Arctic race for resources heats up

Sarah Gardner Feb 22, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: This will sound like sacrilege to some — and please don’t misunderstand — but climate change might actually turn out to be good for global commerce. Arctic ice is breaking up faster than scientists expected, which is going to open up new shipping routes, more oil and gas exploration and even tourism.

But Marketplace’s Sarah Gardner reports, the U.S. may be missing the boat.

Newsreel: The Navy and Coast Guard battle the Arctic ice to supply the far north Air Force installations. Led by the icebreaker Westwind, the ships…

Sarah Gardner: Back in the ‘50s when that Coast Guard vessel was in service, nobody dreamed of a melting Arctic. But now:

David VanderZwaag: Predictions are maybe somewhere in 30 years, it might be ice-free at least for part of the summer.

Ocean law expert David VanderZwaag says that means more commerce at the top of the world. Some analysts say the race for Arctic resources is on. This week, the head of the Canadian Royal Navy called for a beefed up military presence there.

Mead Treadwell, Alaska’s lieutenant governor, says America, on the other hand? It forgets it’s an Arctic nation too.

Mead Treadwell: I was in the room with Vladimir Putin in September at a conference that he hosted in Arkhangelsk, Russia, where he announced construction of nine new icebreakers. And then I found myself in a congressional hearing in Washington in December trying to scrape together the money for one.

The U.S. has only one working icebreaker right now. And at nearly $1 billion a boat, they’re not high on Washington’s to-do list.

But Heather Conley, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says what America really needs goes beyond big boats.

Heather Conley: We really need a smart national economic strategy for the Arctic that balances the environment and the economic potential.

Conley says America’s a superpower in every other place in the world, but in the Arctic right now, we’re “superpower lite.”

I’m Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

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