. Russia has been preparing a territory claim that would absorb nearly half of the Arctic into its possession, according to analysis by the Congressional Research Service.

I think this is the part of the story that depresses me most:

In 2007, Russia planted a flag in the waters below the North Pole. Canada planted one nearby soon after. Denmark placed a flag on the north's contested Han Island, which Canada promptly removed and delivered back to Danish officials. Canada bought fleets of F-35 fighter jets and is building a new base along its Arctic coast. Russia is building new icebreakers and new nuclear-power stations on its north coast.

My God, we are still planting flags to claim territorial rights. When I read about the global expansion of Spain, Portugal, Holland, and England during the 15th and 16th centuries, I marvel at the hubris, the ignorance and the barbarism of the time. But seriously, have we really changed all that much as a people? I sure would like to think so, but stories like this, the fact that we still think we can just claim something by being the first to plant a flag there makes me think that maybe not all that much has changed about us.

Believe me, I hate typing that. But I as I grow older, I find myself hating the whole idea of global competition more and more.

If carbon emissions are in fact causing global climate change, we are not about to stop emitting carbon if it means economic growth and expansion. That much is clear and to be expected. That does not really bother me. What bothers me is that we see it as another opportunity to gain “billions or trillions of dollars in resources”. It almost feels like I am dying of lung cancer because of my smoking habit, yet a young candy stripper enters my hospital room, and hands me a fresh pack of the latest brand of cigarettes. I simply cannot kick the habit, and I am destined, at all costs, to keep smoking away. And I guess the fact that we almost seemed destined to such an outcome is what depresses me.


DoOrDoNot said...

Hopefully the greed can be managed without military conflict.

BTW, what type of hospitals do they run in Texas, with "strippers" passing out cigarettes? I hope insurance doesn't cover those services :)

Anonymous said...

I now understand why some people deny global warming. If they do so they don't have to contend with the fact that human activity has consequences. Then we can continue to accelerate global warming and reach Arctic resources!

Harper doesn't believe greed can be managed without those fighter jets. Canada is positioned between the a violent increasingly desparate society and Russia. Like Austria in the century past. So, we spend our money on increasing cheap energy to the US and on military weapons.

And health care! but without strippers and cigarettes ;)

HeIsSailing said...

DoOrDoNot asks:

BTW, what type of hospitals do they run in Texas, with "strippers" passing out cigarettes?

Oh dear, did I type 'strippers'? I believe I did.

Well, we do things a little different down here in Texas. What is good health care without strippers and cigarettes?

D'Ma said...

Hahaha! I saw the "stripper" thing too, but didn't want to be the one who pointed it out. They really do everything bigger in Texas, eh? *grin*

Zoe said...

Canada can buy all kinds of fighter jets, but in the end, both Russia and the U.S. can squash them in a moments notice. Just my opinion. I don't think either the U.S. or Russia is one bit scared-off buy any Canadian military might.

We're currently in Florida and we've heard two comments about Canada since being here. The first: The cold weather systems come down from Canada. *grin* The second: Al Qaida is setting up shop in Canada.

As for global warming, my past belief system didn't give a, umm, hoot, because disaster is to be expected, end times and all that stuff. Just eat, drink and be as many people as you can and be Raptured.

Personally, it's because of those developing countries like China that leaders like Stephen Harper (I'm not a fan btw) hold the line on spending money on global warming. Why bother? If these other countries keep developing like they are and will, isn't spending money on helpful initiatives just a waste?

If nations are gunning for the oil in the Arctic and for a place to set up military might, for sure, we haven't learned a thing. :-(

Preston said...