Friday, May 03, 2013

The White House Ponders an Ice-Free Arctic Ocean

The domestic and international security implications of an ice free Arctic ocean will be briefed at the White House this week.

The meeting is bringing together Nasa's acting chief scientist, Gale Allen, the director of the US National Science Foundation, Cora Marett, as well as representatives from the US Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon.  

Senior scientists advising the US government at the meeting include 10 Arctic specialists, including marine scientist Prof Carlos Duarte, director of the Oceans Institute at the University of Western Australia.

In early April, Duarte warned that the Arctic summer sea ice was melting at a rate faster than predicted by conventional climate models, and could be ice free as early as 2015 - rather than toward the end of the century, as the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projected in 2007. He said:
"The Arctic situation is snowballing: dangerous changes in the Arctic derived from accumulated anthropogenic green house gases lead to more activities conducive to further greenhouse gas emissions. This situation has the momentum of a runaway train."
It is finally sinking in that the warming Arctic is creating a new atmospheric reality for the northern hemisphere.   The polar jet stream now loops far to the south in slow moving Rossby waves that can bring sustained weather extremes - floods and droughts - to North America, Asia and Europe with crippling impacts on global food production.

US national security officials have taken an increasing interest in the destabilising impact of climate change. In February this year, the US Department of Defense (DoD) released its new Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, which noted that global warming will have:
"... significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to greater competition for more limited and critical life-sustaining resources like food and water."
And all Alberta and Ottawa can think about is how to move millions of barrels of dilbit a day to Asian markets, no matter the perils to B.C. and the environmental havoc of burning high-carbon fossil fuels.   They can't bother with the Arctic.   That would only contradict their energy superpowerdom narrative.


Anonymous said...

Do you think for one minute there aren't Albetans who think there aren't perilsd to Alberta and the rest of the country regarding the tar sands? If the thought is only B.C. will experience perils to it, it is a very arrogant thought to have.

The Mound of Sound said...

No I don't think that "for one minute." That said, Alberta's Conservatives and, to an even greater extent, the opposition Wild Rose bunch, are fierce proponents of what would devastate my province. And the bitumen perils to British Columbia, especially to our wilderness and coast, for the sake of Alberta's false economy do eclipse any peril faced in Alberta.

Matthew Day said...

I was astounded at the short-sightedness of the Bush administrations opposition to Canada's claims to sovereignty over the Northwest Passage. I have never seen any public discussion about the security implications of an international passage vis a vis unfettered acces to the North Atlantic for Asian naval powers. It may not seem like a big deal, but in just a few more years, Chinese nuclear missile boats, and naval forces from India, Japan, China, and any other future aspiring Pacific Naval powers will be able to project power into the North Atlantic without hindrance. We are literally a decade away from a new arms race in the Atlantic. Canadian sovereignty over the passage would have allowed Canada to bar use of the passage to warships. I mean seriously, do the Americans truly believe that it is riskier for them to allow Chinese missile subs off the New York coast, than it is to leave control in Canadian hands? What about Iranian submarines and surface vessels off New York, and Miami? Dumb, dumb, dumb. Oil interests and transit fees trumping a vital security interest like that. Climate change IS REAL, and denying it has made us a whole lot less secure.

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi Matthew. China already is operating the world's largest, non-nuclear ice breaker and contends it has an interest in the Arctic Ocean. A leading Chinese academic wrote, "Whoever has control over the Arctic route will control the new passage of world economics and international strategies."

The Northwest Passage poses interesting questions about the right of free (transit) passage that China seems determined to test.

China likewise has been open in asserting that it has interests - commercial, resource and military - in the Arctic region.