The Arctic Ocean is expected to become seasonally ice-free by 2040 or earlier. Is this unusual? A comprehensive new study says it’s definitely unusual and that the cause isn’t linked to natural variations in the Earth’s climate. “The current reduction in Arctic ice cover started in the late 19th century, consistent with the rapidly warming climate, and became very pronounced over the last three decades,” according to the five-country study and its 14 co-authors, including two from Canada. “This ice loss appears to be unmatched over at least the last few thousand years and unexplainable by any of the known natural variabilities.”
But it is explainable by unnatural variabilities: the burning of fossil fuels. For further analysis, check here at Climate Progress.
Most people might find this troubling — I hope — but those more ignorant of the impacts seem determined to celebrate it, particularly here in Canada. A prime example is a recent column by the Toronto Sun’s Lorrie Goldstein, who cites work from a UCLA professor that suggests Canada has much to gain from a warmer climate and an ice-free Arctic. This is the basic attitude: screw the rest of the world — we’re okay. Let’s look at Goldstein’s professor Laurence C. Smith’s list of benefits one by one:
(NOTE: Goldstein contacted me and took issue that I took Smith’s conclusions as his own. He is right and I should have been more clear. Still, Goldstein doesn’t offer any critical analysis of Smith’s list, so one is left to assume Goldstein takes this list as good news for Canada. I made some changes here to reflect that these are Smith’s conclusions, and those conclusions alone aren’t necessarily what I’m targeting here. What I’m targeting is that Goldstein puts them forward as a benefit to look forward to without discussing the much more troubling downside. My responses below attempt to represent that more troubling downside).
1) Global warming will free up previously inaccessible deposits of oil, gas, water and other natural resources at a time when they are becoming increasingly scarce everywhere else in the world.
Yes, that’s certainly true, but all that oil and gas got us into this pickle in the first place — though based on his past writings one could assume Goldstein doesn’t believe humanity is contributing to climate change. The faulty logic here just amazes me. Why are we so determined to squeeze every last drop of fossil fuel out of the Earth, at the same time risking BP-style disasters, but refuse to seize the same opportunities around renewables? The argument that we won’t be able to switch off fossil fuels overnight is a valid one, but you don’t help things by continuing to find more expensive and hard-to-get crack to feed the addict.
2) Canada’s oil resources will be second only to Saudi Arabia’s and economically invaluable, since wind, solar and hydrogen technologies still won’t be able to meet the world’s energy needs.
Okay, this has got to be one of the most ludicrous comments I’ve ever heard. For one, the ice in the Arctic isn’t gone yet. We may have to wait another decade or two before the Arctic bonanza can begin. It strikes me as a lot presumptious to say that Goldstein, apparently being the smartest man on the planet, can say wind, solar and hydrogen technologies won’t be able to meet the world’s energy needs. For one, how the hell does he ddo we know what the state of energy technology will be like in 2030 or 2040? Second, solar, wind, and hydrogen aren’t the only alternatives. There are dozens of options out there and all play a role that, together, can have a tremendous impact on fossil fuel demand and eliminate the need to destroy the Arctic so we can continue fuelling our oversized, single-passengered SUVs. We’ll never absolutely eliminate demand for fossil fuels, but by making a decent dent in demand we can make it unnecessary (and too expensive) to take risks in the Arctic.
3) Canada’s population will increase by more than 30%, a growth rate rivalling India’s.
And this is a good thing? Holy crap, Lorrie, what are you talking about why is this a good thing? Population growth is one of the biggest problems we have in this world. I mean, what good is all that oil if people are dying because they don’t have water to drink and there’s not enough food in the world to feed them, or the pollution in the air is so thick that we’re too sick to enjoy this terrific standard of living that oil brings us. High population growth is not a good thing; it’s a major part of the problem.
4) Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver will significantly increase in size and global prominence.
Who cares? Is this some kind of high school peer-pressure thing? My city’s better than your city? Besides, you can rise in global prominence without increasinging significantly in size. Toronto can’t keep its current infrastructure in order. Congestion alone is crippling the city. The last thing we need is to get bigger. And I fail to see how an ice-free Arctic makes Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa or Vancouver more important globally…
5) Canada’s crop production will likely increase, one of the few places on Earth where this will occur.
First, assuming it could increase, many more places in the rest of the world will see a decrease. Is this a good thing? Is this a reason to cheerlead about climate change and its impact on the Arctic? Second, crop production in Canada could go in the opposite direction if forest fires and extreme flooding become more common (see Russia; see Pakistan). Then there’s new insects that will come to our warmer climate, as well as new disease that could devastate both our new and old crops. You’ve see the impact of the pine beetles on northern forests, right Lorrie? Do you think this kind of thing can’t happen to food crops? Wake up!
6) The “northern rim countries” (NORCS), including Canada, will constitute the world’s fourth-largest economy, with highly-coveted reserves of fresh water, which can be sold or transported to other regions.
So now I’m getting a clearer picture of what you’re talking about. You see Canada as the gatekeeper of all that keeps other nations alive. We’ll get rich from this, right? Unfortunately, there’s nothing stopping anyone from just taking it, particularly the United States. Are we going to become the bad guys like in the movie Road Warrior, where we, with the backing of our U.S. pimp, lock up all the resources and charge a fortune to a desperate world of have-nots? Is this the Canada you want? Is this the Canada you think Canadians want? If so, your values are in the toilet.
7) The opening of new shipping lanes in the Arctic during the summer will make the 500-year-old dream of a direct trade route between the Far East and the Atlantic a reality.
Great… I can see we’ve been suffering these past 500 years by not having this link. Woo-hoo… crack out the champagne. It certainly makes the decline of human civilization worth it.
8) Canada’s northern aboriginal communities will benefit economically.
Maybe, but at what cost to their health, environment and deep-rooted values? Hey white man, have you asked these communities what they think?
Goldstein cites the UCLA professor saying “(T)he stresses that will be very apparent in other parts of the world by 2050 — like coastal inundation, water scarcity, heat waves and violent cities — will be easing or unapparent in northern places.” Again, by writing this is Goldstein agreeing that it’s a good thing that Canada benefits while others suffer? And that we should continue dumping CO2 into the atmosphere so we can make matters worse for the rest of the world, to our own limited benefit? That’s what he seems to be saying.
Goldstein ends with this comment: “If the Arctic is going to become much more economically valuable due to climate change, and if that will lead to massive immigration, we had better be able to enforce our sovereignty over it and get our immigration and refugee systems under control.”
I think he underestimates the magnitude of the immigration problem. Canada under the scenario he paints will become one of the few floating lifeboats near a sinking Titantic. Many parts of the world will see extreme suffering. British scientist James Locklock forecasts as much as 80 per cent of the world’s population is doomed by the end of the century, and you can bet to avoid this fate that millions of them will be trying to climb onto the Canadian lifeboat. This will overwhelm the lifeboat and put the rest of the people in it at considerable risk. This isn’t just about getting our refugee and immigration systems under control. This is about a healthcare and social systems being overwhelmed by desperate people that, ultimately, we’ll have to turn away by force.
But what’s the point, eh? Why debate? Goldstein doesn’t get it, nor does he want to get it. He will continue to spew give a platform for this crap and no reason will convince him otherwise. His approach is one of self-interest where the values that matter most are economic and financial in nature. It’s us versus them in his mind, and it’s okay if our actions continue to screw “them” even if, over the long run, it ends up screwing “us” as well.