Monday, 16 July 2012


This is a response to Rea Cris's article "THE NEW ARCTIC GOLD RUSH" on the Unite Society website (, because 140 characters is not enough to respond properly to such a complex issue.

An interesting article on a challenging topic, made all the more difficult by people's (including my own) inability to truly comprehend living or working in the arctic.   Even simple provisions like milk, fruit and vegetables must be flown hundreds of miles from the south.

Indigenous peoples, particularly in Greenland, Canada and Alaska, face difficult choices: to continue the traditional way of life, hunting with dogs (and rifles) or do they adopt more modern technology such as the skidoo, or do they go the whole way to modernity, invite the oil companies in and get paid employment. More traditional trade avenues,such as fur trading, have been closed off leaving little opportunity to barter for modern conveniences leaving a stark choice of living completely independent of the modern world or taking hand outs. Nothing is free so those giving expect something in return: access to mineral resources. And if they become isolationist, how will they survive as the pattern of seasons change and their prey (seals, walrus, polar bears) in turn struggles to survive?

The Russian arctic has had its own problems, mainly dating from the Soviet era, with GULags and a legacy of pollution from mining. The Soviet ethos saw nature as something to be conquered and tamed for the national good, whatever the cost in lives and to the environment.

To answer the questions posed in the article:

Personally, I think that the oil should remain in the ground. Consider it off limits and wean ourselves off oil while we limit our use to the currently tapped resources. That will focus the mind.

Profits of multinational corporations should certainly not override the indigenous inhabitants wishes nor should out override environmental protection. To have any semblance of democracy the decision has to be taken locally, not in distant capital cities. There must be a great deal of pressure felt by local communities to permit drilling and take the oil money in the hope of improving quality of life, despite the potential consequences locally and globally. Can we afford to implement a system similar to that proposed in Equador to keep the oil on the ground? Can we afford not to?

Individual states have a foremost responsibility for their own citizens but when it comes to climate change and competition for limited resources, the interests of a single state can not ignore the effects of others. The countries that benefit from the extraction of arctic oil and gas, including the UK do need to take responsibility for the impacts of that extraction and consumption: whether it is oil spills or emission of climate changing gases.

And finally we do not have the right to cause the extinction of other species, although we may be too late already for the polar bear. The arctic habitat needs protection as much as the jungles of Borneo.

Or in short form:
1) No, Yes
2) No, Locals (maybe)
3) No, Yes
4) NO.

Other interesting references: "The Future History of the Arctic", Charles Emerson. "Field Notes from a Catastrophe", Elizabeth Colbert, especially the chapter on permafrost.

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