Tuesday, 23 June 2015

The Arctic. Imperative!

So now that I've confronted and defeated the monster that is The Arctic Imperative, I am at a loss as to how to approach writing about it.  Some ideas:

1. Consider the vagueness of the argument.  Chris has done a great job on this and there is nothing I can add other than this book is a log line ("The Arctic and its resources present challenges for Canada as the country moves ahead considering how to balance the development and extraction of those resources in relation to the environment, the economy, the Native Peoples and its international obligations") turned into a manifesto/screed/impassioned plea for action whose point is sometimes so elusive it's hard to figure out what he's trying to say.

2. Consider the title.  Brian addresses this well in a comment - it's a great ersatz Ludlum title (or do I mean Don Pendleton?), but he never convinces you it's something even he has a grasp on.  Is it a monster?  Is it urgent?  Is it a call to arms?  On one page he speaks of getting control "of"  and "over"  it.  Maybe I'll let him define it like so:  "...bring the Arctic Imperative under the firm guidance and control of Canada.  It is imperative.".   So it's imperative to bring the imperative under control.  Got it.

3. Consider it in the context of when it was written.  I think it'd be somewhat mean to pull a lot of the projections about the future to show how wrong they were.  I was tempted, for example, when he spoke about how scarce oil would be by the 1990s. But hey - I'm a nice guy.  He was just using data and predictions that everyone else was at the time.

4. Consider the alternatives.  Now I love a good new idea for the use of nuclear subs as much as the next guy (as long as the next guy is Chris),  but beyond that lovely fantasy, it seems rather glaring that never once does the idea arise that maybe, just maybe, we should be looking at alternatives to oil?  When the supply of oil is seen to be dwindling in the early 1970s, all the energy and thought goes into how we can find more.  The solution is never finding an alternative, but rather how to deal with getting more oil out of the Arctic and down to market.  Really - did it not occur to at least include a sentence or two on relieving our dependence on it?

5. Consider his style.  Okay, so I direct you back to Chris's great post about the use of the monster metaphor, and it's nice to see these fictional style flourishes start to appear (pointing towards the fiction he will soon write that will one day lead to the existence of this blog), but by and large, he writes far too much like a lawyer.  Too many words are spent telling us endless details about business dealings, the technical side of the oil industry, the workings of government policy.  Not that it's not necessary, but there should have been a kindly editor telling him to summarize more and cut down on the specifics.  An example: in one sentence we get references to "Imperial Oil Limited", "Panarctic Oil Limited" and "Gulf Petroleum Limited".  Lose the "Limited" - everyone assumes the companies are properly incorporated and the colloquial always reads better.

6. Consider this as an act of self-justification.  In the middle of the book, we get a "told you so" interlude wherein we hear that the Mid-Canada Development report submitted to the Government fell on deaf ears.  Rohmer seems to get himself into a lather about this, and has to drive home the point that if only they'd listened then he wouldn't have to be telling you this now. I could be wrong - perhaps he's in a snit about it.  I do have the hardest time distinguishing between someone in a lather about something and someone in a snit over the same thing.

7. Consider pulling quotes out of context and attributing totally false non-sequitur descriptions to them: "But what is clear is that with a relatively short span of time there can emerge an enormous demand for "big-inch" pipe"- from his review of Boogie Nights.


  1. Energy alternatives? To oil and gas? That's crazy talk, Stan. Those technologies are hundreds of years away. Now help me get this oil and gas onto this nuclear submarine, monorail, blimp and giant tanker super plane.

    The important thing is that the transportation systems get built my companies with Canadian stockholders.

    Proud, patriotic Canadian stockholders.

    So they can take the profits and move them to the Bahamas.

  2. And if you move enough of those profits to the Bahamas, people will write books about you. I've seen it happen.

  3. Still not finished, I'm afraid. The news that Rohmer never explores the idea that maybe, just maybe, we should be looking at energy alternatives, comes as no surprise. It's oil and gas that he knows. He knows supplies are nearing exhaustion. We can buy some time by exploiting whatever we find in the Arctic. After that? The Antarctic, I suppose. After that we'll all be dead.

  4. Or live forever, like Richard Rohmer! It's imperative!