20110825 arctic glacier globalwarming
A glacier seen from the Ice Fjord on the Norwegian Arctic archipelago of Svalbard. Temperatures in the Arctic region are rising twice as fast as elsewhere on the planet, posing a serious threat to the ecosystem. Picture taken on August 23rd, 2007. - 

Bob Moon: I tend to think of the Arctic as a big lump of melting ice. But it's actually packed with natural resources, and it seems destined to become the next frontier
-- to exploit.

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper took an excursion up near the top of the world today. And just this week, Denmark laid out its "Arctic Strategy." Recently, the U.S. gave Shell Oil its blessing to drill off the Alaskan coast.

The list goes on, and there's fear all these competing geopolitical and economic interests
are drowning out environmental concerns for the region. Marketplace's Adriene Hill tells us why interest in the Arctic is heating up.

Adriene Hill: The Arctic is hot these days, or at least getting warmer. Global warming is causing Arctic ice to melt, and that melting is creating the potential for a high-stakes, big-money, geo-political battle over which countries have sovereignty over what -- and which companies will profit.


Charles Ebinger: The prospect of oil and gas exploration on a tremendous scale.

Charles Ebinger is a senior fellow at Brookings. He says there's also:

Ebinger: The prospect for potential new maritime routes.

But the political and economic interests aren't the only ones gearing up for a fight over the Arctic's resources.

Brendan Cummings: In all honesty, these are difficult times to be an environmentalist pushing for protection of any landscape.

Brendan Cummings is senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity.

Cummings: There seems to be bipartisan consensus to ignore the climate crisis and proceed with drilling.

He says the Arctic faces a whole bunch of environmental issues, from new and proposed oil and gas exploration and from ongoing global warming. The best way for environmental groups to fight, he says, may be in the courts. But they've got a big battle in front of them.

Cummings: I guess it takes being an optimist is to say the future is uncertain. All signs are bad.

I ask Brooking's fellow Ebinger for his assessment.

Hill: Do you think that the environmentalists maybe have lost this fight?

Ebinger: No, no, no, I don't think the environmentalists have lost at all.

He says a lot of it depends on what happens in the region -- how quickly things change. As people start hearing more and thinking more about the problem, he expects environmental forces will gain momentum.

I'm Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

Follow Adriene Hill at @adrienehill