In 2007, a chap by the name of McKenzie Funk published a nice piece in Harper’s, “The Coming Fight for the Melting North”. It’s a gorgeous piece of writing on what’s happening in the Arctic given the melting ice and the subsequent opening up of transportation routes and resources (you need a subscription to see the article, but summaries can be viewed here, here, and here).
Basically Funk does a bang up job describing the intricacies of the maneuvering for territory occurring up in the Arctic. It’s a pretty huge deal given the commercial, military, and resource value of that area (i.e. the U.S.G.S. estimates the area holds up to 25% of the world’s undiscovered oil, and whoever controls the shipping up there is going to be set).
This means that who owns what and whose territory ends where is of increasing interest. How much interest? Well, with its expanded holdings the United States could potentially grow by 4.1 million square miles to become the world’s largest country (and acquire $1.3 trillion worth of resources to boot). That’s… quite a bit.
Funk goes on to say that with the Arctic ice melting, “experts foresee numerous conflicts between the five nations whose borders meet there. Russia, Canada, Denmark, Norway, and the United States all have borders along the Arctic, and all of them have already begun research into what swathes of territory their continental shelves entitle them to claim“. As you can imagine this has made Canada a little nervous, as suddenly its continuing entitlement to its northern coastline and waters has become somewhat more nebulous.
Although it’s tricky to predict how this will all play out and there’s been renewed interest in collaboration of late, two things stand out a bit:
- Despite the continuing debate about whether climate change is real, there is a very real jockeying for position predicated on melting ice floes; and,
- Given what’s at stake in an increasingly constrained world, if push comes to shove there’s likely going to be a lot of shoving.