Mike Baillie
Mike Baillie

The Arctic: Why you should give a damn

The Arctic is melting.
The Arctic is thawing — reaching record lows this decade as Arctic temperatures are at their highest in the last 44 000 years. Climate change is heating our planet, and we could soon see ice-free summers at the North Pole.

In their latest climate report, scientists around the world are more emphatic than they’ve ever been. The link between fossil fuels, carbon emissions, and climate change is concrete: as clearly established as the link between smoking and cancer. In the world of science, this is about the most certain things get.

Yet as we face this report, as the Arctic drips away and new areas of seabed are revealed, oil companies like Shell (are you listening, Vida?) and Gazprom are rushing into the Arctic to drill for oil. They’re hoping to find more of the very stuff that’s heating our planet in the first place, in an environment where an oil spill would be impossible to clean up.

You can’t be more short-sighted or greedy than this.

Today — right now — fossil-fuel companies already have more reserves than what we can safely use. If they stopped exploring for new oil fields this minute, and used only what they’d already accounted for, we’d still far exceed our carbon budget.

And yet last year alone the top 200 fossil-fuel companies spent $674 billion dollars on exploring for new resources and reserves.

Just more than a month ago, 28 activists took peaceful action. They tried to climb a Gazprom oilrig that was heading to the Arctic. They were arrested and now could face up to seven years in jail. Their goal was to draw attention to the oil drilling, to the danger it poses to the Arctic environment, and to the global climate.

Talk about this in South Africa and you’ll be quickly told it’s not relevant here. It’s about ice caps and polar bears: we’re in Africa.

But for me the bottom line is that this is about climate change — and climate change is about Africa. Take any social issue we’re grappling with today — food security, poverty, women’s rights, land access, refugees, water, energy generation — they will all be exacerbated by climate change. It is a human-rights issue and it transcends our borders.

The melting Arctic is a symptom of a disease that has many pustules in Africa. And it’s a symptom that’s being exploited to line the pockets of oil companies like Shell — and yet they’ll be the last ones to live with the impacts. Rich countries and the leaders of mega corporations can afford to guard themselves from the effects of climate change. They’ll firm up their borders and build taller walls: We’re the ones who’ll be left dealing with a problem we aren’t entirely responsible for. Privatise the profits, socialise the costs, leave the bill for those least able to pay.

The story of climate change is an African story. But in this case, while our leaders are scrambling for sushi and champagne, and while climate change falls off the bottom of our priority list, the story has some new heroes, outside of Africa. The 28 activists who climbed that rig are not African — but the reason they did it, and what they stand for, couldn’t be more so.

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  • 24 Responses to “The Arctic: Why you should give a damn”

    1. Policat #

      The quest for wealth and financial leverage to attain more wealth and power has scant regard for climatic consequences and its environmental impacts on nature and human populations. International corporates are caught up in a culture that accentuates profit above all other considerations which has spiralled out of control. In turn, society has been conditioned into purchasing their products such as cars, jewellery, clothing, etc., through relentless advertising. The majority of us are caught up in this consumerism frenzy.
      However the distribution of wealth is so slanted that it is therefore inevitable that poorer communities will have to bear the brunt of abnormal climatic conditions. Richer nations are already taking measures to reduce the impacts of climate change through mitigation and adaptation measures. They can afford to do so.
      No easy solution but reduce the demand and you reduce the supply. Population control anyone?

      October 31, 2013 at 9:48 am
    2. Comrade Koos #

      @Policat

      “Population control anyone?”

      Greenhouse gas emissions by the wealthiest segment of the population are what is causing global warming, not by the rapidly multiplying poor segment of global population. The poor contribute very little to global warming, pollution and overconsumption. If the average person around the world consumed what the average American consumes we would need five planet earths to survive. Much of China’s greenhouse gas emissions are to produce products that are consumed by western industrial nations.

      Overpopulation does cause certain types of ecological degradation but not excessive greenhouse gas emissions. The best form of birth control is to increase the level of general education in a population. Countries with well educated populations usually have sub-replacement fertility rates, leading to declining populations if there is not a high immigration rate.

      November 1, 2013 at 10:48 am
    3. J.J. #

      @ Policat #

      Population control is already happening naturally: Very interesting maps on this page:
      http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/05/13/why-are-birthrates-falling-around-the-world-in-a-word-television/

      Sustainable living is the answer, but how to wean the masses around the globe off their consumption addiction is the question…

      November 1, 2013 at 11:04 am
    4. Comrade Koos #

      @J.J. – Spot the mistake in the article you posted. Besides the fact that the source is the home of US global hegemony:

      “Environmentalists have long warned that if the global population keeps soaring — we’re at about 7 billion right now — that’ll put a huge strain on the Earth’s natural resources.”

      Hogwash, the US right wing (Republican Tea Party) carry on and on about overpopulation not environmentalists.

      :-)

      November 1, 2013 at 6:59 pm
    5. E=m.c2: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we
      created them”

      ……Mike a great article and reminder about us homo sapiens sapiens befallen by the many absurdities, extremities and greed!

      Either bewitched by the Koch brother/Shell/state cabal in fascist America, a Gazprom/state mafia and the inescapable global knotted economy- ordinary folks heroes are being jailed for taking probably one of the last but desperate stands!

      A clearer picture will eventually emerge over time and the ‘wise judges’ will be the generations after us!

      November 1, 2013 at 9:59 pm
    6. Maria #

      Unfortunately the Russians, who have spawned a megaload of billionaires since the 90s, are cashing in on their oil; they have scant regard for the environment, Greenpeace, or anyone else in their pursuit of monetary wealth.

      One wishes that you could get through to Putin, to conscientize him a bit with the thought that he could change his approach and be remembered by history as the Russian President who contributed to saving the natural environment!

      November 2, 2013 at 9:14 am
    7. J.J. #

      @ Comrade Koos #

      Thanks for pointing that out. Difficult to know what to believe nowadays – everything is spin. So the article is not accurate, but are the maps?

      November 2, 2013 at 9:39 am
    8. J.J. #

      @ Maria

      Why only the Russians and Putin? All oil exploration countries/companies have the same approach. I’m not sure of any of them can be called environmentally friendly. (Remember the gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2006?)

      November 2, 2013 at 10:57 am
    9. @Comrade Koos

      ….”The poor contribute very little to global warming, pollution and over consumption”

      …..while still true today- it won’t be so by tomorrow! Every generation ups its living standards and will not remain stagnant. Homo sapiens will remain the most destructive species- only challenged by nature and it’s own limited wit!

      November 2, 2013 at 7:15 pm
    10. J.J. #

      …the Gulf of Mexico oil spill:

      Correction, I meant in 2010.

      November 2, 2013 at 7:38 pm
    11. Comrade Koos #

      Those that allow and support fossil fuels must be tried in international courts for crimes against humankind. Enough is enough. Already 400 000 people die from climate change (global warming for the right wing nits) each year, and that number will increase dramatically in future decades. Human caused global warming and climate change will murder far more people that Hitler and his henchmen ever did, why are we letting these fascist fossil fuel criminals get away with mass murder?

      November 2, 2013 at 7:43 pm
    12. Momma Cyndi #

      Not to be pedantic but if the Arctic is the warmest now than it has been for 44,000 years, what was the baby mammoth doing there around 39,000 years ago and which swamp did the scientists think she got stuck in?

      November 4, 2013 at 6:18 pm
    13. Brent #

      Comrade Koos, who is a Right Wing nits? Climate Change is long gone it is now Climate Justice ie the developed world must compensate the developing world and transfer billions of dollars. If you are going to blog for goodness sake keep up with the hip global environmentalists like dear Mike etc. Brent PS – environmentalists how about having a full go at the state owned oil majors (the Saudi company is bigger than the 5 biggest private oil companies combined), they control/own ± 75/80% of the world’s oil so surely these are the guys you need to attack!!!!

      November 5, 2013 at 10:37 am
    14. Comrade Koos #

      @Brent, thought someone would take the ‘right wing nits’ bait. Sorry for you.

      The main point of that post is “Those that allow and support fossil fuels must be tried in international courts for crimes against humankind. Enough is enough.”

      November 5, 2013 at 7:10 pm
    15. Comrade Koos #

      @Momma Cyndi “A mammoth is ….. They lived from the Pliocene epoch (from around 5 million years ago) into the Holocene at about 4,500 years ago.

      What has your post referring a baby mammoth about 44 000 years ago vs 39 000 years ago got to do with the price of eggs? other than create a diversion? You spin doctor in disguise or not?

      November 5, 2013 at 7:23 pm
    16. Brent #

      Comrade Koos, every person supports fossil fuels by: riding in cars/trucks/busses/ trains/boats, switching on Eskom power. Petrochemicals that come from the petroleum industry (probably as high as 80% of the world’s chemicals come from fossil fuels) are found in ± 99% yes ±99% of everything made in the world. A bunch of industrial chemists a few years back sat down for 2/3 hours and tried to find one significent/vital industry/product that did not have a fossil fuel based chemical in it, the answer zero. So getting rid of fossil power/fuels and the whole world will collapse, full stop. Unfortunately wind/solar etc etc no matter how great they are just do not have chemicals as by products. Those Green Peace guys in the Arctic protest got there by fossil fuels, in a boat 100% made possible by fossil based chemicals, wearing clothes processed by fossil fuel chemicals and eating foods also processed by ……. yes again fossil fuel based chemicals. Maybe they should venture out on grass/wood (un treated by petrochemicals) boats, wearing animal skins (again untreated) eating food raw and untreated/cooked and then possibly they will realise that if their wishes came true it would ensure a world not anyone wishes for. All this is called practical thinking/debate.Lets start from reality and then agree how to get to an agreed/negotiated future, without the shouting/abuse and grand standing, the very essence of anti fascist practice. Brent

      November 6, 2013 at 11:55 am
    17. Comrade Koos #

      @Brent – Governments have to have a plan to phase out fossil fuels not allow their expansion, otherwise those responsible must be tried in international criminal courts for genocide and crimes against humanity. There must be an emergency plan to implement renewable energy, which will naturally stimulate the economy and provide many new sustainable jobs.

      The directors of those fossil fuel corporations that continue to explore and drill new oil wells and coal mines must also be tried in international courts for ecocide and crimes against humankind.

      Continued supply of fossil fuels is like continuing to supply the chemicals for chemical weapons to a rogue state that uses chemical weapons.

      Climate change is already contributing to the deaths of nearly 400,000 people a year and costing the world more than $1.2 trillion, wiping 1.6% annually from global GDP, according to a new study.

      Enough is enough.

      November 7, 2013 at 7:16 am
    18. Brent #

      Every single thing you use, wear, eat etc etc etc contains or has been processed by a petrochemical, that is my point. At this point in time the world runs± 95% on oli/gas and its chemicals etc. Asking Govts to plan is like asking a blind prerson to guide the way. Please show where the 400000 are dying (and explain why Govts plus the powerful chattering classes are not doing more to stop this massacre) per year and how you get the $1.2 trillion being wiped off the world’s GDP. Take fossil fuels and their by product chemicals out of the equation and you will wipe off 95% of the world’s GDP. Welcome to the mad scrabble for possesion of the remaining 5% hope you are super tough. Brent

      November 7, 2013 at 3:50 pm
    19. Comrade Koos #

      Brent – It is very easy to live in denial of the 400 000 people who die as a result of climate change each year.

      Here is a link to the research study
      http://daraint.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/CVM2ndEd-FrontMatter.pdf

      How many people still deny the holocaust in Nazi Germany? So I understand denialism is very convenient when some people want it to be.

      And Brent, what part of phasing out fossil fuels as an energy source do you not understand? Renewable’s can provide us with more energy that we would ever need.

      There is a town in Denmark that produces 104% of its energy needs from renewables, it sells the extra 4%.

      There are a number of countries that produce 100% of their electricity generation from renewable sources.

      Norway – Britain’s top three sources of electricity are gas, coal and nuclear. Norway’s are hydroelectric, geothermal and wind, but they’re an interesting case. Norway’s renewable energy sector has developed to serve the export market rather than domestic consumption. If you look at Norway’s generating capacity it would be around 98% renewable.

      Saudi Arabia aims to become the world’s foremost market for renewable energy with an aggressive investment budget of $109 billion.

      Time to wake up Brent, your thinking is three decades out of date.

      November 7, 2013 at 5:50 pm
    20. Comrade Koos #

      @Brent – I guess you will be totally unmoved by this as well:

      Findings contained in the “Climate Vulnerability Monitor”—a study sponsored by 20 nations and conducted by the humanitarian and development research organization DARA—point to unprecedented harm to human society and current economic development if runaway carbon emissions are not contained and new models of energy generation and consumption are not pursued.

      “A combined climate-carbon crisis is estimated to claim 100 million lives between now and the end of the next decade,”

      100 million dead by end of 2030. Time for new Nuremberg type trials for those responsible for this genocide. Enough is enough.

      November 7, 2013 at 6:16 pm
    21. @ Comrade & Brent

      Radical wishes visa realities?The issues are too complex to be tackled by wishful thinking. Should the discussion not be directed towards:

      ….governments are good in rigging elections but hardly good in creative and scientific thinking or honesty. Leading global communities will eventually and gradually introduce workable solutions.

      There is a new oil production boom in the US. Reminiscent of the early gold rushes in the West or Witwatersrand- just more destructive! Lasting maybe for the next ~20 years and insulating the US from oil imports against unfriendly countries.
      The “Bakken Oil formation” made profitable due to new technologies in horizontal drilling & “fracking”!

      The US & China need to import oil to feed its economy- Russia produces more than it consumes and would not need to endanger the Arctic to boost exports- it should be declared a “no go area”! SA has to import all its oil! It will eventually be the ANC’s intention to give the Karoo to global companies, BEE & politicians to frack and risk ruining it forever! This needs careful deliberations! At least the SA public should benefit directly from a lower oil/gas/fuel price if produced with “high risk in house”!
      The farming community need to be insured against “force major”- but that won’t happen. Sweet job creation & other promises?

      Check out Americas caliber of entrepreneurs, roughnecks, the created transport boom & accidents! Pioneering spirits in SA are replaced…

      November 7, 2013 at 7:38 pm
    22. conti…..by an entitlement ideology, outsourcing or demanding a cut.

      Oil/fossil fuels will still play a major factor for decades to come! Are we not trying to just warn and highlight about its abuse & excesses and urge for vigilance and solutions?

      Further, oil consumption also needs to be measured for efficiency by what countries use it for and produce their GDP & wealth with!

      Saudi Arabia probably use most to power its refineries, run its air conditioned cities, palaces and stadiums- while the US, China, the EU, Japan produce globally useful & sought after goods but also run ‘unproductive’ war economies- instead building or replacing infrastructure.

      All these issues have endless angles- solutions are complicated due to self interests, politics & global power plays- surely not solve-able through emotions & none existing laws by an ICC!

      Some info if interested:

      http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/03/bakken-shale-oil/dobb-text

      http://www.eia.gov/countries/index.cfm?view=consumption

      http://finance.yahoo.com/news/why-oil-production-outpace-consumption-190003314.html

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8uLp0b4aeWI&utm_source=outbrain&utm_medium=cpc&utm_term=south_africa&utm_content=link18&utm_campaign=karoo …”a Shell sweet talk show!”

      http://www.therichest.com/expensive-lifestyle/location/the-10-biggest-oil-consuming-countries-in-the-world/

      November 7, 2013 at 9:19 pm
    23. Comrade Koos #

      The bottom line is the Greenpeace 28 are fighting for the future of human life and the planet while those detaining them are the ones who should be in jail for genocide and crimes against humankind.

      November 8, 2013 at 1:11 pm

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