Polar Blues

The last couple of occasions we looked at the state of the poles, the United States had yet to sign the Law of the Sea Treaty under which negotiations concerning polar resources are being conducted. The treaty, which has been signed by 162 nations, is the only established legal mechanism for determining who gets what, and has served as the basis of successful negotiations among the various concerned polar parties—particularly Norway, Canada, Russia and Denmark. Given the increased accessibility of the Arctic to mineral and oil development, you would think that the US would have figured out by now that its interests would be better served by being a party to these negotiations, rather than be sitting on the outside while the Arctic gets carved up in various and profitable ways.

But if you thought that, you would be wrong. Because the other day, like clockwork, Republicans once again indicated that they would block passage of the treaty, in the interests of “sovereignty.” Honestly, what is wrong with these people? The US and Canada have a number of outstanding treaty disputes relating to, for example, Canada’s claims for various Northwest Passage routes as internal waters that the US strenuously objects to. Does the US really think it can still bully Canada, given its increase dependence on oil from Canada (which is now the largest supplier of oil to the US)? Especially when the US has practically no icebreakers left? Well, it has one, actually. Good luck with that.

It’s not as if there aren’t some seriously concerned people out there getting increasingly worried about America’s continued intentions to isolate itself. Even some on the right are starting to figure out that we had better give a bit more thought to all of this. The US Department of Defence, for example, figured this out a while ago, and continues to try to address what it needs by way of strategy and equipment for this part of the world, although the Government Accountability Office has noticed that the Pentagon may not actually have the means to implement a clear Arctic strategy. Still, points for trying. It’s interesting how far out in front of Congress the US military is on this, as in some other things as well. This is coming at a time when moves by the military to reduce their dependence on oil are being greeted by Republicans with proposals to prevent the military from using biofuels. Lordy lordy.

And in a continued triumph of hope over experience, Shell continues to try to get easy terms for its oil drilling venture in Alaskan waters, in spite of continued evidence that it can’t seem to even get a drilling rig to stay where it’s supposed to. Shell has already spent $4.5 billion on its proposed arctic drilling enterprise, and whatever concerns the US Coast Guard may have about the idea, they’re not exactly in a good position to help out, or do much of anything, for that matter. Greenpeace has the right idea in calling for an Arctic Sanctuary, but they must know that it’s quixotic.

Meanwhile, the summer melt of the polar ice continues at a record pace, and this year looks like it will be among the worst, although it’s too soon to tell if it will be worse than the past couple of years—which were the worst on record. And one of Greenland’s largest glaciers, the Petermann Glacier, has just broken itself into pieces again. Oh, and did anyone notice that drought thing in the US Midwest? And how about that drought in Korea that no one has actually heard about? Russia and Kazakhstan, anyone? And torrential rains in Japan, with a typhoon coming along? It’s only July, isn’t it? I feel as if I’m still in the first third of a science fiction movie that is not going to end well.

3 replies »

  1. I was having a nice day until I read this, wuf. There must a touch of irony somewhere that politicians tout “globalized” thinking yet resort to isolationist actions by mere default.