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Wages of sin?

Nield_resized.jpgSir John Barrow, Secretary of the Admiralty (1804-1845), found himself embarrassed by a Royal Navy that had nothing much to do after the defeat of Napoleon.  Hearing tell of an ice-free arctic (in 1817) from the whaler William Scoresby came as music to his ears.  Alas, Scoresby had found the waters north of Canada only briefly ice-free thanks to Tambora’s 1815 eruption.  Normal service soon resumed, and all Barrow’s expeditions failed.  

News that military planners in the Pentagon have been ordered not to include climate change in any future prognostications – evoking the image of the US military’s futurologists collectively sticking their fingers in their ears and singling ‘la-la-la’ very loudly – it is encouraging that the House of Lords Arctic Committee was not so hamstrung in its 29 July quizzing of shipping experts in Committee Room 1.

Giving evidence, Dr Martin Stopford, (Clarksons Research Services), told the committee that ports in northern Europe and America, for whom even Panama and Suez are a major detour, would find the opening of arctic sea routes useful, for it would ‘balance up the transport world’.  Colin Manson, (Manson Oceanographic Consultancy) explained that while the route across the pole may have to wait (as may Barrow’s Northwest passage), the northern sea route over Siberia might be open for the minimum 60 days by 2020 – representing ‘a huge saving in time and emissions’ (money).

The International Chamber of Shipping’s members were all excited by this, said Kiran Khosla.  The IMO has committed shippers to cutting their carbon footprint in half by 2050, so this must surely be a good thing.  Questioned by Lord Moynihan about the current costs of icebreaker support, Stopford admitted with a smile that companies hoped ‘the weather is going sort that one out for us’.

Outraged?  Well, no.  Having just finished Gaia Vince’s Adventures in the Anthropocene (see Jan Zalasiewicz’s review) I am reluctant to throw up my arms in horror at such ‘profiting from climate change’.  While opening up the Arctic might have dire consequences if we burn the hydrocarbons buried there, or fail to cut emissions before the permafrost releases its methane, the world we have is a world we have made - and are doomed henceforth to manage.  There already is no true wilderness.  Managing our planet wisely (instead of stupidly) includes taking advantage where we can find it, and resisting fruitless kneejerk moral outrage at any and all commercial inevitabilities.



@TedNield @geoscientistmag