Ah, for just one time, I will seek the Northwest passage...
So, the federal government is helping Parks Canada search for the two missing ships from the Franklin expedition. Stephen Harper took some moments out of his day today to announce the project. They are using the most sophisticated equipment to date to try to locate the ships lost hundreds of years ago in the arctic in an ill-fated quest for fortune and glory.
As a science and history geek, this tweaks all kinds of curiousity and interest for me. But wait. The Harper government is not known for being supportive of science. Or parks. I have this weird, niggling doubt in the back of my mind about the goodness of this endeavour.
The reporter describing this announcement on the news added that our prime minister is fascinated, maybe even obsessed, with the mystery of the Franklin expedition and its sad ending. And I find myself wondering why.
The Franklin expedition was not about scientific discovery. It was about profit. It was about finding a quicker way to reach the orient and thus exploit the resources of that region for the enhancement of the British ruling class. The crew of the two ships imagined it would be smooth sailing. They expected to be through in one summer and never imagined they would have to winter in the harsh arctic conditions. They did not understand nor give sufficient concern and respect for the environment they were entering.
An analogy begins to take shape....
Ok, we know PMSH has a real warm fuzzy going on for the War of 1812. I am still working on untangling the nuances of that. But it does harken to a time of militarism, absolute monarchistic rule, and an age where the general population was less than educated on the workings of government and largely did as they were told.
But I digress. The search for the two ships will have a side program. It will involved detailed mapping of the ocean floor in the arctic. Again, my science nerd side is all “squee” with excitement about learning more about this largely unexplored area. Fascinating work. And yet, I am troubled. This kind of detailed mapping could also be a prelude to amassing the data required to enable a far less benign kind of exploration. It is suspected that there are vast oil deposits beneath the arctic ice. A detailed topography of the ocean floor in this area could be very useful in furthering the search for and exploitation of such oil. And oil drilling in the arctic is rife with threats to an incredibly fragile eco-system, one which is already under considerable pressure from climate change. Even without drilling for oil, if they actually discover a navigable route through the ever-shrinking arctic ice cap, the potential shipping traffic (probably carrying toxic pollutants such as fossil fuels) is rife with phenomenal risk to the wildlife and ecology of our north.
I find, despite my excitement about unlocking the mysteries of history and one of the most inhospitable places on our planet, I am deeply concerned about what other agendas might be served through this project.
We, as a free and thinking people, must be alert. We need to pay attention to what our government is doing. We have ample evidence that the Harper government puts profit before people, wildlife, the environment and the future of our country. We need to keep an eye on this and not be placated by lofty sounding goals of discovering national historical artifacts.