The Arctic – The New Wild West

Via Pacific Environment, an article on the Arctic:

Centuries ago, European settlers stumbled upon the New World, a pristine world teaming with wildlife and abundance.  Immediately the race was on to exploit these resources which were thought to be limitless.  We now know what happened to the great northern forests, the prairie, the buffalo and the Native Americans who depended on the environment for their sustenance and survival.

The goldmines and railroads of the Wild West.

The goldmines and railroads of the Wild West.

Now the Arctic is poised on a similar precipice. Industrial nations race to the scene as melting sea ice opens up this vast pristine region.  The goals are to reduce shipping time between Europe and Asia and thereby cut costs – and also to be the first to claim the abundance of resources that are suddenly becoming available.

The Arctic no longer belongs to the eight Arctic nations that surround it.  Major economic players such as China and other industrial nations far removed have a stake in what happens in the Arctic.

For example:

  • Last year China sent an icebreaker for the first time from Shanghai to Iceland through the Northern Sea Route (across the top of Russia) and stated that increased cargo shipments between Europe and Asia will become reality in a matter of years.
  • South Korea is eyeing vast shipments of coal through the Northern Sea Route to fuel its economy.
  • The “flag ship states,” which make vast sums on registering ships (Liberia, Panama, and Vanuatu to name a few of these nations) have mounted a full court press to weaken proposed Arctic shipping laws because it might increase industry costs.
  • The Chinese government predicts up to 15% of its total cargo will move through the Northern Sea Route by 2020.   That’s just seven years away.
  • For Asian nations, shipping via the Arctic will result in a 30% cut in costs.
  • Moreover, 30 % of world’s untapped gas and 13% of undiscovered oil is believed to be in the Arctic.
  • Greenland is also under potential siege with its rare earth minerals potential.  Here, a British company has also proposed mining 15 million tons of iron ore– a project which would add 3,000 foreign miners to a mostly indigenous population of under 60,000 residents.
  • Next month China will be requesting permanent observer status at the Arctic Council which would give it an official voice in shaping Arctic policy.

Arctic politics has also created some strange bedfellows.  This past month Icelandic President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson announced formation of a new global forum, the Arctic Circle, to give countries outside the region a chance to shape Arctic development such as China, Singapore, India and South Korea.  China and Iceland also recently signed a free trade agreement that will bring greater economic involvement and investment in the region.

I don’t mean to pick on a few nations – but the problem is that some of the nations who ardently want a greater stake in Arctic development are the nations that support weak environmental protections for the Arctic. Last month at the International Maritime Organization (IMO),  I witnessed this first hand as China, Singapore, Iceland, the flag ship states , and even the United States, one-by-one stood up to oppose measures that would require zero discharge of garbage and other substances into the pristine Arctic.

The pristine beauty of the Arctic wilderness.

The pristine beauty of the Arctic wilderness.

If nations want to have a stake in the Arctic – let them first show that they support responsible rules on Arctic shipping and development: allow only first class ice-worthy vessels; require zero discharge of pollutants including garbage; and restrict the types of dangerous cargo that can enter Arctic waters.

Now is the time to stand up for strong Arctic environmental policies – before we are looking back on another Wild West.

This entry was posted on Sunday, May 5th, 2013 at 6:06 pm and is filed under Uncategorized.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. 

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About This Blog And Its Author
Seeds Of A Revolution is committed to defining the disruptive geopolitics of the global Farms Race.  Due to the convergence of a growing world population, increased water scarcity, and a decrease in arable land & nutrient-rich soil, a spike of international investment interest in agricultural is inevitable and apt to bring a heretofore domestic industry into a truly global realm.  Whether this transition involves global land leases or acquisitions, the fundamental need for food & the protectionist feelings this need can give rise to is highly likely to cause such transactions to move quickly into the geopolitical realm.  It is this disruptive change, and the potential for a global farms race, that Seeds Of A Revolution tracks, analyzes, and forecasts.

Educated at Yale University (Bachelor of Arts - History) and Harvard (Master in Public Policy - International Development), Monty Simus has long held a keen interest in natural resource policy and the geopolitical implications of anticipated stresses in the areas of freshwater scarcity, biodiversity reserves & parks, and farm land.  Monty has lived, worked, and traveled in more than forty countries spanning Africa, China, western Europe, the Middle East, South America, and Southeast & Central Asia, and his personal interests comprise economic development, policy, investment, technology, natural resources, and the environment, with a particular focus on globalization’s impact upon these subject areas.  Monty writes about freshwater scarcity issues at and frontier investment markets at