How to make a profit from an ecological disaster

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While in the summer of 2019 the countries of Europe sweltered under a heat wave, another country suffered from it also with potentially much more dangerous consequences: on July 30 the temperature on the east coast of Greenland hit a record high of 25 degrees Celsius. Scientists from around the world reacted with indignation faced with the breadth of the catastrophe: "When we go back over several decades, it's better to be sitting down before looking at the results because we are fearful of the speed of change (...) It's also something that affects the whole of Greenland not just the hottest parts of the south"[1]. More than half of Greenland's ice-cap is now reduced to slush. The consequences are immediately preoccupying for the indigenous people; rivers are swelling so much from the melted snow that they have already destroyed several bridges. This situation will become normal in the future as climate experts are forecasting more and more similar developments.

The consequences are enormous and not just at the climatic level: the retreat of the pack-ice, which is becoming permanent, allows all maritime countries to look at exploiting the situation on several levels: access to new natural resources, to new strategic regions and to new commercial routes. The bourgeoisie is thus exploiting the catastrophes that its system has brought about, increasing still more the risks to the environment.

New grounds for the pillage of natural resources

The Arctic is rich in different natural resources which up to now have been frozen in the ice, presenting difficulties of exploitation and the relative disinterest of the maritime powers for this frozen and inhospitable region. All this has evidently changed with climatic heating and the frenetic race by the major powers for accessible mineral resources which are becoming rarer or constitute assets in the economic and industrial war: metals such as zinc, copper, tin, lead, nickel, gold, uranium, diamonds, rare-earth, gas and oil, all are here in the Arctic and that would provide the possibility of exercising a monopoly. The Kara Sea, part of the Arctic Ocean north of Siberia, holds as much oil as Saudi Arabia and a US study has put 13% of oil reserves and 30% of the world's gas reserves in this region.

All the speeches from the media about safeguarding the environment, the necessary changes in "the way we live and consume" (but nothing about production!) and the indispensable individual "examination of one's own conscience" regarding one's "carbon footprint" and over-consumption are perfectly hypocritical faced with this reality: the bourgeoisie looks for profit everywhere, in the climate disaster unfolding in front of our eyes as in all the rest! If it is possible to exploit (even over-exploit) the melting of the Arctic glaciers in a profitable fashion it will do so and that's only one facet of the problem: as soon as there is the exploitation of natural resources, the inherent risks (pollution, accidents, increased destruction of the environment that collides with local people and destroys their way of life) can only follow, as a representative of the Inuit people said:  "Our culture and our way of life are being attacked. The animals, the birds and the fish on which we depend for our survival are more and more under pressure. We are concerned for our food security"[2].

While making workers feel guilty for their "irresponsibility" faced with the climate catastrophe, each national bourgeoisie is organising themselves to draw a profit from it or, better still, draw some strategic advantages.

"New commercial opportunities"

The Arctic is not only a source of potential raw materials; it is also coveted because the melting glaciers allow the opening up of new sea routes, potentially much shorter and thus more profitable than those existing. Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State and ex-director of the CIA, noted that "the regular retreat of the ice-pack opens up new routes for passage and offers new commercial opportunities"[3]. While denying all climatic change, this worthy representative of the American bourgeoisie unashamedly vows to profit from it! And the US is not the only shark swimming in these waters: altogether six countries are directly concerned (Canada, USA, Russia, Denmark, Norway and Iceland) and a certain number of others are certainly interested in the question.

In the first rank we find China, observer to the Arctic Council, which has underlined its interest in a route which will allow it to reach the Atlantic ports without having to go around Africa or go through the Panama Canal; it also invested some 90 billion dollars here between 2012 and 2017, according to Pompeo, and has sent specialised ships in order to try out the new route. Russia is evidently highly interested by the possibility of the unrestricted use of its Arctic ports in open waters, contrary to the ports that it usually uses (apart from Murmansk), which would allow it to closely monitor this new sea route. Norway, Canada, Denmark, who are directly concerned, are evidently actively manoeuvring around their interest in the region. But other powers are looking to get their feet in the door, for example France, which has the status of Arctic Council observer and which has set up the post of an "ambassador to the Poles" given a little while ago to Segolene Royal, who follows on from Michel Rocard. France regularly takes part in NATO exercises in the region.

This interest of diverse powers is affirmed by a very militaristic declaration by the United States, again in the words of Mike Pompeo: "We are entering a new era of strategic engagement in the Arctic, with new threats for the Arctic and its resources, and for all of our interests in this region". According to him, the Arctic passage "could reduce the times of journeys between Asia and the West by about twenty days". He wants the Arctic route to become the "Suez Canal and the Panama of the twenty-first century". As we understand the weight of the Panama Canal for US imperialism, the interest shown in the "North-west passage" takes on a practically historic importance. And we also understand while the US openly tries to exclude China from the Arctic Council!

Beyond the sea routes, global warming opens up the possibilities of making terrestrial routes a long-term practicality, opening the door to the installation of numerous important infrastructures, and consequently the possibilities of easier access to these areas that are normally impossible to work in for three-quarters of the year. This would allow for a better economic exploitation and an opening up of the regions, while lowering the cost of living for the local residents. For example the Canadian government has launched a number of such projects over the years.

"Boot-prints in the snow"

In the logic of imperialism, these developments can only bring an increased military presence in this region where, since the Cold War, few soldiers have been stationed, but where now each power involved has to defend their well-understood interests by baring their military fangs. Pompeo has been clear: "The region has become a space for world power and competition", which here involves a growing presence of the armies of Uncle Sam, adding that "Russia is already leaving its boot-prints in the snow". Denouncing the multiple military provocations of Russia, its blocking of the GPS network, its air incursions into areas it has kept away from up to now and its regular maritime manoeuvres, the countries of NATO have responded: Iceland has re-opened its base on Keflavik to GIs, while Norway has opened up its Grøtsund deep-water port to US and British nuclear submarines, and its Bodo aerodrome is regularly used by fighter aircraft for their various exercises in which the countries of NATO participate...

On its side Russia has reactivated its Siberian bases, abandoned since the Cold War, while renovating its old fleet of ice-breakers. Pompeo's remarks do not lack an element of truth...

These imperialist developments have also given rise to a rather droll event. Trump's suggestion about buying Greenland from Denmark is not quite absurd and casts a light on the very voracious appetites of the imperialist powers in the area. Although this vast region, four times the size of France and covered with the largest glacier in the world, costs the Danish state dear, it is quite unimaginable for Copenhagen to give up such a potentially lucrative outpost as Greenland. The United States, which has always guaranteed the defence of this large island since the Second World War, already tried to buy it in 1946; but that came up against all the imperialist logic of capitalism. Situated in the Arctic, rich in numerous unexploited natural resources, strategically well-placed with a route around the American continent to the north and thus so vital for the USA’s security that it occupied Greenland militarily from 1940, the territory has numerous qualities from an imperialist point of view, and others can be added: not only is the port of Thule in very deep waters and can thus accommodate very large civilian or military vessels, but the lay of the airport allows whatever apparatuses to be unloaded. Moreover, the Exclusive Economic Zone of Greenland allows the state to exploit all resources which are found inside this zone up to 200 nautical miles around the territory. As a bonus, Greenland is associated to the European Union because of Denmark's guardianship which increases its points of interest... Trump’s own interest in this territory is far from being absurd from the logic of imperialism, much more so when global warming offers unprecedented perspectives to anyone who controls it!

Capitalism has habituated us to the idea of profiting from anything, which is what this most dynamic system of production does. But to take profits by aggravating a major global threat to the ecosystem, that it itself has provoked and which puts the future of humanity into question, in the same way as its criminal deforestation of the Amazon, shows to what point this system is decomposing and has no viable future to offer humanity. This is what the ICC said in 1990 in its "Theses on Decomposition":

“The scale and the proliferation of all these economic and social calamities, which spring generally speaking from the decadence of the system itself, reveals the fact that this system is trapped in a complete dead-end, and has no future to propose to the greater part of the world population other than a growing and unimaginable barbarity. This is a system where economic policy, research, investment are all conducted to the detriment of humanity’s future, and even to the detriment of the system itself."

The future that's in store for the Arctic that we show above is one that capitalism holds for the entire human species: over-exploitation and the transformation of the environment into an unbearable hell, a search for profit which means selling off the future, military barbarism, everything is here! The alternative to this for humanity is the one proposed by the Third International a hundred years ago: socialism or barbarism, the destruction of this system that has no future, or the slow destruction of humanity. 

H.D. April 24, 2020

[1]  "Greenland hit by a heatwave with temperatures reaching 25C", Science et Avenir (in French, August 1, 2019).

[2]  "American climatic scepticism upsets regional cooperation in the Arctic" GEO, (March 7, 2019).

[3]  Idem


Imperialism in the Arctic