President Obama declares the icebreaker ships advance “seaward from Seward”. Seward is an Alaskan harbour town and gateway into one of the region's many beauty spots, the Kenai Fjords. Now, it is the setting-off point for a US geopolitical race against Russia, and other Arctic Council countries, in a desperate attempt to clamour for territorial rights and thus drilling rights into the pristine Arctic.
Oddly, though, Obama’s declaration to drill in the Arctic came in the middle of his 3 day Presidential trip amidst melting glaciers to highlight the perilous consequences of climate change and to plea for conservation of the Arctic’s pristine and fragile ecosystem. Umm hypocritical, much?
The current Governor of Alaska, Bill Walker notes that the Russia military presence is oppressive, claiming that “it’s the biggest buildup of the Russian military since the Cold War”. Mr. Walker added that Russia are “reopening 10 bases and building four more, and they’re all in the Arctic, so here we are in the middle of the pond, feeling a little bit uncomfortable.”
Clearly, the United States’ government is divided between bolstering a line of defense against Russia’s military might on one hand, and appeasing the ecologically-minded vote on the other.
But ultimately the fate of the Arctic is the fate of the planet at large, not just the US voting public. In the short term, the chances of an oil spill in these fragile ecosystems are very real, and with the oil industry’s current technology there is no way to adequately respond to oil spills in solid and broken ice conditions. An Arctic oil spill could cause long-lasting devastation such as contamination of food and water, or substantial impairment to subsistence due to animal loss or changes in migration routes and behaviour.
Oil and gas exploration is quite simply globally perilous, since the IPCCC warns that fossil fuels must stay in the ground to avoid further planetary warming. It is terrible that the President of the USA is sending yet more icebreaker ships and fossil fuel exploration missions into the fragile Arctic ecosystem.
The retreat of Arctic sea ice has created opportunities for shipping, tourism, mineral exploration and fishing, but the rush of marine traffic that has followed is bringing new difficulties. “Arctic ecosystems are among the most pristine and understudied in the world, meaning increased commercial activity comes with significant risks to the environment,” the White House said in a statement. The growth of human activity in the Arctic region will require highly engaged stewardship to maintain the open seas necessary for global commerce and scientific research, allow for search-and-rescue activities, and provide for regional peace and stability.