Humans already have a large impact on the Arctic sea ice. © Nick Cobbing/ Greenpeace

On November 18th, Norway’s Foreign Minister  Jonas Gahr Stoere announced that drilling for oil in the Arctic is “the project of a generation”. It’s a bit unclear to me whose generation that is, but I can assure him it’s not mine.

On Friday, Mr Stoere presented a 20-year plan to unlock offshore Arctic oil, part of a new 134-page white paper on Norwegian policy and plans for the high North.

Back in February, the Icelandic ship Godafoss ran aground in Hvaler national park, and began leaking oil. This happened one hour from Oslo, in Southern Norway, far from the high North and close to all the clean-up infrastructure we can muster. But in the end, they had to resort to using an excavator to get the oil-covered ice out of the sea.

The government white paper has a lot of good intentions and eloquent wording on “ecosystem-based management”. (How do we think we can actually manage an eco-system, by the way?). Nowhere in those 134 pages does it say that there is no existing plan for getting oil out of sea ice.

 The Arctic is changing fast. Norway had the audacity to launch its white paper on the same day that IPCC launched a report that brought home the inescapable fact that climate change is not only fuelling extreme weather, it is causing an escalation in impacts on humans and economies.

And Norway – the oil nation that enjoys international respect based on its international climate policy initiatives – wants to use the disappearing sea ice to drill for even more oil, locking Norway into a fossil fueled future? 

The leading sea ice scientist Peter Wadhams has said that the Arctic summer sea ice might be gone by 2015. This summer, as part of a Greenpeace ship tour, I had the chance to set foot on the sea ice at 82 degrees North. It feels strange knowing that that might not be possible just a few summers from now.

With this rapid change, my gut feeling is that we need to:

• slow down the changes, i.e help stop climate change

• protect the biodiversity in a time of distress

• gain more knowledge through science

Contrary to that, here’s what Norway’s white paper envisions, in addition to all the nice words about peace, diplomacy and ecosystem management:

• militarise the Arctic by getting a new fighter-jet fleet

• industrialise the Arctic by building fossil fuel infrastructure in northen mainland Norway

• get more scientific knowledge by commiting to fund enviromental and climate research

At least we agree on the last bit.

As for Stoere, if there’s ever an oil spill in the Arctic, I suggest he hitches a ride with the new fighter-jet fleet the white paper calls for and flashes this sign to migrating birds: “It’s your ecosystem manager here. Would you please be as kind as to not land in the oil spill. We don’t really know how to clean it up.”

Henning Reinton is a press officer for Greenpeace Nordic, based in Oslo.

[The white paper can be found here (in Norwegian). Thank you Truls for the link.]