Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The "Upside" of Global Warming

After the September post, Global Warming and Remote Sensing of Climate Indicators, I was, perhaps not amazed, but at least interested in the NY times story today about various "entrepreneurs" who have seen the commercial potential of northern ports as new Arctic shipping lanes open up.

The article begins by summarily regaling readers with the tale of one Pat Broe of Denver, Co., who bought the derelict Hudson Bay port in Churchill, Manitoba from the Canadian government for -- woo hoo! -- $7. Given that the effects of global warming were already manifest in 1997 when the purchase was made, this is not a particularily flattering commentary on the acuity of the Canadian government, as Mr. Broe expects that the port will soon be doing $100 million a year in newly established shipping business. Of course, there appears to be no concern at this point as to what Mr. Broe's investment will be worth once Churchill is completely submerged by rising arctic waters. But it does appears that the ungainly frozen lid has been lifted from the Arctic honey pot:
With major companies and nations large and small adopting similar logic, the Arctic is undergoing nothing less than a great rush for virgin territory and natural resources worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Even before the polar ice began shrinking more each summer, countries were pushing into the frigid Barents Sea, lured by undersea oil and gas fields and emboldened by advances in technology. But now, as thinning ice stands to simplify construction of drilling rigs, exploration is likely to move even farther north.
Newly available shipping lanes are only one piece of the much larger northwest passage pie as new oil and gas reserves are beginning to reveal some potential, one as close to the north pole as 200 miles. Displaying the apalling lack of perspective that has led to this condition in the first place, transportation minister of Manitoba, Ron Lemieux tells us, as all equivocating Canadian officials will do, that it's all good ... maybe:
It's the positive side of global warming, if there is a positive side.
Of course, there are those officials who still refuse to believe, despite all contrary evidence, that there is anything to all of this jibber jabber. Mayor of Vorkuta, Russia, Igor L. Shpektor raises hyperbolic extrapolation as logic argument:
We are not going to have apple trees growing in Vorkuta.
The tacit acknowledgement of global warming conveyed by the newly emerging plans of arctic commercialisation does not seem to carry with it any likewise acknowledgement that there might actually be a downside to the disappearance of the polar ice cap.

Without a doubt, the most important commercial aspect of the disappearing arcitc ice will be the newly available oil and gas regions. The world is now gearing up for a full frontal oil exploration assault on the arctic seas as ice cover becomes less and less of a problem. The irony couldn't be more stark.

Since the dawn of the industrial age, humans have been pumping millions of tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere and surely that has had its effects upon the global climate. Those effects are now manifesting themselves in a variety of ways and one of the most worrisome is the melting ice caps. That this is happening cannot be denied and governments and industries appear now to be counting on it. Now that those ice caps are receeding, new sources of petroleum are being exposed to exploitation, which will allow us to continue to befoul the planet with yet more petroleum energy consumption. This, of course, will further accelerate the warming. It is almost as though nature is handing us a red hot poker and telling us to shove it up our ass. And we appear to be more than willing to comply, if only for the sake of a buck, which is what our self-induced environmental myopia is really all about.

There have been a number of stories recently about sundry ecosystems around the world being affected by global warming. Vast tracts of the Siberian permafrost are melting, which will likely result in the release of enormous quantities of methane. Methane is a very efficient greenhouse gas, much more so that carbon dioxide, and the melting peat of Siberia has set in motion another postive feedback loop. In fact, every example of global warming's macro effects displays this very same characteristic.

As a species we do know what it is we do to this planet, even though some are steadfast in conscious denial. The debate as to whether the planet is warming is a non-existent one, especially in light of the fact that intrepid capitalists -- the ones usually asserting that global warming is fiction -- are leaping at the opportunities presented to them by the obvious effects. It is clear to most rational people that we must stop being the driver of all these positive feedback loops. Personally, I think it is too late for us to do anything, no matter how serious we might become. The ice caps are melting. Siberia is melting. The Amazon is ablaze. These are things which will feed themselves now. I fear that these forces, now unleashed, may be too great to counter with any insipid Kyoto protocol. On top of all this is perched an American Congress populated with fiends like James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who recently pronounced his excitment about a "market-based approach" to environmentalism and how he looked forward to rolling back emissions regulations so as "not to impede clean air progress."

Skeptics have and will argue that global warming and cooling cycles are the natural order and this is true. We do know the earth's biosphere is warming. We don't know for certain that we are the entire cause. We are surely part of it. We also don't know that anything we might do now will halt the processes that have been set in motion. But one thing is certain, as citizens of this planet, we need to stop dithering while the evidence mounts, proclaiming the calamity, and get serious about what we're going to do. Somehow, drilling for more oil in the arctic to ensure our oil profligacy doesn't appear to be the most beneficial approach we might take.


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