New Project: Arctic Progress

The Arctic is one of the most ignored regions in commentary about global trends. This is unsurprising. The vastnesses of Hyperborea, a semi-mythical world of curdled seas, boreal lights and eternal sunshine, have always been “outside” history. But the fast pace of global warming in recent years is kick-starting Arctic history, bringing with it the promise and peril of industrial civilization: first energy extraction and shipping, then military bases, and eventually farms and cities.

Identifying the opportunities and risks in these exciting new developments will be the main aim of my new blog project Arctic Progress* (which you can also follow on Facebook).

Don’t worry – I’ll continue posting at S/O on “Eurasia, geopolitics and peak oil” (if not as frequently as before). Furthermore, most of the Russian translations and analytical “core articles” on Arctic Progress will be reprinted here, the first one of which follows below.

Introduction – Why Arctic Progress?

1. The Arctic will become much more important in the near future as the melting of Arctic ice opens up circumpolar shipping routes. They are shorter than the constricted passages through Suez, Panama and Malacca, and far less vulnerable to bottlenecks, piracy and terrorism.

2. The Arctic is a once in a century investment opportunity. As the ice and permafrost retreat, the physical infrastructure of industrial civilization will begin to overspread the region: ports, roads, railways, pipelines, mines, oil rigs, housing, farms, schools, shops and military bases. The four major populated regions encircling the Arctic Ocean – Alaska, Russia, Canada, Scandinavia (ARCS) – are all set for massive economic expansion in the decades ahead.

3. Nowhere else is global warming so intrinsically tied to the prospects of a region as the Arctic; it is the force awakening it from its long, cold hibernation into the strange lights and thrumming noises of the modern world. But the Arctic is not passive – how it reacts to higher temperatures will drastically affect the future course and magnitude of further global warming. Global ocean and air currents will be interrupted as the temperature differential between the Arctic and the tropics shrinks. One disturbing possibility is that the melting of the Siberian permafrost will release vast amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas that is far more potent than CO2, into the atmosphere, and tip the world into runaway climate change.

4. Many regions of the world are overpopulated and facing resource depletion (e.g. “peak oil”) and rising pollution. The Arctic defies these general trends. As good hydrocarbon and mineral sources deplete, the economics of Arctic resource extraction will become more and more attractive. As the global south sinks deeper into water crises, heat stress and energy shortages, the polar regions will be changing into habitable and rather agreeable places. Exploitation of the region’s plentiful resources – coal in Alaska; minerals in the Russian Far East; hydrocarbons in the oceanic basin off Siberia; etc. – can sustain billions of people for at least a few more decades. That’s enough time to make use of the Arctic region’s plentiful wind and water fluxes to rebuild industrialism on a sustainable basis.

5. The Arctic melt is the kick-start to its own history. Both Russia and Canada are are accelerating their Arctic military buildups. NATO has held yearly military exercises in northern Norway from 2006, in which the (“fictional”) enemy team has a rather uncanny resemblance to Russia. No doubt China and European coalitions will soon take an interest too. The father of geopolitics, Halford Mackiner, claimed that control of Eastern Europe was the key to world power. In the 21st century, the prime strategic asset will become the Arctic Ocean.

6. James Lovelock, the inventor of the Gaia theory, believes that “before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable”. If you think climate-pessimists and doomers like him are correct, more or less, then it might do you good to start planning a “doomstead” in the Far North. The Norwegians already made a start with the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, and one day perhaps cities will follow.

7. That few blogs (yet) exist on the Arctic is a good enough reason to start one, no? Besides, I think I can do a decent job of it. First, I know Russian – the other main language of the Arctic apart from English. This blog is about the Arctic, as opposed to just the North American Arctic. Second, my areas of blogging interest, centered around Russia, geopolitics, energy, and futurism,  are well suited for an Arctic theme. One can even say that the Arctic brings them all together. …

* Why am I writing about the Arctic on another site? (1) I reckon this blog is crowded and chaotic enough as it is, mixing Russia, geopolitics, futurism, and heck knows what else, (2) I don’t want to drown this blog with short postings about specific Arctic developments which will not be of major interest to many S/O readers, and (3) I want Arctic Progress to develop as a stand-alone hub for Arctic commentary on the interwebs.

Comments

  1. Stupid question: Is there any land under Arctic Sea? Or will it be just water when ice melts?

    • “Is there any land under Arctic Sea”

      If you mean “Is there any land under the Arctic ice cap?” then yes, mainly under Greenland. A few places in Iceland, northern Canada and Alaska (I don’t think in Sibera though) contain glaciers which can be expected to melt and yield some new potentially useful land. But Greenland is by far the main beneficiary in terms of gaining land area.

      However, offset these gains by rising sea levels. Much of Arctic is not very high above sea level. We are always impressed by photos of Alaska’s majestic mountains, but America’s first “climate refugees” are going to be in a low-lying delta region of Alaska:

      http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2009/04/27/global-warming-forces-an-alaska-town-of-340-souls-to-relocate/

      • Thanks for the clarification, Paraquat. Yes, my question was poorly phrased, I meant, was there land under the ice cap.
        I agree with you and Isaac that Anatoly delivers a very scholarly and well-thought blog! He has a keen mind and appears to be one of those rare people who can think ahead of current realities.

    • @yalensis,
      Here’s a topographic map of the Arctic – hope it answers the question!

      BTW – a future(?) Greenland without ice looks particularly fascinating. Essentially, a giant lake surrounded by mountains, sitting on a high plateau.

  2. I look forward to your Arctic Blog. Also, this blog isn’t as chaotic as you claim. It’s incredibly well done. You are a scholar and academic even if there isn’t a three letter PHD after your name. You have done amazing analysis and prognostication. I will be following this blog daily as I have been since I found it days ago. Good luck and please continue with your excellent work.

  3. I look forward to reading the Arctic blog, though like Isaac J says above, I don’t the Sublime blog is really chaotic. If fact, I think you could have included the Arctic blog within SO, but of course it’s your decision, Anatoly. Anyway, you write great stuff – I’m impressed, and just a tad jealous!

  4. Just as a matter of interest, the highest mountain range on the planet is in this region. The Lomonosov Ridge stretches from Greenland to the New Siberian Islands, but does not appear on many maps because it’s underwater. Makes the Rockies look sick. It was discovered by a drifting Soviet ice station in the 1950′s.

    • Higher than the Andes? I don’t see how that’s possible. Some of the Andes mountains are more than 7km high. The Arctic is only 5km deep at most. Are there any islands jutting out with mountains that high in that region? Would appreciate more info.

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