(CP) - Friday 13th, October 2006
Royal Dutch Marines landing on Hans Island in the far north came under attack by polar bears with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads. The marines returned fire and killed all the attacking polar bears. Two marines were lightly wounded when a baby seal sucide bomber detonated near them. The animals were apparently trained to picket the contested territory by Canadian Rangers who found the islet just "too damn cold."
One of the most amusing territorial disputes of all time is underway over a tiny speck of rock between Ellesmere Island and Greenland. The border is somewhat fuzzy and Hans Island lies in the undefined zone.
Needless to say Denmark and Canada are unlikely to have a physical confrontation over Hans Island. The underlying reason for the bickering is the potential for major fossil fuel and mineralogical deposits in the region. They may become economical to exploit with an onset in global warming.
While global warming is only estimated to cause an average increase of 5 ^C over the next century, the poles are expected to warm faster than the rest of the planet. Snow and ice have a high albedo (reflectivity). As they melt, the underlying ground absorbs more sunlight, warms up, melts more snow, etc. The result is a positive feedback cycle. This effect is already clearly being seen in satellite imagery of the artic.
In addition to unlocking resources, the melting of sea pack ice could result in an opening of the Northwest Passage. The Northwest passage is a sea route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It passes North of Baffen Island, then weaves down to pass South of Victoria Island and out past Alaska. It is a whopping 4000 km shorter from Asia to Europe through the passage than traveling through the Panama Canal. Normally it is full of pack ice but that could change by 2010.
Canada's artic archipelago represents a fairly vast landmass that hasn't been prospected. However, not all nations explicitly recognize Canada or Denmark's ownership of their northern territories. The USA and Russia periodically make noises regarding ownership, and more frequently claim that the Northwest passage is a international waterway.
Recently Denmark has been making signs that sound like they are backing down. This is too bad, since the best result for both countries would be a vigorous and noisy defense of their territory. While the rest of the world may view the struggle as akin to midget wrestling, it would firmly demonstrate that both nations are annoying yappy dogs that will not hesitate to protect their northern possessions. Ottawa should take a lesson from the games the USA is playing with NAFTA at the moment and take a look forward to the future.