Michael McCarthy: The scramble for the arctic is already underway
Michael McCarthy, formerly the Independent’s longstanding Environment Editor, now its Environment Columnist, is one of Britain’s leading writers on the environment and the natural world. He has won a string of awards for his work, including Environment Journalist of the Year (three times) and Specialist Writer of the Year in the British Press Awards in 2001. In 2007 he was awarded the Medal of the RSPB for “Outstanding Services to Conservation,” in 2010 he was awarded the Silver Medal of the Zoological Society of London, and in 2011 the Dilys Breeze Medal of the British Trust for Ornithology. In 2009 McCarthy published Say Goodbye To The Cuckoo (John Murray), a study of Britain’s declining migrant birds.
Friday 22 June 2012
It is just beginning to become clear that an ominous new age is dawning for Arctic, one of the world most unspoiled ecosystems: a stampede for the region’s minerals and other natural resources, oil and gas above all, as the exploitation of them is being made possible by the rapid melting of the Arctic Ice by the warming climate.
You could compare this to the American gold rushes, but perhaps in its scale it resembles even more the “scramble for Africa” at the end of the 19th century, when European powers led by Britain, France, Germany and Belgium rushed to divide between them the African continent, then being opened to outsiders in a similar way.
The scramble for the Arctic will involve both giant corporations such as Shell and Exxon and also nation states, especially the Arctic countries which surround the North Pole, and which, as our graphic shows, are already staking their territorial claims.
Greenpeace has accurately shaped the aims of its new campaign: to internationalise the region, as the Antarctic has been internationalised, and to keep out industrialisation and unsustainable fishing – the very developments which are likely to come along very soon. But it is not only spot-on in its aims, it is spot-on in its timing: Shell begins drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean next month. It is a historic moment, and the environment movement, in the shape of Greenpeace, has grasped it.
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