The Far North is a world of extremes. A world of ice and purity where humans are still considered intruders. A world where the delicate balance of its endangered ecosystems are being disrupted by Arctic drilling. Due to human activity and global warming, temperatures are rising two times faster in the Arctic than anywhere else on earth, making Arctic ice melt a reality. Environmental activists denounced the imminent completion of the first off shore oil drilling in this extremely fragile area. Yet, some oil companies take advantage of the global warming effects to drill in marine protected areas that were previously inaccessible due to ice and weather conditions, instead of contributing to better management of this ecosystem and supporting marine biodiversity.
Davis Strait, situated between Baffin Island and Greenland, is one of the marine ecosystems affected most by the melting ice. In early June, three Greenpeace activists scaled the 53,000 ton offshore drilling platform Leiv Eiriksson in a small survival tent. The activists took a small boat from The Esperanza, a Greenpeace ship, and managed to elude the vigilance of the Danish warship which secures the platform and climbed aboard. The platform was only a few hours from the Atammik site, where it was supposed to conduct exploratory Arctic drilling over half a mile deep. The objective of this action was to delay the start of Cairn Energy’s oil exploration, which it has only a few weeks to do it before the Arctic winter prevents them to do it for one year.
An oil spill in this area would have disastrous natural consequences. It would take weeks to get assistance and any cleanup would be impossible as the natural and climatic conditions are difficult. This would cause irreversible damages as it is navigable only a few weeks a year. Even when a platform exploded a few miles offshore, such as last year in the Gulf of Mexico, one can see how difficult it was to implement cleanup actions, and in the middle of Greenland it would be worse. In addition, if the exploratory drilling occurs, it would pave the way to a black gold rush in this fragile region. But in a recent report of activity, Cairn, which holds exploration rights over areas covering 102,000 km square in Greenland, reaffirmed that Greenland is a priority.
The Arctic is one of the areas of our planet where the effects of climate change will be visible the earliest, and where its impact will be the most significant. Air temperatures in the Arctic have increased by about 40°F on average during the last hundred years. The extent of Arctic sea ice has shrunk by about 3% per decade between 1978 and 1996 and the minimum thickness of ice in summer has declined by 40% over the last thirty years. The results of computer simulations about future climate change are not unanimous in the details, but all show a clear trend towards global warming in the Arctic, leading to ice melting. Models predict that by 2080 sea ice in the Arctic will completely disappear during summer months.
These fundamental and fast changes will dramatically transform an ecosystem whose main component is ice. The Arctic will become an area of open sea and the consequences for all species adapted to the Arctic ecosystem will be very serious. The greatest at-risk animals are the narwhals, seals, bowhead whales, walruses and polar bears, which have become the face of global warming changes. No ice means no seals, no fat, and therefore no reserves for polar bears. At this rate, polar bears could disappear within 100 years as global warming is not the only enemy for these endangered Arctic animals. Our industrialized countries emit a lot of pesticides, heavy metals, mercury, etc. into the air and water. Winds and ocean currents bring these pollutants into the Arctic, so that the concentration of toxic substances is enormous in the Far North’s water and plankton. In the end, toxic substances are three billion times more concentrated in polar bears’ blubber than it is in the water. So instead of thinking that global warming is an additional source of profit, it is time to act to protect what remains of our planet and ensure its sustainability.