Geopolitics and climate change. The Arctic between the USA and Russia


The climate changes taking place in the world represent a tragedy whose gravity many have not yet fully understood. Entire areas of the planet risk desertification while many coastal areas risk being submerged by the sea. Cities like Amsterdam, New York, Venice etc. they risk being literally swallowed by sea waters. The melting of polar ice, in fact, will cause a rise in ocean levels which will put the coastlines of half the world at risk. The extent of rainforests could be significantly reduced as a result of alterations in rainfall regimes. The aquifers of subtropical and temperate climate countries could be significantly reduced due to less rainfall and the thermal imbalance which has already become apparent in recent years. The arid soil of arid countries could become even more sterile, making any form of cultivation almost impossible. Marine currents could undergo significant alterations. That of the gulf, in particular, could even stop generating climatic effects that could revolutionize the climate of Western Europe (today exceptionally warm compared to its latitude thanks to the warm waters of the gulf stream) making it, paradoxically, much colder than it is today (with very important consequences for the agriculture of the old continent and for the levels of energy supply which should be higher than they are today). The consequences of the phenomenon would not be the same in every area of ​​the world but would be specific to each macroregion. Some of these would even benefit from it. Both from a climatic point of view and from a purely geopolitical one. Let’s try to understand why.


Climate change therefore does not only mean upheaval of the ecosystem of our planet as we have known it until today but also alteration of the economic and geopolitical balances as they have existed for many centuries up to the present day. This is true both for arid areas which will be even drier (to the point of becoming at the limits of habitability) but also for areas that are now lush and flourishing from an agricultural point of view such as Western Europe and California . We try to analyze how climate change can impact the economic and geopolitical realities of the world.


The continent that would have the greatest environmental and economic consequences from ongoing climate change is undoubtedly Europe. As already mentioned, Europe enjoys an exceptionally warm climate, considering its latitude. This condition is made possible by the Gulf Stream which “transports” warm water from the waters of the Gulf of Mexico to the waters of the Norwegian Arctic Circle. It follows that the temperatures of the old continent are about 10 degrees higher than other areas of the planet located at the same latitude (New York, for example, has an average January temperature of 0 degrees centigrade compared to 9 degrees centigrade in Naples , located at the same latitude). In Europe therefore, paradoxically, global warming would cause a marked thermal cooling (we are not here to specify the scientific reason for this process due to the melting of the fresh waters of the polar ice caps and the ice of Greenland) with disastrous consequences for the economy of Old World. In particular, European agriculture would be affected as it would be devastated by a similar scenario with the northern limits of crops such as vines and olives being moved many kilometers further south with a consequent very strong reduction in the production of these products and derivatives. (think European wines and Champagne). Furthermore, climate change would lead to an increase in hydrocarbon imports for the heating of its over 500,000,000 inhabitants with a truly significant increase in terms of expenditure (and this, determining an increase in global demand for hydrocarbons, would mean that gas and oil prices rise quite a bit). A large part of Holland would be submerged by the North Sea and countries such as England and France (the nations that in Europe benefit most from the mitigating effects of the Gulf Stream) would become largely sterile from an agricultural point of view . The North Sea would freeze in winter, creating enormous problems for commercial shipping. On the other hand, the eastern part of the old continent (little or not at all influenced by the Gulf Stream) would see the harsh climate that characterizes it mitigated with beneficial consequences for the agricultural production of these lands (already very productive thanks to the fertility of their soil ).


The consequences of climate change in the rest of the world would be no less dramatic. Africa is undoubtedly the continent most exposed to dramatic repercussions resulting from global warming. In fact, it risks further desertification of vast parts of the continent with an aggravation of water scarcity, especially in arid and semi-arid areas near deserts and savannahs (which will be more extensive than they are today) with evident food consequences for the population. Considering the growth rate of the population of the black continent, one can well realize the food drama that the African populations will soon be experiencing. Dependence on food imports from abroad will probably increase dramatically and the black continent will be completely at the mercy of large agricultural producers (Russia, Ukraine, Canada) for its own needs. Africa’s geopolitical destiny will therefore probably be determined by how dependent it will be on foreign imports as its soil dries up. Important repercussions will also be had on the American continent, albeit in a non-homogeneous way. The climatic situation throughout the south-west of the USA appears to be particularly difficult today, where in recent years there has been a dramatic reduction in rainfall regimes which has significantly reduced water availability in the area and put Californian agricultural production in crisis ( among the most prosperous of the states). All this will have important repercussions on the agricultural production of the USA (today the largest “agricultural power” in the world together with Russia) and could lead to a strong reduction in US agricultural production. On the other hand, Canada could inherit the role of leading player on the world agricultural market lost by the USA since global warming would make its immense territory less sterile with a consequent increase in its agricultural production (Canada and Russia will be the main beneficiaries of overheating global since their immense boreal territories, now largely sterile due to the climate, will become more fertile and available to a multitude of crops not previously possible). The consequences of global warming could also be truly dramatic in Asia and especially in South Asia. India, in particular, has been experiencing an alteration in monsoon rainfall for several years which has reduced rainfall levels to the point of generating real drought warnings and a drastic contraction in the production of rice and cereals. The situation in this part of the world could truly take on dramatic characteristics considering that in the Indian region (corresponding roughly to the old British India or today’s India and Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma) are home to approximately 1.8 billion people and the demographic increase in this area is one of the largest in the world. The alteration of the monsoon rainfall regime could make this macroregion highly dependent on imports from abroad and considering that it is in this area that much of the global economic growth is concentrated (and will be concentrated in the near future) it is to be imagined that the bulk of the export of agricultural and non-agricultural raw materials will soon be directed towards this part of the world.


One of the effects of global climate change, as already mentioned, will be the melting of polar ice. This will allow the exploitation of resources previously impossible to exploit. All the geopolitical players in the Arctic region (Russia, Canada, USA, Norway and Denmark) are already moving in this direction and are actively promoting the exploration of their territorial waters in search of raw materials. In recent years the presence of enormous hydrocarbon deposits has been ascertained, especially in the Russian Arctic on the border with Norwegian territorial waters. Important deposits have also been discovered off the Canadian Arctic coasts and Greenland (which, let’s remember, belongs to the kingdom of Denmark). On the latter, important deposits of rare earths have also been discovered, the exploitation of which, however, given the glacial nature of its territory, still appears very problematic. Russia (the country that has the largest portion of Arctic waters based on the extension of its coasts) has already strengthened its military presence in the area for a decade by dotting the various archipelagos of the Russian Arctic with military bases. Moscow is actively committed to strengthening its prerogatives in the Arctic Ocean and has demonstrated this in no uncertain terms. The USA, on the other hand, has activated a policy to counter Russian claims by favoring the militarization of Alaska and the Canadian Arctic. The Arctic is configuring itself as the new frontier of the global clash between the Eurasian and Anglo-Saxon blocs and it is easy to imagine how this clash will also be without any holds barred. On the other hand, the Arctic sea being free from ice for a good part of the year would also make it possible to open a particularly important trade route. This is the so-called north-east passage (northern sea route) or that stretch of sea that goes, roughly, from the Kara peninsula to the Bering Strait and which, until a decade ago, was only practicable for a maximum of two months per year. China is particularly interested in this route and would like to make it a sort of third way for its largest and most impressive commercial expansion project: the Belt and Road Initiative or New Silk Road. The Arctic route would in fact be shorter (it has been calculated that from the port of Shanghai the ports of northern Europe would be reached in a week less time than the sea route passing through the Indian Ocean) and therefore also more economical compared to the two already established routes (the maritime one mentioned above and the land one that crosses Asia and passes through Russia and Ukraine).


The ongoing climate change will change the ecosystem, geoeconomics and geopolitics of the world. These changes will not be homogeneous and will not occur in the same way in every part of the world. Many areas of the world will be traumatized. Many more hungry. Some macro-regions will even benefit from this, gaining a competitive advantage that will make them leading geopolitical players on the world stage. Many will suffer strong warming, others a cooling such as to jeopardize their agricultural production as we have known it up to now. One thing is certain. The world will never be the same again. Climate change will probably be the factor that will contribute, together with the geopolitical and geostrategic dynamics of the world, to the greatest changes in the balance of power that exists today.

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