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Global warming and the politics of fossil fuel

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Oilprice.com: We’ll start with the Arctic Sea because so much of your work has focused on this area. Right now, the talk here is of vast opportunities, and vast environmental concern. How can we balance these two, and what is at stake? 

Fen Montaigne: I am in the go-slow camp when it comes to developing the Arctic, whether it be the region’s fossil fuel riches, its minerals, or its fisheries. I think the problems that Shell has experienced in its early attempts to drill off Alaska’s coast bolster the case for a cautious approach. Cleaning up an oil spill in that environment would be far, far more difficult than in the Gulf of Mexico, and a spill’s effects would be more severe and long lasting in a cold-water environment than in warm waters.

The Arctic nations — as well as other interested countries, such as China — need to carefully survey and assess the resources of the Arctic basin and draft a conservative plan for their exploitation. That may include a ban on drilling for oil and gas in large sections of the Arctic.

Oilprice.com: How can you make the case for global warming using the decline in Arctic Sea ice, and how profound will the consequences be?

Fen Montaigne: No better evidence of the warming of the earth in the last century — and particularly in the last 30-40 years — exists than the melting of the cryosphere, or ice zones. More than 90% of the world’s glaciers are in retreat, and the disappearance of Arctic sea ice is nothing short of stunning.

I have seen this melting with my own eyes, having spent 5 months researching a book on the Antarctic Peninsula, where sea ice and glaciers are retreating rapidly. Earlier this year, I visited a glacier in Switzerland that has retreated by a half-mile since I last saw it 20 years ago; this is not mere anecdotal evidence, as nearly all the glaciers in the Alps, Andes, etc., are in rapid retreat. (Related articles: Extreme Energy, Extreme Implications: Interview with Michael Klare)

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