Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming!

I find it a little sad that in the wake of global warming, one of the gravest environmental issues modern man has ever encountered, governments of the world instead of searching for solutions would rather profit from our continued addiction to oil. It seems hypocritical to give dire warnings on the environmental repercussions of both drilling for and burning oil while simultaneously bellowing at the top of the world “its mine!” over a reserve of oil, the very substance that chiefly brought about this global disaster in the first place.

History seems to be repeating itself to a degree amongst the northern governments encircling the arctic. It feels almost like the colonial attitude toward land claims has returned: One merely plants a flag in something no one has planted a flag in before, and it then belongs to you. According to this outdated line of reasoning, the moon is technically American soil. It’s the North American gold rush all over again – but this time black gold is up for grabs.

Instead of trying to monopolize on the ominous signs of global warming, I think governments should instead invest in the development of alternative, sustainable energy sources. One of the real incentives for researching these alternative fuels is the fact that oil reserves will not last forever. By tapping into this huge reserve, I fear that such projects would be put on the back burner. Awareness of this issue might be forgotten temporarily: smothered by a flood of cheap, available oil.

What scares me the most however is that Russia is a player in this game. Russia does not exactly have the best track record regarding the environment. Even more alarming is the creation and intended use of these nuclear power platforms. One need only look askance at the Bay of Kola near Murmanske to see first hand Russia’s past of mishandling nuclear waste. Within Kola, lies a fleet of decommissioned nuclear submarines. As these Soviet relics are eaten away by rust, they spew gouts of nuclear waste into the sea. Should a nuclear incident occur in the Arctic, this solution is clearly unacceptable. Further, considering that Russia is known to be an illiberal democracy, rampant with corruption, who is to say they will follow all international laws and standards? Even more disconcerting is the apparent risk for environmental catastrophe involved in deep sea drilling. Could Arctic waters suffer the same damaging effects of the Mexican Gulf? What if one of these nuclear power platforms, let alone one of the oil-rig platforms, suffers an explosion? Considering that an effort spanning the globe to clean up the Gulf of Mexico, which includes some of the world wealthiest and most technologically advanced countries, struggled to just stop the flow of oil. I shudder to think if the consequences of a nuclear incident. Personally, I am not confident the Russian government would take full responsibility if such an event occurred.

On a final note, I wonder if those planning to use these opening up Arctic shipping lanes have considered the possible impact on northern wildlife? The Arctic ecosystem is extremely fragile and is already suffering from the effects of global warming. The receding ice caused by global warming has already had a huge negative impact on Polar bear populations. Drowned polar bears have been found for the first time on record as the distance they must travel to hunt and migrate grows larger every day. Are they strong enough to withstand the additional stress of oil-rigs, nuclear power platforms and shipping traffic, or will they face extinction?

As one sees life on Earth struggling to cope with the environmental pressures relating to global warming, it begs the question:

Are we strong enough?

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