“One small dive for man, one giant leap …”

August 9, 2007 at 8:33 am | Posted in America, Arctic ice, Climate change, Environment, Feedbacks, Negative, Permafrost, Positive, Russia | 5 Comments

A global tragedy of monumental proportions is unfolding at the top of the world, and the human race is all but oblivious to what’s happening.
When U.S. astronauts stepped onto the moon in 1969, Neil Armstrong’s first words were, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” The Russian aquanauts, landing on the Arctic seabed, might just as well have said, “One small dive for man, one giant leap backward for life on Earth.”

Jeremy Rifkin has a lot to say about this topic, much of it alarming, which reveals how he came to make that statement above. I wonder if fergus brown has thoughts on his chilling tale:

The crisis under the ice
Global warming enabled Russia’s Arctic land grab, and now it could get worse.
By Jeremy Rifkin
August 9, 2007

I do not know enough to comment on the the thawing of permafrost. My concern lies with the simple fact that we are burning fossil fuels that ruin the atmosphere and the consequent impact of sea level changes is that more fossil fuels are revealed, ripe for the picking, and ready for us to ruin the atmosphere further!

This addictive positive feedback of man’s actions—our CO2 emissions reveal more fossil fuels to mine and burn, with more CO2 emitted as a result—is so bad for the environment, we have to stop it somehow.

Even in discussions about feedbacks and responses, there seems to be a fairly widespread confusion about the difference between positive and negative feedbacks when applied to systems as opposed to social appraisals.

In terms of human interactions:

  • Positive feedback is good, because it is confidence-building
  • Negative feedback is bad, because it demoralising

In science and engineering terminology:

  • Positive feedback is bad, because it means a system responds to a change in the same direction as that change and this amplification leads to instability
  • Negative feedback is good, because it tends to reestablish equilibrium in a system around a setpoint or stable state

For climate considerations, we need stability: so negative feedback is welcome!

Here’s the start of a well-constructed World Affairs story by Paul Reynolds for BBC News, which provides a useful background to Rifkin’s article, and introduces Russia’s most famous explorer—Artur Chilingarov—whose name is, indeed, unforgetable:

Russia ahead in Arctic ‘gold rush’

By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs correspondent, BBC News website

The Russians are leading a new “gold rush” in the high north, with a bold attempt to assert a claim to oil, gas and mineral rights over large parts of the Arctic Ocean up to the North Pole.

Artur Chilingarov

New “goldminer”: Artur Chilingarov

Russia’s most famous explorer, Artur Chilingarov, complete with nautical beard, led the expedition to plant the Russian flag in a capsule on the ocean seabed under the pole itself.

“The Arctic is Russian,” Chilingarov said earlier. “We must prove the North Pole is an extension of the Russian coastal shelf.”

Russia is claiming that an underwater mountain known as the Lomonosov Ridge is actually an extension of the Russian landmass.

This, it argues, justifies its claim to a triangular area up to the pole, giving it rights under the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention.

Under Article 76 of the convention, a state can claim a 200 nautical mile exclusive zone and beyond that up to 150 nautical miles of rights on the seabed. The baseline from which these distances are measured depends on where the continental shelf ends.

See a detailed map of the region

Russia lodged a formal claim in 2001 but the UN’s Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf told it to resubmit the claim. The flag-planting can be seen as a symbolic gesture in support.

At the same time, other states are acting to protect their interests in the Arctic. Canada is planning to build up to eight new patrol ships and the US Congress is considering a proposal to build two new heavy polar ships.

The rush for the Arctic has become more frenzied because of the melting of parts of the polar ice cap, which will allow easier exploration, and by the urgent need for new sources of oil and gas. A new sense of nationalism is also evident in Russia.

Russian map claiming rights up to North Pole

Shaded area on Russian map shows claim up to North Pole

The ice thaw is predicted by a team of international researchers whose Arctic Climate Impact Assessment suggested in 2004 that the summer ice cap could melt completely before the end of this century because of global warming.

If the ice retreats, it could open up new shipping routes and new areas where natural resources could be exploited.

The US Geological Survey estimates that a quarter of the world’s undiscovered energy resources lies in Arctic areas.


1) North Pole: Russia leaves its flag on the seabed, 4,000m (13,100ft) beneath the surface, as part of its claims for oil and gas reserves
2) Lomonosov Ridge: Russia argues that this underwater feature is an extension of its continental territory and is looking for evidence
3) 200-nautical mile (370km) line: Shows how far countries’ agreed economic area extends beyond their coastline. Often set from outlying islands
4) Russian-claimed territory: The bid to claim a vast area is being closely watched by other countries. Some could follow suit

So, how can we stop this fight for black gold that could lead to the destabilisation of our planet?



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  1. Hi, inel; indeed I do have an opinion. This is a classic example of how governments react to events which others view as disasters; It’s a business opportunity! Great; loads of untapped resources are going to come on line; we’re saved; we won’t have to reduce fossil fuel use, because we’ll have a whole new batch of it…
    need I go on?

    This is the point Michael Tobis keeps going on about; if everything is valued in terms of economy, the consequences of ice decline don’t signify as a threat, in comparison to the advantages it offers.

    I feel ill…

  2. Now it’s the Danes’ turn!

    Oh, dear …

  3. Don’t worry; we all know that Sir Ranulf Twistleton Wykeham Fiennes owns the North Pole, so its ours by default…

  4. So now Canada is at it!

  5. The Artic needs an Antarctic Treaty, which has worked fairly well at protecting the South Pole against rampant exploration.

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