Written by Sam Watt – Edited by Sandrine Jacquot
The world is melting. This fact is now almost as common as ‘what goes up must come down’. Nonetheless, visions of industrial expansion and capital gain have continued to cloud the responses from superpowers across the globe.
The melt has been going on unabated for decades and continues to ravage ice deposits across the earth. In Antarctica, there are two major glaciers currently shedding ice at an unprecedented rate: faster than what has been recorded in the past 5,500 years; Greenland has lost 5 trillion tonnes of weight from ice loss since the early 2000s; and October sea ice in the Arctic has been reduced by 3.46 million square kilometres since 1979 – equivalent to twice the size of Alaska. Such loss is colossal and will have heavy impacts on sea levels, ocean currents and temperatures, undersea wildlife, and billions of people’s lives.
Despite these doomsday conditions, global corporations are continuing ‘business as usual.’ In some cases, rather than addressing the guillotine that is climate change, and acknowledging that it hangs over humanity, corporations are actively seeking out new mining and fracking opportunities made available by disappearing ice and permafrost.
Siberia, for one, has been experiencing many of the negative impacts induced by climate change, including forest fires and permafrost melt. In 2017, the fires burned at a rate unheard of in the last 10,000 years, releasing the carbon that has been locked away in trees while the sequestered carbon in the permafrost continued to escape. Yet somehow, corporations saw the permafrost melt not as a negative but as a positive, noting that “as climate change leads to warmer temperatures, ice and permafrost are melting and potentially easing the mining process”(Lempriere, 2018). The Arshanovsky Pit, for example, is a massive coal mine in Siberia that opened in 2015 and already has plans to expand its production to 10 million tonnes of coal annually (Lempriere, 2018). Amid the rapidly-deteriorating Siberian wilderness (and ozone layer), the plan for the mine is to extract as much as 2 billion tonnes of coal over a 167-year period.
Alaska has also been feeling the ever-pressing heel of the corporate world. Given its Arctic longitude, Alaska has always been both profitable and costly for the oil industry, providing almost as many obstacles for resource extraction as priceless oil deposits. However, the land’s natural defense mechanisms are now failing, and “Alaska has emerged as a hotbed of Arctic oil extraction, with big projects moving forward and millions of acres proposed to be opened to leasing.” On its north shore, the melting of sea ice has allowed for easier shipping of liquified gas through Arctic waters, providing an excellent opportunity for oil corporations to benefit from climate change. Meanwhile, their benefit insinuates the creation of new emissions during transit, and the generation of increased future emissions through the transport of necessary resources (Herz, 2020). Companies are going to great lengths to maintain their operations in these newly-accessible Alaskan oil deposits. Some are even willing to pay additional fees toward countermeasures against climate change impacts – just to keep the mines operational. On a superficial level, oil corporations are paying for countermeasures against the thawing permafrost and the increased rainfall, which are both hazardous impacts caused by climate change. However, these same oil corporations are also, ironically, the same people that are directly contributing to the climate change hazards they’re trying to fix. One company, ConocoPhillips, is cooling the ground beneath their operations to protect themselves and their profit margins against the melt (Herz, 2020).
Another victim, Antarctica, is under the protection of the 1959 Antarctic Treaty until 2048. Despite the treaty being signed by 54 nations to prohibit the extraction of mineral resources, it has been completely disregarded by some leaders. For instance, Russia’s Rosgeologia recently took 4,400km of new seismic measurements off the coast of Antarctica’s Queen Maud Land with an expressed purpose of assessing “the offshore oil and gas potential of the area” (Perkins and Griffin, 2020). This ‘assessment’ was done with equal negligence for the 1959 international treaty and the health of global climates. China has also laid their intentions bare, with president Xi Jinping’s declaration that China’s guiding principles for polar activity will be to “understand, protect, and use.” Seeing a continent that is actively under environmental protection continue to be targeted for its natural resources, despite interventions like the presence of international pledges such as the 2015 Paris Climate Accords, is an indication of how powerful, influential, and single-minded the fossil fuel industry can be.
While these sites of natural plundering have different economic and ecological implications for the areas around them, they have one impact in common: the more ice that melts, the more that sea levels will rise.The ramifications of increasing sea levels are endless. As it pertains to land, there is risk of destructive erosion, wetland flooding, aquifer and agricultural soil contamination with salt, and habitat loss. Humans will suffer too: there is already a case of Indigenous populations in Alaska and Louisiana being forced to relocate their communities due to rising sea levels and flooding. This makes them some of the first climate refugees in North America.
The forces contributing to climate change have never been so blatant in their disregard and disrespect for the earth. Corporations are now literally using the side effects of our dying planet to produce more wealth, more opportunities, and more of the toxins that are strangeling ecosystems around the world. This has pushed global health toward exponential decline – a process that cannot be stopped without drastic corporate, economic, and political change.
Image from Anita Starzycka on Pixabay (https://pixabay.com/photos/natural-gas-search-oil-rig-863276/)
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