March 17, 2010
It’s easy to dismiss global warming. Florida is not under water. Record breaking snow storms howl down the US East Coast. Africans have not invaded Europe in search of agriland. Hurricanes aren’t the super disasters forecast. Parisians freeze to death. Pictures from Copenhagen show top politicians from Obama to Reinfeldt in climatic defeat. Data suggests temperatures have plateaued. IPCC reels from scandals. Himalayan glaciers will not disappear by 2035 as stated. Emails suggest scientists fake data to scare the innocent public and law makers into exorbitant spending.
The Troubles Of An Activist
It’s harder than ever to be a global warming activist, patron, believer or scientist. One has to endure sneers, shaking heads, raised eye brows from the ever present deniers. U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) boosts a premature “I told you so” into your weary ear. Thus Inhofe keeps Bush’s flame alive in the tradition of the 2003 declaration of victory in Iraq (“Mission Accomplished”). No longer is one is likely to be the life of the party, pouring out statistics on Antarctica’s ice cores. IPCC pay is nonexistent and the perks are stale. Neither Leno nor Letterman is calling you. Pushing this most boring subject won’t improve one’s sex life, driving one’s depression into uncharted waters.
This is far from the glory days of 2006 and 2007. Then global warming was almost hip. Now, though, one’s neighbors, spouses, bosses and therapists no longer believe one’s mission to save mankind is critical, sexy or hip. It is possibly slightly amusing in a patronizing way.
Comrade demonstrators pack their bags, heading for new horizons and fresher barricades. Nervous scientists switch seats. Lacking the people’s pressure, politicians do nothing to the joy of lobbyists. Perhaps you thought a Democratic President plus a predominately Democratic Congress would live up to the rhetoric splattered along the campaign track? Think again. Credibility and urgency vanishes and ignorance rules.
What happened?, the oh-so-out-of-date activist wonders.
Another Forced Fed Lecture
Are you old enough to have experienced the 1960s and early 1970s? Did you attend or embrace any of the following: Berkeley, Kent State, Chicago Democratic Convention, counterculture, social revolution, anti war, bra burning, Woodstock, LSD, Janis Joplin, Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, May 1968 French upraising, the Prague Spring and “I have a dream”. MLK was not the only one with a dream. Wilderness Rights, Voting Rights, Civil Rights all came to or matured. The Sixties spelled energy, experiment, emotion and exorbitance. Real change actually happened.
Then, being an activist almost surely improved one’s sex life. In fact, people actually had sex lives after the constricted Fifties. The pill shook the World. The party scene didn’t care about conversation paralysis. Many were too stoned to know where their mouth was. No need to be the life of the party. No longer was it necessary to know which fork went with the soufflé or how to dab one’s lips after taking the caviar. Instead, decibels, drugs, dripping sweat and drum beats filled the communication channel of the cults.
Dreams Die Too
It did not last. The spirit burnt out. Hair was cut, suits were bought. Microsoft stock taught us how riches beyond imagination were available without any effort whatsoever. Class action lawsuits blossomed to save us all from credit card fees, gas additives, video games, bad language, marijuana and prescription contraceptives. Welfare mothers bloomed. Welfare kids did not. Housing booms, one after another, financed glorious retirements in Florida, Arizona and Santa Fe. Hand me the riches without effort, sweat, payment or skill. How cool is that?
The spirit of the Sixties became just a mirage. Gains were lost. Idealism was stomped on, laughed at and out it went with the bath water. Revolutionaries grew fat, rich and now worshipped Reagan, the Bakkers and Fondue. Purpose was replaced by Surf and Turf, All-you-can-eat smorgasbords and Infinite Salad Bars. Bras were no longer burning. Damn the poor, mentally ill and homeless. Hail Wall Street, Silicon Valley, Exxon and Eight-Tracks. Polyester was the coolest thing after Afro hair, Barbie and ABBA. The Commies mellowed. America became the Number One terrorist organization.
We all have issues to deal with beyond global warming. Finessing money from the government is perhaps the top issue. Dumping clunkers, getting subsidies for this or that, building bridges to nowhere and enabling GM to remain the last dinosaur standing is the tune of the day. Americans become millionaires at a record pace. The Japanese kill whales. The Canadians kill baby seals. Africans kill Africans. Thy neighbor steals from you just as you steal from your neighbor.
Grim, isn’t it?
Why bring up ancient history? It’s because not only do dreams but so do causes that sometimes are very significant. The war to end all wars – the First World War of 1914 to 1918 – led to several far reaching developments as peace was restored. Democratic governments spread, even in Germany. The League of Nations was formed. Civil rights made some inroads. But in just a few years, any gain was demolished, directly leading to World War II that killed 75 million people. To say that idealism disappeared is an understatement. The result was devastating.
In the Sixties, there was idealism. Today, idealism is not among the top characterizations of our life style. That’s why we run into Internet crazies, housing bubbles and financial disasters. It is the reason we can’t deal with global warming, health care or poverty. We let Bush and Cheney rape most human rights for eight years with close to zero protest. Most think polar bears and whales are cute but let the killing go on.
Hope Is Not For Sissies
Then, once in a while, a reminder pops up to suggest realities are, after all, more significant than ignorance. Occasionally, we catch a glimpse what could be if we simply let it. Credibility of a lost cause can be restored if the effort is spent. A spot of hope lights up, suggesting truth can prevail over laziness. These little signs surface when we least expect them. Antennas need to be perfectly tuned to pick out the good from the trash.
I am referring to an article about ice breaker maintenance, not exactly on the front page. The story covers a press conference about USCG Polar Star’s refit to upgrade crew quarters and dump an ancient computer at a cost of $62 million over 2 1/2 years. The Todd Pacific Shipyards in Seattle, WA, will employ 250 workers on the project.
Both Seattle newspapers carried this rather mundane story. Some of you wonder why a basically ice free United States of America needs heavy duty ice breakers that cost $750 million each. That’s another debate, not due here or now. Suffice to say the US possesses only three of these babies dwarfed by, say, Russia’s seven nuclear super breakers.
It Ain’t Charity
The melting Arctic exposes enormous deposits of energy, minerals and ore as virgin land is freed from ice. Vital interests, strategic values and suddenly discovered traditional heritages must be defended vigorously. Grab what grab you can. Santa, drop dead. Buy a Manhattan condo.
The ice breakers of today and the future do not just break ice but practice gun boat diplomacy. Gun boats intimidate opposing parties with its mere presence in some disputed area without using weapons per se.
The US famously practiced gun boat diplomacy in the Taiwan Strait at several occasions in the Fifties, protecting Taiwan from invasion by China. Of course, the overwhelming might of today’s US Navy acts as an everyday form of global gun boat diplomacy. But aircraft carrier groups are useless in the far North, hence the need for the ice breakers.
On My Command, Turn Left
Somewhere the focus of the Coast Guard press conference changed. The subject of global warming popped up, not really to the pleasure of the Coast Guard brass. But ice breakers go where the ice is. Ice is easily found in the Arctic and the Antarctica. Given the mission, these guys carry a great deal of on-location, unique credibility about the far North and South conditions.
Ice breaker crews enjoy spending some eight months out of the year in ice. These guys generally carry a reputation of sobriety, reasonably clear minds and a relative lack of political ambition. They have seen, broken and smelt more salt water and ice than other men or women on Earth. They are not scientists eager for grant money. They don’t act in reality shows or receive Nobel Peace Prizes. They are sailors who break ice and cruise the seas. That’s it.
Finally, A Point Of Sorts
Back to the press conference and the actual point, you plead. Impatience rears its head. Suspicion blinks its pink hateful eyes. Here goes. Thad Allen, Commandant of the Coast Guard, declared himself agnostic on the subject of climate change. Not surprising since military leaders are required to be agnostic on almost any subject. Those turning non-agnostic soon take up golf and discover they have kids, one or more wife and assorted dogs. Suddenly the dreams of another eight months in polar resorts are gone. Take the General Supreme of all WWII Generals, Douglas MacArthur who was summarily fired by Harry Truman because the General was not sufficiently agnostic on the subject of nuking Commie China.
This particular admiral, Thad Allen, may not have spent much of his 38 year career surrounded by breaking ice in favor of a more normal sailor life. But he is, as an example, one of the few officials emerging from the Katrina disaster with an elevated reputation. That, certainly, is quite an achievement.
The admiral continued to state:
- “Over the past 3 ½ years more ice-diminished every year in the summer. And that’s changing how the Coast Guard looks at the region. For a long time, all we did in the Arctic was science,” he said.
- But now with more open water, there is increased viability for eco tourism and shipping. Further, “the fact that 22 percent of the world’s oil and gas reserves are in the arctic region — this has become an area of extreme focus.”
- Asked if the Coast Guard is operating on the premise that climate change is a certainty, Allen said, “Well, you know I’m not a scientist, I’m a sailor. And the most PC way for me to say this is I’m agnostic to the science. There’s water where there didn’t use to be and I’m responsible for it.
- “Certain things are undeniable. The Arctic ice cap is shrinking. The parameters of our oceans are changing. Temperature is changing. Salinity is changing. We have carbon dioxide that’s entering the water column right now making carbonic acid that has a significant impact on shellfish and the food chain. These are all undeniable.”
There you have it. One single key word: “Undeniable”. Spoken by, according to eye witnesses, a sober, clear minded and sincere admiral with far more real life blue water credentials than scientists in their labs, amateur skeptics in their parka lounges, brain-dead senators from Oklahoma and an ex-president finally able to let someone else deep-six this climate change thing.
Two Alaskan Republicans
It may be that some of the admiral’s comments were inspired by the opinions of U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who also has some firsthand knowledge of the North. A moderate Republican, she was a major sponsor of the Polar Star refit. She wants to build an Arctic deep water port to serve the military, the offshore oil and gas industry, general shipping and tourism. Exploitation, here we come. Stand aside, please. We got holes to drill.
There is nothing moderate about Sarah Palin. This most Northern of all global warming deniers manages to stand to the right of even Dubya. “We need to drill, drill, drill,” she told the Wall Street Journal. Ecology be damned. This gal’s wildlife policy centers on the right to shoot wolves from the air. In fact, shooting anything is cool with her. Polar bears, drop dead. Caribou, get lost. Her attachment to the Arctic is spelled Arctic Cats, a brand of snow machines that she promotes no doubt out of charity. How does she spell the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? “Drill, drill, drill”. Did I mention the slyest of ignorance?
Hails To The Chief
The Coast Guard admiral knows well that his “Undeniable” statement will not create a better world any time soon. If we are lucky, eventually someone will show up with the will, the answers and the power to tackle the quagmire swamp labeled global warming. That someone will yell “Which part of “Undeniable” don’t you get?”
After all, some manipulate the “Undeniables” to look like “Deniables” and vice versa. Either way, to cynics it is just the means to suit one’s goals. As any skeptic knows, denying the undeniable is a game that can be played as long as it pleases you. Ask Dubya and other sellers of snake oil.
Undeniable Means Undeniable. Get Used To It.
Wait, There Is More!
If the concerns about ecology are the good news, there is also bad news. Global warming is not the only threat tilting the scale. The Arctic may the next Ultimate Border to be as exploited as, once about a time, the US West. More recently, Alaska is the Far Border undergoing massive exploitation.
Consider, say, Love Canal just by the Niagara Falls with polluting roots going all the way back to 1890. It took 26 years of FEMA Super Funds to clean up some of that mess. If Exxon Valdez had done its thing in any of the Northern Passages, that oil would have circled Earth, bourn by prevailing currents that do not exist in the relatively protected Prince William’s Sound. Twenty years after the disaster, 26,000 gallons of oil remain on and inside the close-by shorelines.
Thad Allen’s first point concerned global warming. Ice is disappearing, salination is changing and species are dying or migrating. As tundra thaws and ice melts, billions of tons of methane and other gasses are released. Inuit villages sink in mud. Roads disappear. Scientists can’t decide if this is the end of the world or not. Ask the inhabitants of Banks Island in Canada’s High Arctic what they think.
Steer North, My Lad
Allen’s second point is not to be missed. He mentioned 22% of Earth’s oil and gas reserves are located in the Arctic. That is quite an understatement. Both the Northeast and Northwest Passages above Russia and Canada, mostly, are becoming navigated. Historically, both passages were almost completely closed year around. Many a brave explorer saw his ship caught in an iron grip of ice that slowly crushed the vessel, leaving the men to a cold and deadly ice level existence.
Currently, both passages are open part of the year as the sea ice retreats. Neither passage is easily tackled even today. Ships need reinforced bows to avoid the fate of the explorers whose trails they follow. There is no doubt, though, that there will be commercial shipping in the far North passages.
The impact of the Northern passages opening up is almost beyond comprehension. The first major impact concerns shipping. Some of the shipping through the Panama and Suez canals would move to the passages with possibly major savings in fuel. As shipping routes change, the political issues explode. With the passages frozen over, political concerns were minor. That will not be the case in the future. Allen addressed this when he said the North not would but IS an “area of extreme focus” and it is the real reason Polar Star gets a $62 million to take up station in the North.
The military value of the Arctic Ocean all the way to the North Pole is long established. It has long been the hide and seek confrontational grounds of US and Russian/Soviet nuclear subs. In the summer of 1958, the USS Nautilus reached the North Pole under the ice, entering from the Bering Sea and surfacing just north of Greenland. Nuclear subs have trafficked the area ever since.
Then there is the matter of huge values being exposed as frozen ground retreat. With the passages becoming navigated, it is feasible to reach these new resources and retrieve them. Oil and gas will be the first target. Fishery and wild life will follow. Eventually, there will be agriculture and forestry. Tourism will blossom according to breathless cruise directors.
Mining is possibly the greatest ecological threat as well as one of the most irresistible resources. There are known deposits of diamonds, gold, coal, nickel, lead, zinc and uranium. Some of these resources are already exploited, usually at a low level and with mixed results. But the vast areas suddenly exposed will change conditions dramatically. The full impact isn’t known but is likely to be huge.
Who owns the Northern riches? The Inuit? Fat chance. Denmark/Greenland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, the US and Canada are not giving any possible claim away. A traditional 200 mile limit leaves huge areas unclaimed. No one owns the North Pole although the Russians placed their flag at its bottom, 14,000 feet below the surface.
China recently entered the race. “China is slowly but steadily recognizing the commercial and strategic opportunities that will arise from an ice-free Arctic,” said SIPRI researcher Linda Jakobson of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, “China is at a disadvantage as it is not an Arctic state but is still keen to have the right to access natural resources.” Beijing has decided to build a high-tech icebreaker for polar expeditions to be operational near 2013.
The territorial claims are not well established since till recently they were mostly worthless. Suddenly awakened governments now compete to extend the claims. The matter is negotiated in several multinational bodies, notably the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Arctic Ocean Conference. Meanwhile, the Exxons and Statoils of the world will rape what they can without thought to the consequences or obscure national claims.
Just Don’t Drink The Water
Unfortunately, these areas, so likely to be exploited to the limits, are extremely vulnerable ecologically, being stripped of protection. An industrial attack is sure to cause catastrophe not only locally but in your neighborhood. Currents will carry the disaster from the Atlantic to the Pacific and then back to the Atlantic, picking up poisonous strength by the mile.
The Arctic Ocean controls the climate in most of the Northern Hemisphere. Upsetting that utterly complex balance is not a good thing. At the present, much of the Arctic is pristine but highly toxic pockets are spreading. The Russians, for instance, dump their nuclear waste in Arctic waters.
The Arctic haze at high altitude is the main reason Arctic temperatures are on the rise. The heat trapping haze is made up of pollutants originating in CO2 producing sources thousands of miles away. Humans and animals suffer from PCB accumulations.
One Day After Allen
The obscure Polar Star announcement by Thad Allen didn’t go as unnoticed as its modesty suggests. The next day, Canadians raised an eye brow or two. William Rompkey, a Liberal senator, said the U.S. government’s $62 million plan to reactivate the 34-year-old, 130-metre Polar Star shows the emerging urgency in the Northwest Passage.
Canada need more ships in the region quickly, or faces “chaos” in the Northwest Passage. “If we’re saying this is our territory, we’ve got to be there,” Rompkey said. “Or we’ve got to stop saying it’s our territory.”
The Canadian government announced plans in 2008 for a new, $720-million polar-class icebreaker. But a contract for such a vessel has not been signed. At best, this polar class ice breaker will be operational by 2017. Canada does not have the equivalent of the Polar Star. Both the US and Canada have far less capabilities than Russia or even Finland.
Here is a curious fact. Both Seattle web papers (The Times and the PI) carried at least three different versions of this not very remarkable article, published within hours. The later versions consistently downplayed the admiral’s statements on climate change. You tell me? Is this a coincident or not? In the bad old days, one would need to check for Cheney’s presence. Or is Palin lurking behind that corner over there?
Meanwhile, stay cool.