LIFE and the world where it resides are constantly changing. Change is, therefore, nothing to be feared. Rather in this age of fast technological change, the word change usually stands for progress. Philosophers, politicians and poets are all for change, for they think that want of change means death. So those who believe in human advancement are all worshippers of change.
But are all changes equally welcome? Should man welcome a situation in which the global setting that has been granted over the millennia and which conditions his life on the Earth undergoes a sudden change? Such changes may not necessarily be welcome. It is said that the giant dinosaurs or their kinds that once ruled the Earth for millions of years had vanished in the aftermath of a sudden change in the environment. What caused that change is a matter of big debate, but it is certain that the condition of life was not the same for the giant lizards after the cataclysmic change had occurred. So, they had to go and make place for animals that could adapt to the changed circumstances. Is a similar fate awaiting humans, too, who now rule the Earth? If a catastrophe of the type that killed the dinosaurs strikes the Earth, though in a different form, what may happen to humanity?
There is however a basic difference between the dinosaurs and humans. Humans are gifted with the extraordinary faculty of intellect. Unlike dinosaurs or other kinds of lesser animals, they have developed a higher level of adaptability with the environment. This adaptability, however, is not a gift of nature, though. Biologically they are still a very vulnerable creature susceptible to the slightest change in the natural environment. But how would then man survive if any big disaster of natural origin is visited upon humanity?
Hopefully, technology and science will come to the aid of man to help him live through any calamity. But what is the use of this scary discourse?
However frightening it may sound, man has really come face to face with a not-too-pleasant reality. The environmentalists had long been claiming that global warming triggered by excessive burning of hydrocarbon-based fuels may lead to a catastrophic change in the ecosphere by way of gradually warming up the atmosphere. Scientists have recently discovered that, as feared by many environmental experts, global warming has been taking effect inexorably. The arctic icecap is melting!
Strangely enough, scientists are not accepting the news with fear. Scientists and business entrepreneurs are rather looking for new opportunities in this extraordinary development in the pristine Arctic region. Being a natural habitat of the polar bear and other mammalian species, melting of the polar ice will certainly endanger these animals. Other consequences of this shift in the Arctic ecology are yet to unfold. Melting polar ice may increase the sea level thereby submerging low lying regions of the world. People living in such regions will be in great danger. Notwithstanding these ominous prospects, oil and gas prospectors, agriculturists, fishery experts and others are dreaming of new possibilities out of this environmental change in the Arctic region.
What did the scientists really find in the Arctic? Here is the report by Clifford Krauss, Steven Lee Myers, Andrew C. Revkin and Simon Romero of the New York Times (NYT) on the development in the Arctic Circle.
"It seems harsh to say that bad news for polar bears is good for Pat Broe. Mr. Broe, a Denver entrepreneur, is no more to blame than anyone else for a meltdown at the top of the world that threatens Arctic mammals and ancient traditions and lends credibility to dark visions of global warming.
Still, the newest study of the Arctic ice cap - finding that it faded this summer to its smallest size ever recorded - is beginning to make Mr. Broe look like a visionary for buying this derelict Hudson Bay port from the Canadian government in 1997. Especially at the price he paid: about $7.
By Mr. Broe's calculations, Churchill could bring in as much as $100 million a year as a port on Arctic shipping lanes shorter by thousands of miles than routes to the south, and traffic would only increase as the retreat of ice in the region clears the way for a longer shipping season.
With major companies and nations large and small adopting similar logic, the Arctic is undergoing nothing less than a great rush for virgin territory and natural resources worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Even before the polar ice began shrinking more each summer, countries were pushing into the frigid Barents Sea, lured by undersea oil and gas fields and emboldened by advances in technology. But now, as thinning ice stands to simplify construction of drilling rigs, exploration is likely to move even farther north."
To all appearances, the Arctic is now up for grab. It is the same primordial urge to loot and plunder Mother Nature's treasures for immediate gain. In the past, the forestlands, the rivers, the oceans and the hydrocarbon deposits in the womb of the Earth were plundered exactly in this manner. The consequence has been disastrous. The green house gases emitted from the factories and automobiles are constantly making the Earth warmer. Greed for timber has cleared many tropical forests starting the process of desertification. Now the polar ice is melting.
It is too early to forecast exactly the long-term consequences of the phenomenon taking shape in the North Pole. Apparently it is opening up a new opportunity before the oil, coal and gas prospectors. With the oil wells fast depleting, the spendthrift technological civilisation is seeing the spectre of impending energy crunch. The thinning icecap may allow the existing technology to profitably peer into the interior of the Arctic ground and extract the remaining hydrocarbon deposits beneath the surface of earth in that part of the world. The vast swathe of landmass so long hibernating under polar ice may turn into cultivable land with a promise of feeding the growing population of the Earth. Shipping lines, fishery industries, investors in real estate business, builders, promoters, you name it, they are all eyeing the virginal land of the Arctic with greed and hope.
So who cares about the environmentalists' warning? Is it not pragmatic for the moment to ignore the unforeseen climatic changes to be triggered on a global scale by the developments in the Arctic Circle? To many it is more an opportunity than an issue of concern. On the other hand, the Earth's northern pole without its white ice cap may turn out to be a new Eldora do for the rest of the world.
So the report in the NYT goes on like the following:
"The polar thaw is also starting to unlock other treasures: lucrative shipping routes, perhaps even the storied Northwest Passage; new cruise ship destinations; and important commercial fisheries.
"It's the positive side of global warming, if there is a positive side," said Ron Lemieux, the transportation minister of Manitoba, whose provincial government is investing millions in Churchill.
If the melting continues, as many Arctic experts expect, the mass of floating ice that has crowned the planet for millions of years may largely disappear for entire summers this century. Instead of the white wilderness that killed explorers and defeated navigators for centuries, the world would have a blue pole on top, a seasonally open sea nearly five times the size of the Mediterranean."
Meanwhile, the world at large will be waiting with its fingers crossed asking for better luck. Let the melting ice of the North Pole be the harbinger of a global spring.