David Suzuki: The baffling response to Arctic climate change

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      The Arctic may seem like a distant place, just as the most extreme consequences of our wasteful use of fossil fuels may appear to be in some distant future. Both are closer than most of us realize.

      The Arctic is a focal point for some of the most profound impacts of climate change. One of the world’s top ice experts, Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University, calls the situation a “global disaster,” suggesting ice is disappearing faster than predicted and could be gone within as few as four years.

      “The main cause is simply global warming: as the climate has warmed there has been less ice growth during the winter and more ice melt during the summer,” he told the U.K.’s Guardian.

      Over the past 30 years, permanent Arctic sea ice has shrunk to half its previous area and thickness. As it diminishes, global warming accelerates. This is due to a number of factors, including release of the potent greenhouse gas methane trapped under nearby permafrost, and because ice reflects the sun’s energy whereas oceans absorb it.

      With all we know about climate change and what’s happening in the Arctic, you’d think our leaders would be marshalling resources to at least slow it down. Instead, industry and governments are eyeing new opportunities to mine Arctic fossil fuels. Factoring in threats to the numerous species of Arctic creaturesincluding fish, seabirds, marine mammals such as whales and seals, and polar bears—makes such an approach even more incomprehensible. 

      Royal Dutch Shell has been preparing to drill in the Arctic, spending $4.5 billion on operations and lease purchases. But its record shows how risky this is. First, a spill containment dome failed a routine safety test and was crushed by underwater pressure. More recently, a drilling rig, which was being towed to Seattle so Shell could avoid paying some Alaskan taxes, broke free during a storm and ran aground on an island in the Gulf of Alaska. The disastrous BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 showed how dangerous ocean drilling can be even in relatively calm waters and how bogus the claims of the industry are that it can contain or even clean up a spill.

      Responding to climate change and vanishing Arctic ice by gearing up to drill for the stuff at the root of the problem is insane. Unfortunately, many fossil fuel companies and governments are engaged in a mad rush to get as much oil and gas out of the ground—no matter how difficult—while there’s still a market. The ever-increasing devastation of climate change means we will eventually have to leave much of it where it is—or at the very least, substantially slow the pace of extraction and use the resource more wisely—if we want to survive and be healthy as a species.

      In Ecuador, knowing that exploiting the country’s massive oil reserves will fuel climate change and cause massive environmental destruction in one of the world’s most biologically diverse rainforests, leaders are taking a different approach. The government plans to leave oil fields in Yasuni National Park untouched if other countries help compensate for some of the lost revenue. So far only about $300 million has been raised toward the $3.6 billion over 13 years that the government believes would make up for half the oil’s value, but the idea is gaining momentum.

      The Guardian notes the money won’t go to government but will be “held in trust funds and administered by the UN Development Programme working with a board made up of indigenous peoples, local communities, academics and others.”

      Ivonne Baki, head of the negotiating committee of the Yasuní-Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini, told the Guardian Ecuador does not want to become overly dependent on oil. “Oil countries are cursed,” she said. “Developing countries depend on it so much that they do not develop anything else. It breeds corruption and the poor pay the price.”

      With Arctic ice melting, Australia on fire and increasing droughts, floods and extreme weather throughout the world, it’s past time to get serious about global warming. It remains to be seen if a plan like Ecuador’s will work, but surely a developed country like Canada can at least learn that wastefully exploiting precious resources as quickly as possible isn’t the only option.

      Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation communications manager Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.


      We're now using Facebook for comments.



      Jan 29, 2013 at 8:39pm

      Here we go again,The sky is falling we are all going to die if we dont spend billions to buy corbon credits from africa and other poor countries,or stop production of any fossil fuel in Canada and import it from elswere,so we dont pollut our air.Climat change "WEATHER" has been with us since Ice Age,Tropical Paradice,and will continue.The ice age Suzuki said will happend 10 years ago never happend so now we have globle warming,no that didnt happend Climat change was born now we can blame everything on the weather.

      steve b.

      Jan 29, 2013 at 9:49pm

      The only thing more moronic than climate change "deniers" are their comments. Nuff said!

      Ted Campbell

      Jan 29, 2013 at 11:03pm

      I am so fed up with the Suzuki's and the rest of the doomsday peddlers of the world. A common-sense article by Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail this week quoted the British Meteorlogial Office "Global Temperatures have held steady for 16 years." Bill Good had another scare-monger on this week - he said. "Every scientist knows Global warming is taking place" NOT QUITE EVERY SCIENTIST SIR! Only the handpicked ones that share your views. An "EXPERT" is any fool 100 miles from home with a briefcase. Global warming and cooling has been going on for centuries. To wit: Mamooths frozen in arctic ice didn't get there by wandering up from Africa.


      Jan 29, 2013 at 11:27pm

      Wasn't that you back in 07 said the banks WERE TOO BIG TO FAIL or was that your sister.


      Jan 30, 2013 at 1:17am

      Even if global warming of this kind really has been going on for centuries (which it likely hasn't due to human industry), the fact of the matter is we're not prepared to handle it now, and not doing anything even though we know it's cyclical is actually more stupid than doing nothing if global warming is a first time occurrence.


      Jan 30, 2013 at 8:03am

      Bud66 .So why dont we get the rest of the world to give Canada the billions that our oil is feeding us with and we can shut all the prodution down.O I forgot most of the rest of the countries are broke,becouse they have no resourses to sell,we need our oil to fule our country,If all the coutries were to go the way of Euador ,That is why they are receiving aid ,and producing drugs instead of oil.Why is the article saying we wastefully exploit our resourses.?If we dont produce it we would have to import it from polluting countries and ship (polluting) to us at great expence.We sell to make a living,if you hadnt noticed thats what keeps Canada growing.

      Y tom

      Jan 30, 2013 at 10:11am

      Canada produces 2% of the global greenhouse gases,If we cut that in half 1% is not going to make a differace to the scheme of things.Climat change will happend no matter how much mony we throw at it.We have got to change with it as our forfathers did.The world will end one day too dose that mean we have to buy our way out?

      Lee L.

      Jan 30, 2013 at 12:34pm

      I took a stroll down past Kits beach the other day and recalled a previous visit to the Maritime Museum. The Museum contains a little RCMP ship we used to learn about in high school called the St. Roch. The St. Roch is famous for having navigated the northwest passage in BOTH directions between 1940 and 1942, long before the din of alarmist media stories fed by the likes of Suzuki Foundation, WWF, Greenpeace, etc. I mean, if things are sooo intensely different in the Arctic today, compared to the early forties, one wonders how St. Roch, a little wooden ship, no icebreaker she, could have made the journey long before the bulk of anthropogenic warming had occured.

      Or maybe, the Arctic is a notoriously variable place and many of the 'unprecidented evidence of imminent catastrophe' were not so unprecedented after all.


      Jan 30, 2013 at 1:20pm

      Hi H
      Sadly eastern Canada is importing oil--I think they are paying more for it than the Americans are paying for ours.
      I still don't get why Toronto gas is cheaper than ours?
      All some of us are trying to say is "If your gonna exploit it" don't just cut the head off and hang it on the wall so to speak; or just pick the low hanging fruit, but realize the full value of the carcass; so to speak. We are so fortunate having so much natural wealth and only 34M to share it with. I can't understand why we have to pay taxes at all let alone work; gee I wonder if that's why we don't?--that's for another day.
      It has been said that we will regret burning this stuff, Oil is "hyrocarbons" which is a very precious molecule. It's the basic building block for all these wonderful new materials.
      It started with basic plastics in the 30/60's now there are all these wonderful light weight composites used in skies,golf clubs, cars, boats and airplanes. I might even inadvertently be in agreement with some of your views; an example might be "Stop dissing plastics just because of plastic bags"
      On a lighter note. Can you imagine being an anthropologist [had to spell check that] in 5000 years trying to figure out why these ancient people preserved all this dog excrement [twice for that one] instead of just letting it become oil.
      Fact: If it wasn't for OIL there would not be any Whales left to save. Human greed would would have killed the last one rather than give up the oil source of that day.
      Damed if I'm gonna give up my car or flat screen but hey,
      if you can show me a better way I'll try to keep an open mind as difficult as that is given the "NOISE" of the special
      interest groups. I take in what Mr Suzuki has to say because he has managed to stay "Not beholding" to anyone--CBC a bit maybe--there are very few can say that. Thank you David for your search of knowledge and staying objective; above all; you have; to the best of my knowledge, never sold out.
      Be strong.

      Lee L.

      Jan 30, 2013 at 1:28pm

      Aw... just couldn't resist.

      “the arctic ocean is warming up, icebergs are growing scarcer and in some places the seals are finding the water too hot. Reports all point to a radical change in climatic conditions and hitherto unheard-of temperatures in the arctic zone. Expeditions report that scarcely any ice has been met with as far north as 81 degrees 29 minutes. Great masses of ice have been replaced by moraines of earth and stones, while at many points well known glaciers have entirely disappeared.”
      —US Weatather Bureau, 1922