Friday 7 December 2012

Shall We Wait for the Arctic to Melt Away? - Thoughts on Brew

In July this year, NASA released images of Greenland that showed rapid melting of ice within a short duration of four days. In the image below, you can see a swift expansion of the area of melting ice, from about 40% of the ice sheet surface to 97%. This is an unprecedented event in the history of Arctic region and is believed to be caused by the anthropogenic emissions due to human activity. Though this sounds alarm-bells for the environment-conscious community, but some nations are actually looking at it as a golden opportunity to gain access to the  rich natural resources of Greenland, and subsequently, the entire Arctic region. On the global platform, these countries may seem to be putting their so-called 'best efforts' to thrash out an all-binding climate deal but these would not yield results - if at all - in future, if their current actions are not questioned and put to test.
Thoughts on Brew

"Shall we wait for the Arctic to Melt Away?"

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From what science tells us,  melting of glaciers in the Arctic region would further intensify the global warming phenomena.

The explanation is pretty easy to understand. The vast shining ice sheets reflect a large proportion of solar radiation that falls on it. This prevents excessive heating at the North Pole and helps in balancing global temperatures. However, as ice melts, there would be lesser reflective surface available for reflection of sun's rays. More absorption would quicken the pace of melting. The oceans would absorb much of this radiation that would raise their temperatures. The cascading impact would be felt through higher temperatures and rising sea levels that can wreak havoc to coastal lands. An estimate shows that if such a scenario prevails, one fifth of Bangladesh would be under water by 2100 and nearly 30% of species would go extinct.

The Arctic is already witnessing severe impacts of climate change. The Arctic region is home to many rare species - polar bear, arctic fox and wolf, seal, walrus, scores of aquatic species and many recently discovered and still unknown micro-organisms that are playing their role in maintaining the delicate ecological balance.

These species  would loose their habitat and would have to travel longer distances to migrate to uncharted territories where exposure to harsh conditions would be a threat to their survival. This may sound alarming to most of us who are concerned about environment, but for some, its a welcome event. Who are they?

Well, these are the governments of U.S., Russia, Canada and European countries like Denmark, Finland, U.K., Norway & Sweden, who have stakes in Greenland and are eagerly waiting for ice to melt away so that they can extract oil and other minerals.

Territorial disputes and claims are already simmering among these nations and they are not restricted to Greenland alone. These nations may not mind deploying aggressive strategies to stake their claim over other parts of Arctic as well that have large reserves of oil. Build-up of military forces is already happening in and around the Arctic region.

Areas showing licenses accorded
The melting ice in this once-uninhabitable region is the only barrier that is preventing big companies from swooping in for an "oil-rush". EU has already set plans to exploit Greenland for minerals. Greenland is thought to contain vast mineral wealth, including rare earth metals, gemstones and iron ore. More than 120 sites are being explored and licenses have been accorded. Some companies like Statoil (Norway), Rosneft and Gazprom (Russia) have already begun activities to tap the rich oil and gas reserves. Last year, in November, Cairn led a failed attempt to tap oil off Greenland. Other companies like Exxon Mobil Corp, Chevron Corp, Royal Dutch Shell Plc already have licenses for exploration.

According to sources, oil from Arctic region is needed to meet the ever increasing demand for oil in many countries that would help in meeting their developmental goals. They argue that this would help in sustaining their oil-driven economic progress and help people live comfortably. When oil gets scarcer, our living expenses would rise - while this issue is important, the negative environmental implications of exploiting the Arctic region cannot be wished away.

So what do you think? 

"Shall we wait for the Arctic to Melt Away?"

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