carving up the arctic

Did you hear about last week’s big Arctic conference?

It was called by the Russians, held in Russia, and mostly covered by Russians. Canadians paid a lot of attention too, I think. Anyway, the Russians are getting right down to business:

This strange construction, part ship, part platform, is unique and lies at the heart of Russia’s grand ambitions for the Arctic.

When it is completed in 2012, it will be the first of eight floating nuclear power stations which the government wants to place along Russia’s north coast, well within the Arctic Circle.

The idea is the nuclear reactors will provide the power for Russia’s planned push to the North Pole.


Here’s a dissenting opinion about the importance of the Arctic. It’s from an oil industry perspective, though, which is quite different from a national perspective.

Even without the oil, the opening of new sea lanes is a big story in its own right:

arctic roundup


heating up in the arctic

“The year is 2020, and, from the Middle East to Nigeria, the world is convulsed by a series of conflicts over dwindling energy supplies. The last untapped reserves of oil and gas lie in the most extreme environment on the planet — the North Pole — where an estimated bonanza of 100 billion barrels are buried deep beneath the Arctic seabed. The ownership of this hostile no-man’s-land is contested by Russia, Denmark, Norway, the U.S and Canada. And, in an increasingly desperate battle for resources, each begins to back up its claim with force.”

post-soviet roundup

Haven’t checked in on Georgia for a while. What a mess.

The European Union has finally decided that it can’t accomplish anything in the Middle East, so maybe it should pay some attention to, y’know, Europe:

“There are new priorities on the agenda which were not so obvious last year, including the need to stabilize these countries, which are moving from one crisis to another,” said Nicu Popescu, a research fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “The focus is less on structural adjustments or institution-building and more on crisis management.”

And file this one under “what could possibly go wrong?”

enviro stuff

This is very wonkish, and it represents a reformist (as opposed to revolutionary) approach to climate change, but it’s an example of where the debate should be. Not “is it happening?”, but “what can we do about it?” The answer is probably “a lot more than any politician has been willing to say yet,” but you knew that.

And that is why the analogy of a massive government Apollo program or Manhattan project is so flawed. Those programs were to create unique non-commercial products for a specialized customer with an unlimited budget. Throwing money at the problem was an obvious approach. To save a livable climate we need to create mass-market commercial products for lots of different customers who have limited budgets. That requires a completely different strategy.

This second one is going to be worth following, I think:

And in case you missed this earlier in the week:

And more cheerful news:

OK, tomorrow will be better news. Maybe some pirates, and I’ve already got a zombie lined up for you.


Been a long time since we checked in on the remaining Republic of Georgia, eh? Long story short: Georgians stuck by President Saakashvili during the war and immediately after, but now that it’s clear that Georgia got pwned, the opposition is heating up. Can the government remember it’s on the side of democracy, or will it crack down? Meanwhile, the Russians (I almost typed “Soviets”) are digging in in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Global financial crisis or not, oil and natural gas are the long-term keys to an inexorable transfer of economic power from the West to Asia. Those who control Pipelineistan — and despite all the dreaming and planning that’s gone on there, it’s unlikely to be Washington — will have the upper hand in whatever’s to come, and there’s not a terrorist in the world, or even a long war, that can change that.

And this:

arctic, nukes and food (updated with genuine science!)

The researchers, 26 corn-insect specialists, withheld their names because they feared being cut off from research by the companies. But several of them agreed in interviews to have their names used.

The problem, the scientists say, is that farmers and other buyers of genetically engineered seeds have to sign an agreement meant to ensure that growers honor company patent rights and environmental regulations. But the agreements also prohibit growing the crops for research purposes.

This has been coming for a while- good number of enviros are going to be looking at nuclear power as the only way to get off of fossil fuels. As nothing continues to be done on climate change, it’s going to become more palatable as a last-ditch effort.

The one-time opponents of nuclear power, who include the former head of Greenpeace, have told The Independent that they have now changed their minds over atomic energy because of the urgent need to curb emissions of carbon dioxide.

They all take the view that the building of nuclear power stations is now imperative and that to delay the process with time-consuming public inquiries and legal challenges would seriously undermine Britain’s promise to cut its carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

And no matter how safe it becomes, here’s one good reason that it will remain a bad idea:

I’m not going to try to cover the big fights over the melting Arctic that have been happening for the last few weeks. Here’s one good little piece that brings two of the big issues together, and today’s news with an  interesting paragraph:

“We’re beginning to get hints of change in ocean circulation, that’ll have a dramatic impact on the global climate system,” IPY director David Carlson told journalists.

Changes in ocean circulation are one of the big climate predictions to watch out for.  If that’s what they’re really seeing, then it has the potential to set off some large-scale changes that people don’t really expect yet.

And the awesome thing about the Arctic for the true news nerd is that it’s a scientific and environmental story, but it’s also about politics and navies and such:

EDIT: And this, by way of Technoccult:

post-soviet round-up, russians in the arctic and pirates

Georgia hasn’t really stabilized yet:

And Russia’s got trouble of its own just across the Caucasus:

Doesn’t stop the Russians from looking north, though:

Since I’m doing world politics tonight, I’ll take up my sadly neglected duty of telling you everything that happened with pirates. Did I even mention last week that the MV Faina was released? That’s the ship that was carrying tanks and other weapons to Kenya, although the arms are widely thought to have been intended for a Sudanese faction.

According to David Musila, Assistant Minister for Defense, the military equipment will be off-loaded from the ship starting on Friday.

The military equipment, he said, will be delivered by rail to the Kahawa Garrison before transportation to the Armor Brigade in Isiolo in northern Kenya.

“We shall invite the media to witness this process,” Musila said, adding that this will convince those people that have doubted that the cargo was meant for Kenya.

The U.S. and Russian navies joined forces today in the Gulf of Aden in an extraordinary and spontaneous display of counter-piracy cooperation and high-seas diplomacy. The U.S.-guided missile cruiser Vella Gulf and the Russian destroyer Admiral Vinogradov launched a coordinated military response to a distress call from a Panamanian cargo ship, which reported it was about to be attacked by pirates.

But before anyone gets too excited about their antipiracy patrols:

Among the litany of booby traps left by the Bush administration for the Obama team, Somalia could be one of the most complicated and bizarre.

The crisis there is also an opportunity, however, as one of the main obstacles to all-party peace talks was the Bush administration’s cynical and unrealistic refusal to talk to the most powerful insurgent groups in Somalia because of their alleged association with terrorism. The Obama administration, if Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s confirmation hearing is any indication, also views the Horn of Africa in the context of terrorism.

Nevertheless, Obama has also talked of his preference for diplomatic solutions. Somalia would be an ideal place to test his diplomacy.

assorted news

Before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, dedicating 20,000 troops to domestic response — a nearly sevenfold increase in five years — “would have been extraordinary to the point of unbelievable,” Paul McHale, assistant defense secretary for homeland defense, said in remarks last month at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. But the realization that civilian authorities may be overwhelmed in a catastrophe prompted “a fundamental change in military culture,” he said.

I posted an earlier development of this a couple of months ago. I warned people then not to be stupid- this didn’t mean martial law. The reason for that warning was that the paranoid left was going through one of its occasional panics about martial law, canceled elections, etc. that never seem to pan out. I think these panics are a symptom of ignorance, and more effort needs to be made to educate people on the practical matters of politics.

But this shouldn’t obscure the fact that we have a creeping authoritarianism in this country that has its roots before 9/11, and is unlikely to get turned around if we don’t take action against it.  I’m wary of terms like fascismmartial law and police state, because they have specific meanings that don’t necessarily apply the way people use them, but I’m afraid that by shunning the terms, I lose the ability to talk about what’s happening in a way people understand. I suppose we need new ways to talk about these things that reflect today’s world, much like most of the rest of our political vocabulary.

And now, pirates!

Several of these stories indicate pirates attacking in greater numbers than before, or going after new types of targets. I’d suggest this is a tactical response to the increased presence of foreign navies in the region. It may mean the pirates will be able to respond to changing conditions and will not be suppressed as easily as some people expect.

The rare white lemuroid possum hasn’t been sighted for the past three years. Scientists are concerned it might have the ignominious distinction of being the world’s first mammal sent to extinction by global warming.

This contract is good news, in a sense. It means we’ll be using the Soyuz to send astronauts to the International Space Station, and I certainly wouldn’t argue that we stop going up there. But what’s up with having to rely on the Russians? Once the shuttle is retired, we’ll have no capability to put humans in space. Not until the new system is up and running, and who knows how NASA will fare over the next few years?

world news

I’m busy packing tonight, so here’s a quick crawl through the post-soviet periphery and a couple other things.