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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Teeing up a new cold war

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AS global warming continues, as the Arctic ice caps melt, New York City will find itself underwater, the flagpole of the Empire State Building being the last, lorn sign there was ever civilization there at all (it kind of sounds like a bad science-fiction movie but it's too, too true, according to environmentalists.)

As temperatures continue to climb, Manitoba's grain belt will turn into either an arid desert or a lush jungle, depending on which apocalyptic predictor you prefer -- personally, I would prefer the jungle, as long as there aren't big spiders and snakes.

And, of course, when the polar ice cap has melted, the Arctic ocean will finally be open for commercial exploitation. A lot of people think there's a lot of oil and natural gas sitting underneath the North Pole and it's just that damn ice that keeps us from getting at it. But not for long.

The debate about global warming is not about whether the world is actually getting warmer than it previously was in recent centuries, although the last few years have seen a levelling in the rate of that rise in temperatures, but about its causes; whether it is part of a natural cycle -- which is at least partly true if we look at history -- or caused by human activity -- which may also be partly true.

One could debate whether or not the world might be a better place if it were warmer and climate more equitably or at least differently distributed, but that would be much like listening to a bunch of economists talking about global income disparities.

However you feel, there isn't much doubt that governments, including Canada's -- who would have thought it after this week's performance in Durban? -- are taking the prospect very seriously and planning for it.

That creates a real-life situation that sounds like the scenario for another bad movie. Chinese billionaire Huang Nubo wants to buy a huge tract of land in northern Iceland -- it amounts to 0.3 per cent of the island. He says he wants to turn it into a high-class golf course and country club. But northern Iceland is mostly lava -- the fairways must be hell to play -- and it already has one golf course, which is probably as much as it needs.

The Canadian military has become extremely concerned, because it believes this is simply a stratagem for China to gain a foothold in the far North that it can use as a commercial and military base, once the ice cap has melted, to exploit Arctic resources that belong to Canada, but which Canada cannot protect because of cuts to the military budget. Ottawa sends in a special agent, Defence Minister Peter MacKay, in a Cormorant helicopter to spy out the situation.

Actually, I just made that last part up, but the rest is true. The Icelandic government has refused to sell the land, saying the sale exceeds the quota of land that foreigners are allowed to own (there is something to be said for xenophobia), but negotiations with Huang Nubo continue as Ottawa suspiciously looks on. Regardless of the climate, when Canada, China and Iceland are locked in an Arctic axis, things are definitely getting warmer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 10, 2011 J12

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