…beware the Polar Vortex [part 3]

CANADIANS ARE CONDITIONED to look south.

FACT #1: Ninety per cent of us live within 100 miles of the U.S. border.

FACT #2: It was the fear of annexation by the United States that prompted 19th century leaders to sequester Canada, on the continent, as an independent nation.

FACT #3:  Albertans are presently in the vice of East/West politics, Ottawa blinded by special interest & advocacy groups bent on stopping the flow of prairie petroleum products to markets to the south and off-shore.

It’s no wonder Albertans have paid scant attention to what’s happening on the periphery.

WAY UP NORTH!

baffin-island-sunsetClimate change is real. It’s not going away. And it’s a huge opportunity.

The Wall Street Journal reports Alberta’s Peace River Country as ideal for corn futures. Further north,  sea ice in the Arctic is heating up twice as fast as the rest of the globe, opening up new shipping lanes including the Northwest Passage in Canada’s Arctic, cutting off days of travel between the Atlantic and Pacific. Maersk, the Danish container ship company, is already testing these waters.

Melting sea ice is also triggering a ‘natural resources’ bonanza in the northern frontier. Russia is producing natural gas above the polar circle and Norway has approved several new oil exploration licences in the Barents Sea. 

ALBERTA IS A NORTHERN GATEWAY

A generation ago, the Progressive Conservative government of Premier Peter Lougheed bought Pacific Western Airlines (the forerunner of today’s Westjet) ensuring Edmonton as a major hub for air travel to the Arctic frontier. The aviation link complemented the Alaska Highway, which was “built in fear and haste by the U.S. army in eight months,” in 1942, historian James McGregor writes. Edmonton was also the staging ground for “the Canol Pipeline to fuel the war effort from Norman Wells to Alaska, and the Northwest Staging Route plan of ten all-weather airports.”

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Jeep on High Level Bridge in Edmonton showing start of Alaska Highway. March 7, 1943

As the Arctic Ocean melts and opens to maritime traffic year round, there’s a potential upside for Canadians, an opportunity other nations already have the jump on.

The clear & present danger of climate change is how Canadian sovereignty will survive in the new North.

THE RISK OF GLOBAL WARRING

Canadians believe the Northwest Passage is well within our country’s territorial waters. We take note of the history of doomed adventurers trying to tame the ice-bound strait (the Franklin Expedition, for instance), and figure we don’t have to defend it because, well… it’s cold ‘up there’, eh. Ice keeps things on ice…

Climate change changes everything.

China envisions a Polar Silk Road, a ‘blue economic passage’ linking China and Europe through the Arctic Ocean with Beijing at the epicentre. Right now, the Chinese are building an Arctic-capable navy. 

Russia envisions expansion of its empire through Siberia (as predicted by Russian poet Mikhail Lomonosov in the 18th century).

Washington is vigilant and will deal with the implications of sea ice melting in the Arctic. Not surprisingly, the United States claims the Northwest Passage is not part of Canada’s territorial waters.

Chinese & Russian ambitions conflict with America’s ‘Manifest Destiny’. The US Navy will soon be sailing a warship through Arctic waters to make their claim explicit.

Get the picture?

THE IDEAS OF NORTH

If you think about the arctic frontier, does this ring true: 

iceberg-arctic-ocean(a) The north is a pristine place to be preserved — ‘off limits’ to development — a spiritual abode, in the sense that Lawren Harris, the Group of Seven painter imagined Canada’s north as a sacred & pure state of mind.

As long as Arctic passages are impassible, this idea of north is possible — in the short term.

Meantime: it’s been predicted the Arctic will be mostly free of ice during the summers from here on in, and perhaps year round by 2035.

(b) Despite former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s best intentions, Canada still doesn’t have the military or commercial capacity to operate in the Arctic in a meaningful way should push come to shove.

Most Canadians, meantime, assume our arctic sovereignty will continue to enjoy America’s protective umbrella carte blanche (with legally binding arrangements should continental security be threatened)

Set that idea aside.

AMERICA’S ARCTIC STRATEGY

Energy Information Administration (EIA), the economists who track energy in America, forecast that by 2020 the United States will be a net exporter of crude oil. To that end, the US has announced plans to fast-track drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge off the coast of Alaska with the blessing & eager participation of an indigenous-owned player, Alaska Native Corporation.

Their idea of north is the American dream of opportunity & business being the gateway to that dream.

trudeau_north, ehMeanwhile in Canada, we dither.

We’re distracted by hereditary chiefs objecting to regulatory-approved pipelines and First Nations rallying in support of the Trudeau government’s coastal tanker ban, no matter that it upends the ambition of an indigenous owned pipeline to secure an economic future, second to none, for reserves distant from the prosperity of the south.

GLOBAL CHOKE POINTS

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Cleo Paskal is a Canadian, and associate fellow at Chatham House (Royal Institute for International Affairs) in the UK. It’s an influential organization that’s shaped public policy around the world.

She counsels governments large & small on how nations will be forced to adapt to the geopolitical security and economic implications of climate change — or perish.

In her 2010 book, Global Warring: How Environmental, Economic and Political Crises Will Redraw the World Map, Cleo Paskal accurately predicted what’s now unfolding in Canada’s Arctic: 

“Choke points can be natural, like the Strait of Hormuz that leads to the oil fields of the Persian Gulf and through which passes around one-third of the world’s daily oil supply, or artificial, like the Panama Canal. These choke points are the sorts of thing empires go to war over. …And the melting Arctic sea ice and the opening of the Northwest Passage are about to create new choke points of global strategic importance.” — Cleo Paskal, author, Global Warring

Today, melting sea ice is prompting a military buildup in the arctic. And it’s not just the Russians protecting their sovereignty, even Norway (population 5+ million) is beefing up it’s point-of-presence in the high Arctic. NATO is staging exercises. The Brits launched a Defence Arctic Strategy

And the Americans?

They’ve got boots-on-the-ice marines in the works, and soon, naval vessels patrolling the arctic — our arctic, inclusive.  

No worries, eh.

The security of Canada’s northern frontier is guaranteed subsequent to 9/11 and a partnership with the United States in the event of a continental emergency: 

“Primarily, it has been done through US Northern Command (US NORTHCOM), created in 2002 and based in Colorado. Part of NORTHCOM’s specific mission is to “Conduct operations to deter, prevent and defeat threats and aggression aimed at the United States, its territories and interests within the assigned area of responsibility (AOR). These areas of responsibility “include air, land and sea approaches and encompasses the continental United States, Alaska, Canada, Mexico and the surrounding water out to approximately 500 nautical miles.” [therefore, Canada’s Arctic falls under America’s purview] — Cleo Paskal, author, Global Warring

FALLING FROM GRACE

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Mural in Montreal

Legendary singer Leonard Cohen, a poet who might have faded from popular memory had their not been a calamity that jarred him out of retirement, has a cautionary tale for his fellow Canadians.

Cohen was fleeced by a corrupt manager. He discovered to his horror that he was broke. In fact, he owed money. And he had to go back to work.

After being absent from the stage for well over a decade, he was asked in a radio interview why “after all these years, Leonard, are you back on the road?”

“I had some money,” Cohen admitted, “but I wasn’t paying attention to the enterprise.” Managing his financial affairs “bored me,” he continued,”but the Talmud [the Jewish book of laws] says, if you create the conditions for someone to fall from grace, you’re just as guilty as the thief that stole from you.” Pause. “And I wasn’t paying attention to the enterprise.”

So let us now speak again of the North.

Canadians are not paying attention to the enterprise.

Are we creating the conditions for both our allies and ourselves to fall from grace?

This column is the consensus opinion of the writers Donna Kennedy-Glans & Don Hill. Thanks to Simon Jackson & Ghost Bear Institute for sharing photos of the Arctic. 

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