2011-05-16 Cables Push Greenpeace to Urge Arctic Council to Place Moratorium on Industrial Exploitation

ImageBBC’s report on US State Embassy cables from WikiLeaks detailing the “hidden agenda” of northern Arctic states has led Greenpeace to call “on the Arctic Council to place an immediate moratorium on industrial exploitation within the area that has historically been covered by sea ice.”

Truls Gulowsen, Arctic campaign leader for Greenpeace Nordic, writes, “What the Arctic needs in this time of extreme external pressure is a protection against additional threats from dangerous shipping, oil exploitation, bottom-trawling, over-fishing and other destructive industrial practices.” Gulowsen also points out the “more immediate and more dangerous safety issue” is that moves into the “fragile Arctic to drill for oil” will create a threat of oil spills and likely impact the marine environment.

The Financial Times post on the cables highlights some of the noteworthy revelations in the cables:

  • In 2009, the US was told that the 2007 mission by the Russian explorer Chilingarov to place a Russian flag on the seabed beneath the North Pole was ordered by Putin’s party.
  • Russian Ambassador to Nato, Dmitry Rogozin, told a Russian TV station: “The 21st century will see a fight for resources, and Russia should not be defeated in this fight… Nato has sensed where the wind comes from. It comes from the North.”
  • A US diplomat introduced Greenland politicians to Wall Street financiers to “help the Greenlanders secure the investments needed for such an exploitation”.
  • Canada bristled at both Nato and Russian attempts to assert themselves in the Arctic, although also commented that there was no likelihood of war.
  • Russian military posturing in the Arctic encouraged the Norwegians to build up its arms. The Norwegian foreign minister joked that Russia was helping him refute those who questioned the country’s need for fighter aircraft.
  • Danish foreign minister Moeller told the Americans that if they stayed out, “The rest of us will have more to carve up in the Arctic.”
  • In 2008, the head of the Russian navy, Vladimir Vysotsky said, “While in the Arctic there is peace and stability, however, one cannot exclude that in the future there will be a redistribution of power, up to armed intervention.”
  • Russia was looking for “potential benefits from global warming”: the opening up of an ice-free shipping route from Europe to Asia and of the oil and gas hidden beneath the sea floor.
  • For many in the northern parts of the world, the revelations about an Arctic race for oil between northern powers may not be news. Still, the reality that global warming is making it much easier for countries to exploit the Arctic region is important. Also, the reality that peak oil is making the rush to claim resources even more critical is significant as well.

    There is clear evidence that winning this brewing resource war takes a much higher priority over working in cooperation with countries to halt and even reverse the impacts of climate change. A cable titled, “Shaping Greenland’s Future,” sent out November 7, 2007, declares:

    With the planet's fastest moving glaciers, Greenland is an iconic adventure destination for hardy Congressional delegations and down-encased journalists looking for visual proof of climate change. Its gleaming icebergs will be the backdrop for a May 2008 ministerial hosted by Denmark on Arctic issues (reftel B). But Greenland holds strategic value for the United States beyond its starring role in the global narrative of climate change. The world's largest island, this remote and sparsely-populated territory of Denmark is three times the size of Texas but home to just 56,000 inhabitants. A U.S. Air Force base at Thule, 500 miles north of the Arctic Circle, hosts important radar that alerts us to incoming missiles over the Pole. American investors are poised to commit $5 billion this year to develop hydropower and smelting facilities there. Exploration and development of Greenland's energy resources are just now beginning in earnest, with enormous potential for American industry.

    The cable goes on to cite a then-recent study of “hydrocarbon potential, led by the US Geological Survey, which concluded the continental shelf off northeast Greenland alone could harbor oil and gas reserves to rival Alaska’s North Slope.” It notes, “After a thousand-year interval of cooling, average temperatures in Greenland have in this century climbed to the level they were during the first Viking settlements of 986 AD. Whether because of man-made climate change or a massive cyclical shift in weather patterns, Greenland’s carbon riches are more easily accessible now than ever.” And, the cable makes clear the resource possibilities are “not limited to oil and gas.”

    This focus on expanding US capitalism into the Arctic Circle to better sustain American superpower suggests a potentially disastrous future for the environment. The possibility of disaster is only amplified by the convoluted notion that challenges the US faces are not limited to climate change. They include how best to expand business in the region.

    At the recently held annual meeting of the Arctic Council, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, along with Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, highlighted recent studies indicating the Arctic ice is melting far more rapidly than scientists expected. She also, according to the Washington Post suggested, “The challenges in the region are not just environmental…The melting of sea ice, for example, will result in more shipping, fishing and tourism, and the possibility to develop newly accessible oil and gas reserves. We seek to pursue these opportunities in a smart, sustainable way that preserves the Arctic environment and ecosystem.”

    Greenpeace is justified to doubt whether the US has a plan for working with northern powers to “pursue” “opportunities” in a “smart, sustainable way.” There is little indication that proper safety precautions would be taken to prevent disasters like the one BP created in the Gulf of Mexico.

    As previously mentioned, much of what is detailed is not news. If it's news to Americans, that is probably because journalists and media have focused on US wars, the Middle East and the struggle to control resources in that region never bothering to examine the Arctic race to claim resources.

    Der Spiegel, a media organization that has been a WikiLeaks partner, has covered the “Race for the Arctic” every few months for the past two years. What they reported on in the past two years does not conflict with the contents of the cables. For example, in September 2010, they reported the “decline in the amount of ice floating on the Arctic Ocean” was clearing the way for new shipping routes. They reported on Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s “environmental action plan” to cleanup the Arctic Circle while at the same time increasing the exploitation of resources.

    Der Spiegel did a story in March 2010 on how indigenous groups in the Arctic Circle were furious that diplomats were making decisions about the future of the region without them involved. Indigenous groups are noticeably left out of the conversation on expanding industrial production in the region and do not appear in the cables from the past two years on this issue at all.

    Interestingly, Der Spiegel suggested the US would “remain on the sidelines” and the “Arctic Game of Monopoly” would be mostly played by Greenland, Norway and Canada. The cables show this isn’t quite the case. If not overtly, the US has all along been covertly positioning itself to greatly benefit from what Greenland reaps from this 21st century cold war.

    Greenpeace published a report in the late 1990s calling attention to what was happening with oil and climate change. It detailed the opening of two Arctic oil frontiers Then, oil companies were working to find ways to use pipelines laid in permafrost beneath shifting pack ice off of areas like Alaska and the Russian Far East off Sakhalin Island in the Sea of Okhotsk.Oil companies were just beginning to go after "non-conventional sources" of oil such as the tar sands in Canada.

    Greenpeace asserted in the report that, as a signatory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the US would have a responsibility to be a leader in protecting the climate and making a shift toward clean energy solutions.

    The environmental organization noted then that the “real oil company agenda” was “where companies put their money” and could be used to judge commitments on climate change. Record spending indicated there was “little sign of change from business as usual.”

    Unfortunately, as the cables show, business as usual—global capitalism—is alive and well. While it may imperil the future of the planet, the northern powers in the Arctic Council have little concern for that. They are caught up in a cold war and are focused on achieving victory in these burgeoning oil frontiers.

    Watch Greenpeace UK occupy Cairn Energy's Arctic drilling rig.

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