• Fri
  • Jul 25, 2014
  • Updated: 8:24am

Warming's cold comfort

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 February, 2010, 12:00am

Nearly all the stories we hear about climate change are negative. They describe how changes to the earth's weather will hurt both the animals and humans that inhabit the planet. But there are also some climate change winners.

For hundreds of years, ships have tried to sail through the Arctic, to use this route as a short cut between Asia and Europe. However, the ice covering the sea has usually stopped them.

The frozen waters have also made it harder to look for oil, and lay undersea communication cables.

But now these problems are disappearing, as global warming melts the region's sea ice.

A telecommunications company, Kodiak-Kenai Cable Co, plans to lay an underwater fibre optic cable through the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic. Previously, this would have been impossible, even during the summer.

The route, which would link Tokyo and London, is shorter than that used by current undersea cables. According to the company, messages sent between the UK and East Asian cities, would be received in about half the time it takes at the moment.

It's good news coming from a bad situation. Shipping companies are also hoping that less ice means they can send ships through this part of the Artic rather than using the longer routes through the Panama Canal or around the tip of South America.

When I was sailing through the Arctic, I heard other similar stories. Arctic communities are very isolated, and it is expensive to import food, fuel and other goods. If there is less ice, more ships can bring supplies into the Arctic making things cheaper for those that live there. This also makes it easier for mining and oil companies to harvest the oil and metals in the Arctic, bringing money and jobs to a remote part of the planet.

We can find similar benefits in other parts of the world, but in the end the damage caused by climate change far outweighs the benefits. These are short term gains coming from a problem that will cause us long-term pain. But understanding the complex impact that climate change has on business, politics and society is important if we want to find solutions to the problem.

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