Gotta give the Russians credit: Diving nearly three miles to plant a rust-proof flag right on top of the North Pole was a spectacular publicity stunt that only the most creative admen in Madison Avenue's glory days could have dreamed up.
Not bad for recovering commies still learning their way around the bourgeois world of public relations. Of course, the event was perfectly ridiculous. Russia may think it owns the North Pole, but planting its flag there doesn't make it so and Moscow knows it. As the Canadian foreign minister said huffily, there are rules, dammit. You can't go around sticking flags in the ground and saying, "it's mine." The 15th century is over.
Or is it? Motives haven't really changed over the past 500 years. Back in the day, conquistadors who planted flags weren't claiming land so that their sovereigns could become Trump-like real estate tycoons. They were on the front lines of a global scramble for resources, riches, and power. Same with the Arctic scrum of 2007.
Yesterday, it was all about gold. Today, it's all about oil. Russia wants it, and so do other countries with waterfront property on the Arctic Ocean -- the U.S., Canada, Norway, and Denmark (via Greenland). As global warming thins out the Arctic ice cap, visions of oily sugarplums are dancing in Moscow and other national capitals of the Arctic countries.
There is casual media talk of vast oil and gas troves beneath the Arctic Ocean. Russian estimates range up to 10 billion tons. But no one really knows for sure.
A study published last year by Wood Mackenzie and Fugro Robertson, two energy consulting firms, concluded that the Arctic may not be the bonanza that some think. The study estimated that the most likely scenario is the Arctic basins yielding 3 million barrels of oil and 30 billion cubic feet of gas per day at peak production.
Those aren't trivial amounts, but they amount to less than 4 percent of today's global oil production and about 11 percent of daily gas production worldwide.
In any event, the technology for exploring and producing fossil fuels in such a forbidding environment is not ready.
By the time it is, with any luck, the energy market will have passed the Arctic by, heading toward surer prospects tapping energy from the sun and other cleaner sources that aren't magnets for conflict and don't contribute to global warming.
Ideally, in 50 years, the Arctic Ocean will be what it is today, a remote wilderness where God's cold and silence reign.
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