Nature vs. Nations: The Battle for the Arctic

Post by new contributor Michael Deas. If you feel like writing for us, drop us an email!

A US government report put out this week shows Arctic temperatures have been wildly above average for at least the last year.


In the last month scientists have revealed that temperatures in this summer’s Arctic heat wave reached 22 ?C, cursed the decline of Arctic wildlife and warned that ice sheets are receding at twice the speed predicted by computer models.

But rather than this deluge of new evidence serving as an 11th hour wake up call, “Big Powers” such as US, Canada and Russia have instead begun a diplomatic war over the shipping routes and oil fields the melting of ice is opening access to.

The summer’s extreme arctic temperatures left the Northwest Passage ice-free for the first time since records began. The ownership of the passage, a shortcut between the Arctic and Pacific oceans for ships currently using the Suez Canal, is highly disputed. Canadian ministers had issued thinly veiled claims to the passage for years, but the passage actually opening sparked off a war of words with US and EU, who believe the passage is international waters.

In what is without doubt the cruelest irony of modern times, climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels has melted arctic ice sheets, allowing access to huge amounts of oil that, once burned, will further hasten climate chaos.
Five states have now begun making claims to the arctic bounty. Never ones for irony, Russia placed its national flag on the Arctic seabed in August, claiming ownership of the resources beneath. The Russian sub was quickly followed by a Danish icebreaker, which set out to survey potential claims in the far north, where a US ship is already on a mapping mission. Canada has already announced the construction of two military bases in the region.

Norway also claims a share of the resources but wants the bickering nations to go through ‘proper channels’ such as the UN to settle the dispute.

But where is the damnation of climate change? Where are the politicians citing this new evidence as reason for urgent action? If Prime Ministers and Presidents can immediately rush to defend sovereignty and extend territory, why are the policies and international treaties designed to cut emissions still stuck in the depths of creaking bureaucracy?

Yes, awareness of climate change is snowballing. Civil-society, the UN and even the White House is abuzz with talk of carbon trading, air travel tax and renewable energy.

But, as the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Al Gore shows, the world believes the battle is already won. We can drive hybrid cars, bask in the glory of Kyoto and make vague promises about cutting emissions by 2050 and everything will be okay.

But sadly, this just isn’t the case. The melting of ice caps and global temperature rises are already going above and beyond even the most alarmist of scientific models. Weather patterns are already breaking free of the finely balanced, millennia old global climate system of gentle ebbs and flows. Humans are already suffering from the resulting floods, droughts and heat waves.

Politicians are so eager to identify and enemy, to go to war. Where is the War on Climate Change?

Is it only me who sees 22 degree heat waves at the arctic as a turning point in the history of planet Earth?

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