Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Arctic opening up for trade, resource harvesting?

Parapundit's Randall Parker recently reported on competing claims for the Arctic. Five nations are vying seriously for sovereignty stakes. Almost half of the Arctic is encircled by Russia. Through Greenland, Denmark claims closest geographic proximity to the North Pole, with Canada extending almost as far. Norway has the Svalbard archipelago, home to more than 2,200 people, that extends as far as 81 degrees North. The US has a foot in the door as well via Alaska. One-fourth of the world's oil and natural gas reserves are estimated to be here:
Arguments over the Arctic were until recently academic because of the depth of the ice, but global warming has seen some of it melt, making drilling feasible. The US geological survey estimates that 25% of the world's undiscovered oil and gas could be located under the polar cap.
Seward's folly no longer looked fallacious with the discovery of oil in Prudhoe Bay, a century and a year after the US purchased Alaska from Russia for just under $100 million in contemporary dollars. Currently, the Bay alone produces $70 million worth of oil daily.

The Secretary may be further vindicated still. The Senate's refusal to ratify the Law of the Sea treaty puts the US in a potentially better position than mere geography does. Will the other four nations renege on their Law of the Sea commitments that restrict their rights of guaranteed resource access to at most 400 miles off coast?

I expect Russia will ignore it altogether. A rising Russia is dependent upon resource wealth. Russia discovered the Lomonosov ridge, an underwater 'mountain range' that cuts right through the North pole. The ridge is also claimed by Denmark and Canada. As a permanent security council member, there is nothing that can be done by the UN to stop Moscow from doing whatever it wants.

There was the opening of the Suez canal in 1869 and the Panama canal in 1914. Will a more expansive 'Arctic canal' be next? Canada seems to think so:
On a trip to the far north, the prime minister, Stephen Harper, said: "Canada's new government understands that the first principle of Arctic sovereignty is: use it or lose it. Today's announcements tell the world that Canada has a real, growing, long-term presence in the Arctic."

An army training centre for 100 troops is to be built in Resolute Bay, and a deep-water port will be built on Baffin Island, to bolster Canada's claim to ownership.
Baffin Island lies in the middle of the Northwest Passage. Additionally, Canada plans to have six to eight navy patrol ships cruising the length of the passage to ensure Canadian control of it.

After the question of causation is addressed, the next move is not necessarily to take steps to reduce the source of that causation. Instead, thought needs to be given to the resultant pros and cons of warming.

The Arctic sovereignty rush is a rather important illustration, among others, of how developed, affluent nations stand to gain from climatic warming. More land opens up for areas that are sparsely populated. Russia east of the Ural mountains has a population of around 8 million people in a land area that is much larger than the United States. Greenland is three times the size of Texas, yet its population totals less than half of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Greater access to natural resources, from fish to oil, from timber to diamonds, results.

Globally, as latitude increases so does IQ. That relationship holds within the US as well. As land becomes more hospitable to human settlement and economic activity in the world's colder regions (Alaska and northern Canada, Greenland, Russia, Scandanavia, etc), living in them becomes more tenable. Residential real estate that doesn't sit directly atop some valuable natural resource will be cheap for long into the future, due to low population density. These places will become more conducive to raising families, the result being a mildly eugenic consequence of warming.

The objection that warming threatens non-human life is incomplete. It is actually an objection that some species will see their prospects decline. But one creature's loss is another's gain:
Gordon Van Tieghem is the mayor of Yellowknife in northern Canada near the Arctic Circle.

He's also a hunter. And as the weather grows warmer, he's noticing more animals drifting up from the south.

"In our area, we've seen cougars, we have crows. It's just in the last 10 years that crows (appeared) — the last 15 years that we've had magpie, white-tailed deer. It's all indicative that something's changing," Van Tieghem says.
In the Pleistocene, humans and their fair-weather friends were pushed south as the polar bear expanded its range enormously. Recent warming, concentrated in the world's colder regions, has shifted the advantage back to life that, no surprise, flourishes with warmth.

Generally, the more specialized a species, the more delicate it is as well. The snail kite might be in trouble, but not the turkey vulture. Like human cultures, however, the number of species, rather than the growth of certain species, is the metric used to measure environmental success. Consequently, climate change and human activity are invariably seen as threats to all wildlife.

The loss of a species is easily observed and lamented. The creation of a new one out of the abundance of an existing one, however, is more obscure. So the reduction in the polar bear range is focused on, while the potential of American black bear speciation, as its range continues to expand, is not considered.


Anonymous said...

Much of this commentary assumes that warming will continue. That is not certain.

John said...

That sounds like an original theory, though, eugenic effects from global warming.

Audacious Epigone said...


Right. I'm thinking about how the Arctic sea-grab might play out if it continues to become more accessible. Secondly, I like to take every opportunity that presents itself to point out that even if anthropogenic warming is occuring, it is premature to call it "catastrophic" or even unwanted, as there seems to be a winner for every loser, and the winners appear to be places farthest from the equator (the developed world).


Latitude and IQ are significantly related, so as increasing latitudes become more hospitable to human settlement (and perhaps the steamiest places become less so), it seems plausible.

dave in boca said...

From my Amoco years, and subsequent BP connection, I know that developing the ANWR where BP has the lion's share of grubstakes would leave an environmental footprint of less than five sq. mi. But the poisonous Luddite stance of lefties and Repub cowards keeps Prudhoe from being fully exploited, a true national security avoidable catastrophe.

As exploration and extraction techniques become ever more sophisticated, big oil will be able to exploit the Arctic Ocean with deepwater rigs, but a fortiori the North Slope Prudhoe would then become even more exploitable, were we living in a rational political environment.

The Luddites are using Cargo Cult Science to push AGW, while Russia sensibly is attempting to gain a stranglehold on world oil & gas supplies. While America sleeps.