What would you say if someone asked you to describe the Arctic? Perhaps you would mention that it is an old ice block, unmoving and resilient to the change, stubborn and solitary in response to humanity’s greed. Or you might comment on the effects of global warming and melting ice-caps. Certainly, you would never consider that the Arctic is an untapped resource that needs to be demolished for humanity’s progress. However, many countries have been working diligently over the last century to do just that–exploit and ruin the Arctic ecosystem and its plethora of resources. Take, for example, the current development of Russian technology in the Arctic.
During the Cold War Russia had created a base called the Nagurskoye airbase that included a weather station and a communications outpost in the Franz Josef Land archipelago. Originally, the runway could only handle planes that would be equivalent to the B-52 American airplane. The air base has now been expanded to include icebreaking submarine nuclear missile bombers called the Delta IV. It can have up to 12.8 megatons of nuclear firepower with only 4 missiles. Russia also possesses almost 40 icebreakers with more on the way, making it the largest fleet of icebreakers in the world.
Although this military base is the main threat to Canadian and other Western countries, Russia’s goal is to discover the untapped natural resources and new shipping routes that are being uncovered from the melting snow. According to Administrator Alexander Moiseyev, chief of Russia’s Northern Fleet,
“The complex ice conditions make it necessary to organize safe shipping, so Russia insists on a special regime of its use.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has cited estimates that put the value of Arctic mineral riches at $30 trillion. This is part of the first plan for Russia’s climate change mitigation in terms of lowering the threat of climate change to their country. Russia’s two-year plan to mitigate climate change has also written that there are positives to climate change, and finding the untapped reserves in the Arctic is one of them.
This has been the most activity the North Arctic has experienced and has caught the world’s attention. With Russia’s high military presence, it would be difficult for other countries to be active without conflict.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it “increases the dangers of accidents and miscalculations and undermines the shared goal of a peaceful and sustainable future for the region. So, we have to be vigilant about that.”
Russia views the Northern Sea Route (NSR), as a domestic passageway, while other countries see it as an international passageway. Blinken has also made it clear to the Arctic Council that it is warming 2.5 times as fast as the rest of the world. According to predictions, the Arctic is assumed to be completely ice-free by 2050. The Arctic is responsible for regulating the climate for the rest of the world and absorbing dangerous UV rays the sun emits.
With current testing of the nuclear missiles Russia carries, it can have an impact on the environment if ever launched. Nuclear bombs decimate anything that is within the radius of the missile’s potential. Effects from fallout can include future genetic mutations. In this case, to be surrounded by water may have a greater impact when Russia is testing in the Arctic to the eggs and larvae of marine organisms. The fallout can cause immense darkness [to the area] and cause plant death-causing starvation up the food chain. The Arctic already has a scheduled lack of daylight annually, and it could be made worse if the activity continues.
Authors of an article published in “The Atomic Scientist, further speculate even small-scale use of nuclear warheads could deplete the ozone layer, shorten the growing season, increase temperature, and hasten the effects of global warming.
However, despite these warnings, it seems that Russia is on a steadfast mission for economic growth regardless of the environmental costs. Though it is important to note that it is not alone in doing so and many other countries are also in the process of developing in the Arctic, including Canada.
This story is not new in the current era of development, although there is one difference. This time people are noticing and cautioning against such a move if anything to protect a testament of time. The Arctic, stubborn, beautiful, cold, and, with hope, untouchable even by the hands of cruel progress.
Ishani Dasgupta is majoring in Environment, Resources, and Sustainability (ERS), while also pursuing a minor in English & Literature Studies, at the University of Waterloo. She is a dedicated environmental writer and has worked throughout the course of her career to write about the challenges faced by communities, natural spaces, and activists alike regarding the destruction of the natural environment–she is interested in exploring global inequities created by the current Anthropocene. In her free time, Ishani likes to make music, read, and go on nature walks. Ishani is taking on the role of an editorial intern for Alternatives Journal (A/J).