War over the Arctic? Global warming skeptics distract us from security risks.
Global warming skeptics must recognize that real -- not predicted -- climate change is already turning the Arctic into a potential military flash point.
Skepticism about climate change is going mainstream, and that is worrying. One-third of Americans now say global warming doesn’t exist – triple the percentage of three years ago.Skip to next paragraph
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This defiance of science isn’t just harmful for the environment. It’s also distracting us from growing threats to US national security. Actual – not theoretical – effects of climate change are turning the Arctic into a potential military flash point.
Expected melting of summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean means greatly expanded access to increasingly scarce fossil fuels. It also means tensions over Arctic real estate. What the Middle East was to the second half of the 20th century, the Arctic could be to the first half of the 21st. Because America has been so slow to wake up to climate change, it’s lagging behind in protecting its Arctic interests.
“Since 1995 we have lost 40 percent of the North Pole’s icecap,” said Professor Robert Huebert, of the University of Calgary and an adviser to the Canadian government. Mr. Huebert and other experts spoke at a recent conference on climate change security risks hosted by the Center for National Policy. “It is not a matter of if, but when, the ice will be gone,” he said.
Moscow gets this, even if the US public does not. “The Arctic must become Russia’s main strategic resource base,” Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of the Russian Security Council, declared last year. “It cannot be ruled out that the battle for raw materials will be waged by military means,” a Russian planning document has warned.
Partially because of years of climate change denial, “the United States remains largely asleep at the wheel,” according to a Foreign Affairs article last March by Scott Borgerson, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Meanwhile, other Arctic nations are moving to muscularly stake their sovereignty claims while prospecting for hundreds of billions of dollars of treasure buried on the ocean floor up there.
Major melting has spurred Russia, Canada, Denmark (via Greenland), and Norway into a new gold rush, except this time it’s about staking claim to huge reservoirs of natural gas, petroleum, and untold deposits of minerals previously inaccessible because of the polar ice shield. Much of the sub-sea Arctic wealth will of necessity be transported by ships because thawing tundra will be too unstable for pipelines. The South Koreans anticipated this more than a decade ago, building giant vessels to secure a big share of the shipping market.