The polar region extends from the Barents Sea to the Arctic Ocean and was, until recently, essentially a large expanse of ice between Norway and Russia. For four decades negotiations between the two countries about claims to the region’s oil and natural gas were carried along at a slow, often static pace. However, as a result of global warming, the icecap has receded and interest in delineating clear economic zones has multiplied. The leaders of the two countries, both proud of their co-operative resolves, excitedly spoke of a joint venture into the world’s unexplored – possibly extremely lucrative – arctic seabed. The Chairman of Norway’s Ocean Research Institute, Mr Ostreng, said: “Both parties believe the disputed area contains rich deposits of mineral resources, in particular oil and gas, but they don’t know for sure. And when you don’t know for sure, you act as if the area is extremely rich. It is not easy to give up strategic resources.” On Tuesday, a delimitation line was approved, outlining the claim of each nation to the arctic territory.
Despite our society’s greedy necessity for fossil fuel, and the immense money-spinning opportunity that could arise from the soon-to-be arctic expedition, is it not somewhat ironic that the cause of the sudden accessibility to this area is not being discussed in terms of its environmental impact, but for its commercial scope?
“I hope more projects in the energy sphere will arise … This would be quite a practical result,” said Russian President Medvedev. Global warming is the artifice of the sudden availability of this once ice-filled region yet, the two countries have already embarked upon a resource extraction project that will inevitably further climate change, greenhouse gases and the gradual extinction of our planet’s biosphere.
Global warming in the arctic is a serious issue; open water absorbs more sunlight and heat than ice, which by extension rapidly warms the sea and furthers ice loss. This results in the creation of methane gas that rises into the atmosphere and participates in creating what is known as ‘the greenhouse effect’ – something which affects the entire planet. Moreover, several animal species are native to the arctic, such as the polar bear and walrus. The Barents Sea specifically, is a huge, biologically diverse ecosystem containing the world’s largest coral reef, seabirds, polar bears and bowhead whales. The constant decrease of ice and the heated water not only affects the sea population, but also the birds and mammals who depend on it.
Indeed, the arctic holds the world’s largest resource of untapped oil and gas, however, it is the exploitation of these resources which is causing environmental tragedies. Perhaps if investment were to be redirected towards sustainable development, new forms of power would be unveiled and lucrative endeavours could aid rather than destroy the world’s dwindling biosphere.
Norway’s contribution to the Kyoto protocol may be to increase reforestation in China, but is this enough to silence the inner conscience of a country whose major export is one of the biggest causes of global warming?