Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

Billions overboard in the Arctic

Canadians care about Arctic sovereignty. But I’m wondering: how many world-class Arctic research stations could we build across Nunavut and the NWT for $35 billion? Because $35 billion is a lot of bread for some flashy new military hardware, and I’m not convinced that’s where Ottawa’s weakest on the Arctic sovereignty question.

Some simple maths. The Cambridge Bay research station announced last year, a top-flight facility that will do some important work in climatology, will cost $200 million over ten years. Cambridge Bay wasn’t the only choice for a location – Resolute Bay wanted a station, as did Pond Inlet, and they would have been able to do different kinds of work in studying glacial retreat and other cryological studies. Given that the entire Arctic sovereignty question has emerged because ice cover is disappearing, there is clearly lots of Arctic science to be done – and plus, if a prime goal is to consolidate claims on sovereignty, what better way to do it (while also bolstering our research and innovation capacity) by investing in the place, and not just in the boats to guard it.

Given the new Cambridge Bay station costs, my (grossly simplified but maybe entirely correct) calculations suggest that we could fund not only Resolute Bay and Pond Inlet as well as Cambridge Bay, but a further one-hundred similarly incredible, world-class research centres across the Arctic archipelago for the next ten years, and still have money left over to replace 75 of them in ten years’ time. All for the price tag of Harper’s boats.

Not that boats aren’t important, it’s good to be on patrol. But Ottawa’s got a very basic idea about what Arctic sovereignty entails. Is it just boats and planes? All the time? Or maybe we should be doing things up there? Developing our understanding of what we assert to be our own backyard? Making a clear case against exploiting the region as a new international shipping freeway or playground for BP to explore? Being present in the Arctic – not just with warships which will frankly never fire a single torpedo in anger, but being present as people: learning, working, and maybe even contributing something useful to the universe.

We have thousands of Canadian citizens in the Arctic, and they rely on climate patterns that are changing right under our noses. Being incapable and disinterested in even understanding how this is so is, to me, actually a pretty serious blow against a case for Canadian sovereignty up there.

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Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , ,

Scientalific evidamence

Panicked into embarrassment over Arctic inaction, I suppose? Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon today announces he has something he calls “scientific evidence” that supports Canada’s claim over the Lomonosov Ridge.

Scientific evidence! Wow. That sounds quite fancy. Real scientists, getting real evidence. Wearing lab coats, adjusting spectacles, nodding at maps… acting all sciency.

I wonder if Cannon could give us a teaser as to what new evidence he’s excited about? Or is he possibly just trying to appear to be doing something, anything constructive in the Arctic the day after Russia and Norway resolve a border dispute?

I remember John McCain during the Presidential debates:

“I’ll get Osama bin Laden, my friends. I’ll get him. I know how to get him. I’ll get him no matter what, and I know how to do it.”

Like Lawrence Cannon, if he had a real clue, you think he’d have shared it.

With the Russia-Norway deal demonstrating what progress looks like, Ottawa needed to ratchet up the tone and appear to be “progressing” on its own Arctic file. As so often, getting this tone right trumps getting the actual scientific evidence. Just ask Munir Sheikh.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , ,

Twiddling in the Arctic

Norway and Russia have resolved an Arctic maritime border dispute through negotiation, while Canada buys multi-billion dollar stealth fighter jets. Which do you think is the more effective route to asserting Arctic sovereignty?

So, much to Harper’s chagrin, racing around on an ATV in Tuktoyaktuk and getting your photo taken atop a submarine is not enough to assert Arctic sovereignty. Nor are multi-billion dollar stealth jet fighters that are primarily designed to blow up bridges and villages.

Unfortunately for Harper, negotiating a settlement is how these things work. You can’t prorogue it away, you can’t lie about it or spin it off the front pages. You can’t just tell the process that “you think you make the rules.” You just have to bite your lip, go into that negotiating room, and work.

Not that the discourse of Arctic territorialism is something I’m very happy with. There is of course a dark irony in seeking to exploit the effects of climate change to drill for even more oil and create a freeway system of cargo boats to churn through one of the world’s most environmentally sensitive areas.

I have a quaint (but still passionate!) plan for the Arctic myself, though this falls in the category of ultranaive internationalism. So. Everything north of 75 degrees ought to fall under the authority of an international Arctic Treaty system – something not as far-reaching as the Antarctic Treaty, but nevertheless a treaty regime that would forbid all military activity, resource exploitation, and shipping, forever and ever.

Of course this would have implications for Santa Claus, but it’s for the greater good.

Filed under: Canada, International, Politics, , , , ,

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