Stephen Harper and the melting Arctic

In what has become an annual media photo-op, Stephen Harper made his seasonal trek to Canada’s North in August.  The bravado of proclamations of “use it or lose it” Arctic sovereignty and flexing of nationalistic muscle is wearing thin. The commitments for deep sea ports and ice breakers and new research stations have begun to run aground on the reality of broken promises.

First promised in 2005 and again in 2008, the much-ballyhooed new icebreakers — in fact, armed, troop-carrying icebreakers — have been delayed once again. The Chinese, with no Arctic coastline at all, now have icebreakers in Canada’s waters while our Coast Guard’s Amundsen is in dry dock.

The construction of the deepwater port naval port in Nanisivik promised in 2007 has yet to be begun, despite promises it would begin two years ago.  Also two years ago, the Prime Minister announced a major new satellite project, the Radarstat Constellation Mission. It now appears to be mired in budgetary delays.

Additionally, Stephen Harper has promised the creation of a new Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS) to be built in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. This is one of the more bizarre announcements. It was first pledged in the 2007 Speech from the Throne claiming the government would “build a world-class Arctic research station that will be on the cutting edge of Arctic issues, including environmental science and resource development. This station will be built by Canadians, in Canada’s Arctic, and it will be there to serve the world.”

It is bizarre because at the same time that the Harper Conservatives are pledging millions to build a new research facility from the ground up, they are shutting down a world respected facility further north, closer to the North Pole. The PEARL station (Polar Environmental and Atmospheric Research Laboratory) at Eureka on Ellesmere Island, recently had $10 million invested in state of the art equipment to monitor ozone depletion and the build up of greenhouse gases. Closing it down is a scandal. 

The language for CHARS’ mandate suggests a coziness with resource development. The unbelievable waste in shutting down PEARL, already in operation and producing critical work, only to build a brand new facility with a vague mandate and claim to be the world’s leading high Arctic research station is stunning. My theory is that killing climate science is the goal, and being able to throw out a big number being spent on Arctic research is about spin to claim that science is not being abandoned. Money will be spent on Arctic research, but not in areas that threaten the Harper agenda.

Notice how the promises of the last six years of Harper’s northern agenda are cloaked in military goals. Our icebreakers must be armed and capable of carrying troops. Why exactly? The deep water port is a naval port, not commercial and not even of use in the all too rapid growth of tourism to the Arctic. As Michael Byers pointed out in a recent Globe and Mail article, international cruises are now plying the once impassable waters of the Northwest Passage, without reliable navigational charts and with an inadequate level of search and rescue infrastructure should our foreign visitors run into trouble.

Last month, the Prime Minister laid out some promises for which his follow through is a mere formality. He is promising that mining and oil and gas industries will stake out the Arctic and begin a pell-mell level of development. With C-38 and the removal of the vast majority of environmental reviews, with the loss of habitat protection in the Fisheries Act and so on, the Arctic is wide open for environmental assault. Harper claimed $38 billion worth of development, coming from two dozen projects are barrelling toward the fragile Arctic environment. These projects include drilling for oil and gas along the Arctic coastline, as well as mining projects.

It is all too clear how Stephen Harper views the melting Arctic. Not for him the grim warnings of science – nor will he heed the news that fires, floods and droughts have been increased globally as the jet stream slows down due to a warming Arctic.  The melting of the Arctic is only cause for celebration. In his entire trip to the Arctic, the Prime Minister made no mention of the fact that the world was approaching an all-time record level of loss of Arctic ice.

The threat to our Arctic territories is in rapidly changing Arctic climate and the positive feedback loops that allow the melting ice to expose dark ocean water and cause the melting to accelerate. None of this is good news to anyone aware of the science of climate change.

The National Snow and Ice Data Centre has reported that Arctic sea ice has already dropped below the 2007 melt record – and there are still two to three weeks of melt to go. On August 26 the ice dropped below 4 million km2, an all time loss of Arctic sea ice. This is a melt of more than 40% of summer ice extent in the past decade alone.

Stephen Harper has it wrong. Arctic sovereignty is not a case of “use it or lose it.” It is an imperative to “protect it or lose it.” Harper’s version of Arctic security will bring about Canada and the world’s increased insecurity. His is not an agenda of leadership. It is the 2012 version of Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 dark classic Dr. Strangelove. Stephen Harper is leading us toward destruction.