The Scientific Activist (Archives)


Apr 19, 2006

Irony Abounds in Upcoming Polar Research Project

Two of the areas hardest hit by global warming have been the Arctic and the Antarctic. Not surprisingly, studying the affects of global warming on these regions will be one of the primary goals of the International Polar Year (IPY)–a global initiative involving continuous study of the polar areas from March 2007-March 2009. Two of the six themes of the project are “to determine the present environmental status of the polar regions by quantifying their spatial and temporal variability” and “to quantify, and understand, past and present environmental and human change in the polar regions in order to improve predictions.”

It came as a shock, then, to find out that two oil companies would be using this same project to search for untapped oil resources in the Arctic. The Guardian reports:
British scientists are at loggerheads with US colleagues over a controversial plan to work alongside oil companies to hunt for fossil fuel reserves in the Arctic.

The US Geological Survey is lining up a project with BP and Statoil to find oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean, under the auspices of a flagship scientific initiative intended to tackle global warming.

But the head of the British Antarctic Survey, which coordinates UK activity at the poles, has said he is "very uncomfortable" with the idea and has questioned its ethical and scientific justification….

…Documents on the IPY website show that BP and Statoil, a Norwegian company, are "significant consortium members" on a USGS proposal to assess "energy resources in the circumarctic area including oil, gas, coalbed methane and methane hydrates". Geologists estimate that a quarter of the world's undiscovered oil and gas reserves lie under the Arctic, and analysts have predicted a 21st-century goldrush to tap them as the Arctic Ocean's ice cover retreats.

Chris Rapley, the director of the British Antarctic Survey, said: "I would be very uncomfortable with a project that simply was out to log the hydrocarbon reserves of the Arctic as a geological activity. I don't think that fits very comfortably within either the scientific guidelines or the ethical underpinning of the IPY."

So, here we have a project intended to predict the consequences of global warming, and one of its activities will be to find more of the stuff that’s filling the atmosphere with greenhouse gases in the first place. It doesn’t take two years of research, millions of dollars of funding, and various state-of-the-art computer models to see that this is a pretty dumb idea.

Understanding global warming won’t do us much good if we’re not willing to curb the activities that cause it. We can only hope that as findings accumulate from projects like the IPY, we will no longer be able to ignore the threat of global warming, making discrepancies like these less likely in the future.


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