Chill, baby, chill: Arctic oil exploration and climate security


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My wife’s engagement ring contains a marquis cut diamond appraised at $2000. I bought it at a pawn shop for $600. The pawn broker was ready to shoot me dead if I tried to steal it. When I paid him the $600 he was asking, he got teary eyed, ransacked his back room for a jewelry box, admitted he would have taken $550 because he could tell I am a good man, and promised that she would have no choice but to marry me in the face of that sparkling gem. It is a thing of beauty, no doubt.

Diamonds are plentiful and relatively indestructible. The second hand market is glutted with diamonds that no one wants because, without the sentimental value, they are comparatively cheap. Oil is not like that. Once it is consumed it exists only as a cloud of excrement. Our collective cloud of excrement has become a life-threatening problem as a result of economic forces set in motion by the General Motors streetcar conspiracy, in which five companies were convicted of conspiring to destroy electric-powered mass transit in favor of oil-powered transportation.

Those companies were General Motors, Firestone Tires, Standard Oil, Mack Trucks, and Phillips Petroleum. At the time, they were blissfully ignorant of the long-term consequences of their actions. Thankfully, we know better now. The research on anthropogenic climate change is exhaustive, with rising sea levels, heat waves, droughts, heavy rainfall, heavy snowfall, ocean acidification, species extinction, decreasing crop yields, and flooding of major coastal cities already extant and inevitable. And it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

In light of these events, it seems dismaying that President Obama has approved exploratory drilling in the Arctic. Shouldn’t we stop burning oil as soon as possible? Short answer: no. Long answer: yes, but. The United States comprises roughly 5% of the global population. We consume roughly 20% of the world’s oil. China and India are climbing out of poverty in exactly the same way we did 100 years ago, through cheap, abundant energy. Global oil demand is rising at an unprecedented rate and will continue to do so until the cost of producing supply counterbalances demand. Numbers don’t lie.

Russia has already submitted a bid to the United Nations claiming Arctic waters up to 350 nautical miles from their shores. Either they know something about climate change that we don’t and they’re planning to become a new vacation paradise, or they’re gearing up for Arctic oil exploration. This is the new frontier. It’s the next oil boom. Russia has filed a claim without a known strike. The world is thirsty for oil. Someone is going to find it. Their motive is logical. Right now we can dispute their claim as overreaching, especially considering Russia’s proximity to Alaska. They won’t risk war on speculative gain. Let’s get there first.

But what about climate change? Aren’t we mortgaging our children’s future on a turf war? Quite the opposite. Despite what some politicians would have you believe, America does not rule the world. If Russia gets there first, it’s their oil. Period. They can extract and burn it as they see fit. If we get there first, we can hold it as reserves. We can prevent some of the 20% of the world’s remaining oil reserves from becoming a cloud of excrement. We can stabilize the oil market for years to come.

Ultimately, this is not a decision for the US Government or the Russian Federation, or the Canadians, or the Scandinavians, or the British, or the Icelanders, or the Greenlanders, or anyone else who may lay claim to Arctic waters. It is a decision for the people of the world. We must reduce our dependence on oil. As long as the market demands more oil, someone will provide it, until there is no more oil left, or until there are no more humans left. By allowing Royal Dutch Shell to explore and claim oil discoveries, we are staving off the heat-death of the planet.

We as Americans must lead by example. We are the worst, the 5% of the world burning 20% of the oil. Let’s fix that first. When we show China a better way, they will follow. India will follow. Africa will follow. Europe is leading the charge. Citigroup financial analysts have shown that avoiding the effects of climate change is cheaper than mitigating them. General Mills has warned us that climate change will result in global food shortages and simultaneously drive them out of business. The 1% are doing their part. It’s up to us, the 99%. We must consume less oil. Drive less. Eat less meat. Invest in our own future. The president doesn’t control the economy. The 1% doesn’t control the economy. We, the people, control the economy. I love you all. Do not be afraid.

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