While the latest geological surveys indicate there may lie one fifth of the world's unrecovered gas and oil under the Arctic-ice, its massive 90 billion barrel oil-fields still contain only three years worth at current rates of consumption. The path away from oil is clearly pointed, either by default or design. Let's hope that the latter prevails.
The Arctic comprises some of the world's most beautiful and pristine wilderness, a vista whose wildlife and purity is under threat from exploitation of the vast amounts of oil and natural gas which are believed to be interned there. Hailed as potentially "the new Houston", with 400 oil and gas-fields presently operating above the Arctic Circle, the scenario of a northern oil-scramble may represent the final phase of colonization. Noting from history, whoever owns the world's resources, especially those of energy, will dictate to the world.
The prospect of developing hydrocarbon extraction in sensitive and unique regions of the natural ecology has, unsurprisingly, upset many environmentalists. Arguably humans are part of the mechanisms of nature, and hence our actions are those of evolution. If we have contributed a perturbation of the earth-systems, though global-warming and climate-change, those regions are no longer pristine, but my gut-feeling is that it is wrong to compound it so visibly, in addition to more subtle means through changing the molecular composition of the atmosphere so that it traps more heat.
No one likes to see polar-bears clinging to chunks of melting-ice before they drown, unable to maintain their struggle for dry land, any more than they do sea-birds floundering in oil or great slicks of it soaking into sandy beaches. I am torn in my emotions to all of this, however. Worse still is the prospect of running-out of energy and the collapse of civilization, and marginally I might trade environmental dignity in the interests of human survival, in the longer run.
But, it is not merely a matter of survival, but of trying to satisfy a relentlessly raging thirst for energy, for power, for more, which in the nature of all addictions is unslakable. Economics will probably prevail in trying to maintain the status-quo, and so we tear-up the Arctic to unrest its oil and gas, but all this does is to buy us some potential transition-time, at best. Otherwise we merely postpone dealing with the problem, in denial, until the spiritual, mental and physical aspects of the three-fold disease of addiction are beyond treatment, and the corpus of humanity shuffles to its defaulted end.
The Independent, Friday 25 July. "The New Oil Race." By Michael McCarthy.