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Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Brazil’s favorite penguin used to be the one placed on the label of every single beer sold by Antarctica, once the most popular beer in Brazil and still at least number three in sales. And why not, it’s a symbol of coolness and elegance, an upright and upstanding figure well outfitted in formal haberdashery of black tie and tails.

The Curmudgeon, also known as Michael Royster.
The Curmudgeon, also known as Michael Royster.

But things have changed this past week, as news hit the warmer world that Brazil’s scientific research station on King George Island, Antarctica, was largely destroyed by fire. The worry now is that, because of environmental changes caused by the smoke and fire, some of the plant and animal life will be inalterably changed for the worse, including, perhaps, those cute and cuddly penguins who wash up on the shores of Santa Catarina every few years.

Just to compound things, Brazilian newspaper O Globo reports that last year, a barge, carrying fuel for the generators in the research station, sank in the bay, and nobody bothered to report it. It’s still there. Nobody knows whether the fuel will leak or if it does, what will happen to it, or what will happen to creatures like krill that live in those frigid waters. The Ministry of the Environment pooh poohs any talk of possible damage, unlike its strident defense of deep ocean waters allegedly defiled by Chevron.

But Zardoz has seen the future, and it does not work.

The potential for environmental problems is not limited to the Brazilian station. For the past several years, in other parts of Antarctica, Russia and the U.S. have been racing to see who can drill into a submerged lake first. When the ice age hit Antarctica, millions of years ago, lakes were covered over by ice sheets and have remained so to this day. This is completely virgin territory, awaiting exploration. Both countries are (allegedly) taking very great care not to introduce any “foreign” element into the lake or its enveloping atmosphere.

But Zardoz has seen the future, and it does not work.

King George Island is (according to the British) part of the Falkland Islands Dependency. As you might expect, both Chile and Argentina also claim sovereignty over the island, which is home to research stations from at least ten countries. Fortunately for all peace-loving folk, the Antarctica Treaty, promulgated in 1961 and now signed by about fifty countries, has provided that anything below the 60th parallel cannot have any governmental or military activities. Therefore, everybody down there (at 62 degrees south) so far gets along famously.

But Zardoz has seen the future, and it does not work.

The Curmudgeon knows the waters off the Falkland Islands contain oil; hence people are looking for it. The Curmudgeon does not know if, under King George Island, there is oil. But there might be. After all, there’s lots of oil above the Arctic Circle, so why not below the Antarctic Circle? If there is oil, the Curmudgeon knows someone will want to start drilling for it, Treaty or no. And then peace and harmony may not reign for long.

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Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, moved here thirty-plus years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)

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The Curmudgeon moved to Rio almost forty years ago, and has pretty much remained here ever since. He’s been writing political commentary for The Rio Times for almost seven years. He used to refer to himself as a WASP (look it up) but doesn’t any more because it embarrasses him.

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