Arctic on the Rocks

I’ve got some good news for you, and some bad news.

It has to do with global warming, and since this is my weblog, I get to decide that I’m going to give you the bad news first. You probably didn’t hear about this – I know that I didn’t – but this past week has seen the World Climate Conference – 3 take place in Geneva, Switzerland. Journalist Richard Heuzé of the French conservative newspaper Le Figaro provides coverage and, as you can well imagine, the outlook is not good. It’s so “not good” that the conference participants had a wide array of things to choose from for panicking about.

On this particular occasion they happened to concentrate their foreboding on the state of the Arctic. Put simply, it’s much too warm there already. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon spoke to the conference just after actually conducting – as Heuzé puts it – his own “inspection tour of the North Pole,” and his tidings were dire. “The Arctic is warming up faster than the rest of the Earth. There could be no more ice there in 2030.” One rather daunting result of that could be the unleashing of a positive-feedback effect that would cause the global warming process to accelerate, whereby the warming Arctic permafrost releases massive amounts of heretofore trapped methane gas into the atmosphere, which traps heat at the Earth’s surface even more effectively.

Meanwhile, the melting glaciers of Greenland threaten to divert the Gulf Stream, and thereby destroy Northwest Europe’s present relatively balmy climate (for its latitude), while the sheer amounts of water added to the world’s oceans by all the melting ice has the potential eventually to inundate many important coastal cities (Karachi, Calcutta, Shanghai, Tokyo – yes, Amsterdam too). Rising temperatures will then threaten to annihilate up to a third of the world’s animal species, and . . .

What’s that? You say you’re ready for the good news now? Fine: if the Arctic is losing its ice, at least that opens up new shipping routes. The Northwest Passage from the Atlantic Ocean, through the Western Hemisphere, and on to Asia, for example, was the Holy Grail sought by explorers for centuries, even though it never did really exist. What with the current accelerated retreat of Arctic ice-packs, it may soon be feasible after all (although it seems that shippers will still have to deal with the Canadian authorities to be able to use it).

But that is just a future possibility, and the good news I want to bring you now is rather of a present reality, made possible by global warming’s effect upon the Arctic, and reported on by Mia Salling in the Danish business newspaper Børsen (Danish ships take a short-cut to Asia): the Northeast Passage to Asia that goes up along Norway and then along the entire Northern coast of Russia. That route has now opened up to actual non-Russian-military shipping; two ships registered to the German company Beluga Shipping GmbH have already traveled along it, and the Danish Torm shipping line plans to send some of its ships that way next year. True, the passage is still summer-only, and ships need to be specially reinforced against ice – but who knows? Global warming will probably continue to make things along that route easier and easier, so that even those things may no longer be necessary before long.

One thing’s for sure: that Northeast Passage route can save thousands of miles for ships headed from Europe to Asian markets. It helps out in another way, too, as Beluga director Niels Stolberg points out: “By using the Northeast Passage we can realize an enormous reduction in our fuel consumption and thereby spare the Earth from the corresponding CO2-discharge as well as other harmful emissions.” Emanating from their two ships, that is, or whatever. For what that’s worth.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Comments are closed.