Climate Change and Industrialization Threaten Arctic Peoples and Wildlife
Alaska and the Russian Arctic are in peril. The Arctic Ocean and its seas are among the world’s most vulnerable bodies of water, facing multiple threats from global warming, increased commercial ship traffic and fishing, and expanded offshore drilling. These activities threaten destruction of the Arctic’s indigenous communities and their sustainable traditions, disruption of its major wildlife migrations, and devastation of its marine mammals, thousands of bird species, and countless species of fish.
Sea Ice Is Melting
Global greenhouse gases and local black carbon are melting the snow and sea ice, and opening the Arctic rapidly to further development. In the summer of 2012, Arctic sea ice reached a new record low. And it now appears that summer sea ice may disappear entirely, not by 2050 as climate models have been predicting, but by the end of this decade!
Temperatures in the Arctic Rising Faster Than Anywhere Else
The Arctic is particularly vulnerable to climate change. The region’s average temperatures are rising more than twice as fast as the rest of the world, in part because the loss of heat-reflecting white ice is replaced by dark, heat-absorbing water.
Traditional Cultures and Wildlife Particularly Vulnerable to Climate Change
Arctic flora and fauna, and Native subsistence traditions, are particularly vulnerable in the face of these changes, as they have adapted exquisitely to the extremely harsh conditions in the Arctic. The weather alterations, disappearing ice ecosystem, rapid shoreline erosion, and warming temperatures pose an existential threat to much of the Arctic’s wildlife.
Arctic Gold Rush
But it gets worse. As the sea ice recedes, numerous nations are looking to expand industrial activities into Arctic seas and coastal waters. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that up to 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil and up to 30% of the world’s undiscovered gas reserves will be found in the Arctic. The world’s largest corporations unabashedly announce the “opening” of the Arctic as an historic moment, rich with opportunity for profit.
Big Oil and Big Coal Are Fighting to Exploit the Arctic
Big Oil companies have been fighting for years to drill in the Alaskan Arctic (in the Beaufort, Chukchi, and Bering Seas) and the Russian Arctic (in the Sea of Okhotsk off the coast of Kamchatka). Big Coal and Big Oil have numerous proposals, and friends in the Alaska delegation and Russian government, to build new transportation links – ports, rail lines, and roads – to move the coal, oil, and gas out of these pristine environments to manufacturing centers in China, India, and elsewhere.
Ship Traffic and Damaging Black Carbon Emissions Are Increasing
Commercial shipping companies are plotting new shipping lanes across the “opening” Arctic; this increased ship traffic will dramatically ramp up diesel emissions and the risk of catastrophic oil spills, and disturb marine mammals (and kill them with ship strikes). Diesel emissions (from ships and industrial sources) and soot from forest fires and other biomass burning, collectively called “black carbon,” are a particularly important and insidious form of greenhouse gas pollution because they produce dramatic, rapid warming.