Saturday, July 30, 2005

Hans off that Island

CDs in Play: Miles Davis - On the Corner, John Lee Hooker - The Very Best Of.

Ooooh Canada...
Pardon my now hackneyed title, but there are things worth fighting for and there are fights worth walking away from. Some things are clearly too insignificant to matter - Hans Island is one of those things. Only 1.3 square kilometres, this barren, desolate, inhospitable slat of rock stuck between Canada and Greenland, Hans Island, is quickly (and unfortunately) becoming the symbol of Canada's fight for Arctic Sovereignty.
Like many Canadians, I grew up believing that the icy expanse around and above the 70th parallel was un questionably ours - all the maps we had in school said it was. It was inhospitable, untamed and you had to be born up there to really know how to survive up there, but it was ours. Then as I got older I learned that some other countries (like the USA) did not recognise that big hunk of the Arctic as Canada's. The Canadian government, which occasionally rumbled disapprovingly at US sub incursions in our waters up there, was the Arctic for the most part.
Even as global climate change threatened (and still does) to destroy the North's whole ecosystem, the Canadian government paid lip service to its well being and carried on ignoring it as usual. But then it seemed to have dawned on them - global warming means ice melting. Ice melting means the landscape will be "freed up". "Freed up" land in the north means it will be ripe for resource exploitation. Now Ottawa had a reason to give a damn about the North and asserting Canada's sovereignty over it. Polar bears, narwhals and belugas goodbye, there's minerals in them there hills.
So now we are in a pissing contest with Denmark over a tiny slat of rock that will probably be completely submerged effects of global warming continues to melt the ice and global sea levels rise. On the one hand, Canada can't be seen to be soft on a country that probably couldn't even sufficiently threaten it militarily. That would send a message to Washington that we really are as weak (if not weaker) as they assume us to be and they would start rolling all over the Arctic, confident that they there is nothing that Canada can or will do to impede them. On the other hand, we are squabbling over a mere stepping stone in the channel that separates Ellesmere Island from Greenland: it just seems a pointless exercise, especially in light of the assorted articles, websites, blogs and the flame wars that have sparked up online as a result.
My guess is that the average, intelligent Canadian, Greenlander and Dane just don't care all that much. Knee-jerk patriots and misguided politicians might want to contest ownership, but I fail to see how any reasonable person could think that their country will benefit from this dispute in anyway. Maybe follow the wisdom of Solomon and divide the island in half. Maybe declare it an international zone between Canada and Greenland. Or maybe just blow it up if it is that much of a bother. Like I said, it isn't like that slat of land is going to be around to exploit if the water levels rise.
For a balanced look at the history of the island I recommend checking out Wikipedia's entry. The photos of Hans Island sort of put things into perspective.


Anonymous Robert Y. Wells, Toronto said...

I can see have an understanding of Canada's side on this issue, but obviously you are one of those Canadians too blinded by his ancestory to fully see how importance this little "slat of rock" is to the future of YOUR COUNTRY. You are Canadian first and foremost.
It isn't only America that doesn't respect our claims over the Arctic, Russia has been violating our sovereignty for decades as well. Those icecaps are going to melt and it doesn't matter if Hans Island sinks below the waves. We need the world to know that the land up there - and the subsequent mining rights - is unquestionably ours.

18 August, 2005 13:03  
Blogger Magnus said...

Believe when I say my ethnic background has no bearing on stance regarding Hans Island. I think it lowers Canada and Denmark to quibble over such an insignificant spit of land.
Your comments on securing mining rights saddens me. We should be looking at ways to try and undue the damage and at least attempt an eventual halt to the environmental degredation that is causing the polar ice to melt. We are losing a unique environment and a whole host of species will be wiped out. Mining rights are the least of my concerns and it angers me that it takes material gain to finally motivate our Federal Government into taking some sort of action in the North.

26 August, 2005 21:17  

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