ESSAY 5

Is “Global Warming” Good or Bad? That Depends on Whom You Ask.

Over three decades, a consensus has grown that global warming is bad for the planet. Scientific and political elites, including environmental activists, have further achieved a “consensus” that this change in the world’s weather systems and climate is mainly caused by our globalized Western civilization’s emissions of one, long-lasting greenhouse gas — CO2. And the primary source of this gas is anthropogenic, that is, caused by humanity, specifically by our insatiable habit of burning fossil fuels.

The burning of these fuels is closely correlated with both economic and population growth.[1] And, in our minds, with prosperity.

To gain some perspective, the world has 7.4 billion human beings and is adding roughly 80,000,000 new souls each year — all of who aspire to a Western way of life. This way of life is pervasively dependent on fossil fuels: for electricity and light; for agriculture and food; for access to clean water; for sewage treatment and waste disposal; for transportation, including international tourism and other commerce, as well as road repair and building; for manufactures (plastics of all descriptions); for pharmaceutical drugs and medical care; and by no means least, for war. No segment of the global economy is more energy-intensive than the world’s militaries. Without fossil fuels in plentiful supply they will wither. And they know it.

 

So we must ask ourselves, if global warming is the single most significant, existentially challenging, global environmental problem of our age, why has so little been accomplished in halting its perceived source, CO2? Thirty years is a long time in a world of rapid “progress.” How do we understand the divide that yawns between our rhetoric and our actions over the course of the quarter century since the Rio Earth Summit when the world community formally recognized increased CO2 emissions posed a serious threat to humanity?…Or how do we make sense of a later world community “commitment,” made at Tokyo in 1999, to reduce CO2 emissions but exempted the world’s largest single polluter, the Pentagon?[2]

According to the US Energy Information Agency, world energy demand will rise steeply between 2012 and 2040 and fossil fuels will comprise 78 percent of that demand as late as 2040 despite the robust growth of renewables and nuclear. Thus human output of CO2 will continue to grow, and barring a catastrophic event is expected to do so for decades.[3]

Capitalism cannot exist without growth. And economic growth radically depends on energy growth. Such growth is a universal imperative, one all the world’s political elites well understand, as their survival depends on it. Economic growth is planned for in virtually every nation on Earth. And most notably in the world’s two most populous nations, China and India, which hold over 36% of the entire human population. Real GDP growth is planned to be in the neighborhood of slightly less than 6 to more than 7 percent over the next several years in China and India.[4] A rate of growth of 6 to 7 percent means two of the world’s largest economies will double in a little over one decade.

 

Where will the resources necessary for this fantastic growth come from?

Arctic Map courtesy of CIA World Facy Book.

 

One location is the Arctic. One fifth of Russia’s territory lies north of the Arctic Circle and includes an Arctic-frontier coastline thousands of miles long. More than an estimated one fifth of the world’s oil and gas reserves lie north of the Arctic Circle, more than half of them in Russia.[5] In the words of a senior Shell Oil Company executive, the Arctic holds “by far the largest unexplored and undeveloped liquids resource on Earth.”[6] Many other important mineral reserves such as nickel, palladium, copper, gold, uranium, phosphate rock, tungsten, iron, tin, rare metals, and diamonds, among others, lie buried in Arctic. Further, no resource is likely to be more important to the future of humanity than fresh water: Arctic and sub-Arctic Russia holds some of the world’s most plentiful reserves of this precious resource. As do Greenland and Antarctica.

In the 1950s and early 1960s climate-change-geoengineering proposals in both the US and Soviet Union were oriented toward causing global warming for the benefit of human activity, with the melting of the Arctic then the glittering jewel on the geoengineer’s horizon, and a prospect devoutly hoped for by Soviet geoengineers and planners.[7] “Russian opinion has long favored an open Arctic Ocean, and some scientists…believe that the beneficial effects of global warming might ‘pep up’ cold regions…making the country wealthier,” according to historian James R Fleming.[8]

 

In post-Cold-War Russia, this long-standing hope for an ice-free Arctic has grown stronger. In the Arctic-Circle year-round deepwater port of Arkhangelsk, hundreds of miles due north of Moscow on Russia’s White Sea, Vladimir Putin recently told CNBC during the 4th International Arctic Forum that “Climate change brings in more favorable conditions and improves the economic potential of this region.” Putin added, “Today, Russia’s GDP is the result of the economic activity of this region.”[9]

Russia has invested heavily in its vast Arctic zone. It has by far the world’s largest icebreaker fleet — over 40 ships with 11 in production, and six nuclear-powered — as well as six military bases, 13 airbases, and 16 deepwater ports. And 10 new search-and-rescue stations.[10] Russia requires such an infrastructure to keep the shipping lanes of its 3,500-mile-long Northeast Passage open and guarantee laden ships safe passage to Asia and Europe. Unlike other Arctic nations’ continental shelves, Russia’s “is wide and shallow…less than 200 metres deep, even far from the coast.”[11] This makes its offshore oil and gas deposits more readily exploitable than elsewhere in the Arctic. Russia has recently set up Artic-conditions-capable drilling platform manufacturing centers in Murmansk and Vladivostok so it can develop its offshore resources unhindered by sanctions.[12]

Russia is not alone making these investments in the Arctic. China, “taking the long view,” is now “building ships, icebreakers, and ports to capitalize on the future,” when the Northeast Passage will be ice-free and save seaborne enterprise billions of dollars and 40 percent shipping time hauling goods between Asia and Europe. “As the climate becomes warmer and polar ice melts faster, the Northeast Passage has appeared as a new trunk route connecting Asia and Europe,” according to a top executive at China’s huge Ocean Shipping Company.[13]

Five hundred years of colonial European and American domination of world trade through maritime routes and navies will give way inexorably not only to Russia’s determination to make its Northeast Passage commercially viable year round but to China’s determination to reestablish its millennia-old Silk Road, reborn as what China calls OBOR — the One Belt, One-Road — a high-speed rail-and-highway system that will revolutionize world trade in the 2020s.

According to William Engdahl, a writer on geopolitics, “OBOR…will be a multi-trillion dollar development,” that will revivify the vital importance of what “Sir Halford Mackinder, the father of British geopolitics, called the Heartland” or “World-Island.”[14] Mackinder famously maintained that whoever controlled the ‘World-Island’ controlled the ‘World’, an insight, or precept, that for decades has preoccupied such US policy luminaries as Zbigniew Brzezinski and Henry Kissinger in their concern for US geopolitical supremacy.[15]

China is investing in both the ocean transport infrastructure supporting Russia’s Northeast Passage (which will be ice-free well ahead of Canada’s Northwest Passage) and in building a high-speed land bridge that will connect Asia with Europe in record time. With a long-term goal of connecting two of the world’s three largest markets from east to west, from the Pacific to the Atlantic oceans, “China commenced its ‘Go-West’ policy” in 2000. The first step was “to link-in and develop…[its] left-behind inland regions,” building “over 19,000 kilometers of new high-speed rail lines, 60,000 kilometers of new expressways, and over 100 new airports” as well as “a good portion of the most economically dynamic cities in the world today.”[16] Since 2013 China’s “Go-West” policy has been focused on extending its OBOR transport network from western China to western Asia — and Europe.

And the funds for OBOR are there, along with the ambition to get it done. According to Forbes magazine contributor Wade Shepard, “China is projected to triple its global assets to $20 trillion by 2020.” He adds, “the integration of Eurasia is one of the main story lines playing out in the first half of the 21st century. [17]

 

Many nations are now lining up to participate in developing the riches in Russia’s frozen outback and in the more southerly Central Asian nations’ fossil fuel and other mineral resources. Although Russia “initially viewed China’s involvement in Central Asia as an intrusion into its backyard,” the US-led 2014 sanctions against it have driven it East and “[j]oint economic projects between China and Russia have been on the rise ever since.”[18] China, Russia, Kazakhstan and other central Asian nations are now all involved in building the planet’s largest land transport system, one of the greatest engineering and construction projects in all of human history, connecting Beijing and other Chinese cities to Hamburg and other European cities, as far distant from each other as Lisbon and Shanghai. Or, from Vladivostok to Murmansk — 6,437 road miles. (For comparison, New York to Los Angeles is 2,791 road miles, less than half the distance between Vladivostok and Murmansk.)

The immense investments in the development of Eurasia are founded, at least in part, on an understanding that global warming is both unstoppable and economically favorable to the region’s future. As Vladimir Putin recently claimed, “global warming will continue anyway, anyhow,” regardless what humanity does to attempt to thwart it. According to Putin, the issue “isn’t about preventing global warming. I agree with those people who believe it is impossible [to stop]. It may be related to some global [geophysical] cycles or some greater outer space [e.g., solar] cycles. It’s about how to adjust ourselves to it.”[19]

It is not hard to imagine that the leaders of such people-dense countries as China and India, or for that matter, most the Western European countries, on the one hand, and such comparatively people-empty countries as Russia, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan, on the other, are eager to develop the resources required to guarantee the material welfare of their peoples. Not hard to imagine that they are, in fact, driven to do so. By 2030 “Asia will host 64% of the global middle class,” thanks to the growth of its largest economies, while “European and American middle classes will shrink from 50 percent of the total to just 22 percent.”[20]

 

Meantime, in the West the original or early orientation of state security planners and geoscientists to thinking about the benefits of global warming has been quietly maintained for decades, despite an ever-growing consensus about its dangers, and has been funded by the big energy companies who have been wedged inside the great climate change debate since its inception.[21] In a March 25, 2012 letter to The Economist Matt Andersson, an aerospace executive and intelligence industry consultant, bluntly stated: “The public and press are largely uninformed (and misled) as to the actual Geo-engineering operations being conducted by military and certain cooperating commercial interests to effectively ‘melt’ the arctic for naval navigation and resource extraction.”[22]

 

Is the otherwise perplexing discord between NATO and Russia really about access and control of natural resources — viewed through a narrow national-interest zero-sum-game lens? A US Space Command document, Vision for 2020, asserts: “Space power…will be increasingly leveraged to close the ever-widening gap between diminishing resources and increasing military commitments.”[23] By “commitments” one assumes the US Space Command refers to the US/NATO ring of bases that stretch from Norway, the Baltic states, Poland, Rumania, Bulgaria, and Greece on “the Heartland’s” western border and Georgia, Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the rest of the Arab Persian Gulf states, Pakistan, and Afghanistan on its southern border to Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, the Philippines, Japan, and South Korea in the East to somehow “guarantee” — in an unspoken expansion of the Carter Doctrine — access to those strategic resources, above all energy resources essential to the military’s survival, first and foremost.[24]

 

The world’s fossil fuel industry recognizes that fossil fuels are likely to continue to supply at least 70 percent of humanity’s energy needs up to as late as 2040, despite the recent exponential growth of renewables. Such recognition is especially acute inside the world’s largest consumer of fossil fuels, the Pentagon, and by extension inside the militaries of the world’s great and emergent powers. Without oil to fuel their ships, tanks, planes, missiles, and satellite-launchers, the world’s militaries will radically shrink into paltry images of their former selves.

“It’s no coincidence that our strategic interest in the Arctic warms with the climate,” a US Admiral said during a NATO workshop on security in the Arctic.[25] In 2015 the US Navy, which has been planning for ice-free Arctic operations since 2001, launched the largest war game exercises in Alaskan Arctic waters in over 30 years of conducting them, a new five-year program of war readiness called Northern Edge. By the Navy’s own admission, these exercises “may result in damage [that] could take years to decades from which to recover,” but as journalist Dahr Jamail reports, “they are preparing for what’s coming in the Arctic as the race for what’s left” of the world’s oil and gas.[26]

 

It seems not wholly unlikely that the reasons for a lack of progress on global CO2 emissions are not merely confined to woeful human habit and institutional inertia or to the trillions of dollars already invested in the not-to-be-stranded, not-yet-fully-amortized assets of the world’s oil, gas, transportation, tourist, agricultural, chemical, and pharmaceutical industries. But even more fundamentally, the fate of industrial civilization depends on its ongoing access to the resources it needs to continue to grow and “prosper.”[27]

Some find the prospects exhilarating. Some, grievous. It all depends on whom you ask.

[1] Gail Tverberg, “The Long-Term Tie Between Energy Supply, Population, and the Economy,” Our Finite World, August 29, 2012. Accessed June 02, 2017.

 

[2] Gar Smith, “The Hidden Villain of Global Warming—The Pentagon,” Common Dreams, November 17, 2015. Accessed June 02, 2017. See also: Whitney Webb, “U.S. Military World’s Largest Polluter — Hundreds of Bases Gravely Contaminated,” Global Research, May 18, 2017. Accessed on June 02, 2017.

 

[3] US Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook 2016, May 11, 2016. Accessed March 28, 2017. And, Fiona Harvey, “CO2 Emissions Expected to Rise Significantly by 2030,” Climate Central, January 26, 2013. 

 

[4] PwC UK, The Long View: How will the global economic order change by 2050?, February 2017. Accessed on June 02, 2017.

 

[5] Lars Lindholt,  “Arctic natural resources in a global perspective,” Ch 3 in Solveig Glomsrød and Iulie Aslaksen, Eds, The Economy of the North 2008 (Oslo: Statistics Norway, 2008). Accessed May 29, 2017.

 

[6] Terry Macalister and Damian Carrington, “Shell Determined to Start Arctic oil drilling this summer,” The Guardian, January 29, 2015. Accessed June 10, 2015.

 

[7] James Rodger Fleming, Fixing the Sky (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 198-200, 208, 256. See also: Spencer Weart, “Climate Modification Schemes,” The American Institute of Physics, June 2011. Accessed July 07, 2015.

[8] Fleming, Op. Cit., 256.

 

[9] Samantha Page, “Putin defends climate deniers and looks forward to the Arctic melting,” Think Progress, March 31, 2017. Accessed April 30, 2017.

 

[10] Steven Lee Myers, “U.S. Is Playing Catch-Up With Russia in Scramble for the Arctic,” The New York Times, August 29, 2015. Accessed on June 01, 2017. And, Terrell Jermaine Starr, “Russia’s Icebreakers Make It King of the Arctic And America Is Just a Pauper,” Foxtrotalpha, January 26, 2017. Accessed June 02, 2017. See also: ARCTIS, “Arctic Ports” (from AMSA Report 2009). Accessed June 01, 2017.

 

[11] Lars Lindholt, Op. Cit.

 

[12] Vladimir Kozlov, “Russia turns its eyes and wealth to the Arctic,” bne IntelliNews, March 27, 2017. Accessed April 30, 2017.

 

[13] Ed Struzik, “Shipping Plans Grow as Arctic Ice Fades,” Yale Environment 360, November 16, 2016. Accessed May 29, 2017.

 

[14] F William Engdahl, “Moscow and Beijing Begin Strategic Cooperation in Arctic,” Russia Insider, March 22, 2017. Accessed April 30, 2017.

 

[15] Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard (New York: Basic Books, 1997). And, Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy(New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994).

 

[16] Wade Shepard, “Eurasia: The World’s Largest Market Emerges,” Forbes, October 21, 2016. Accessed May 25, 2017.  See also: Geoff Wade, “China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ Initiative,” Parliament of Australia, August 2016. Accessed May 25, 2017.

 

[17] Wade Shepard, Op. Cit.

 

[18] Ibid.

 

[19] Samantha Page, Op. Cit.

 

[20] David Rohde, “The Swelling Middle,” Reuters, Davos 2012. Accessed May 26, 2017.

 

[21] Francesca Grifo et al, “A Climate of Corporate Control: How Corporations Have Influenced the U.S. Dialogue on Climate Science and Policy,” Union of Concerned Scientists, May 2012. Accessed August 03, 2015.

 

[22] Matt Andersson, “Cosy Amid the Thaw,” The Economist, March 25, 2012. Accessed July 07, 2015.

 

[23] United States Space Command, Vision for 2020, undated. Accessed September 04, 2015.

 

[24] David Vine, Base Nation (New York: Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt, 2015). And, David Vine, “The U.S. Has an Empire of Bases in the Middle East — and It’s Not Making Anyone Safer,” Tom Dispatch, January 20, 2016. Accessed May 25, 2017.

 

[25] Michael T Klare, The Race for What’s Left (New York: Picador, 2012), 98.

 

[26] Dahr Jamail, interview by Amy Goodman and Aaron Maté, “Bombing the Arctic: US Navy War Games in Gulf of Alaska Threaten One of the World’s Most Pristine Areas,” Democracy Now!, June 16, 2015. Accessed June 29, 2015.

 

[27] Alice J Friedemann, When Trucks Stop Running (New York: Springer, 2016).

“There needs to be full disclosure of geoengineering operations to the citizens of the United States and other countries.”

– Dr. Eric T. Karlstrom, Emeritus Professor of Geography, California State University, Stanislaus

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