Americans love a good wild west story. Tales of gunslingers, shootouts, Billy the Kid, and cowboys riding into the sunset liberally pepper our literature, movies, and TV shows. These stories, always accompanied by descriptions of pristine, remote, wild lands ripe for taming by intrepid Americans through development and economic activity, comprise a vibrant part of our national psyche. Readers and viewers of these stories put them down and sigh wistfully for the loss of a landscape they never knew.
The wild west faded into myth long ago. While we continue to grapple with the aftermath and moral implications of Manifest Destiny on both the western lands of the U.S. and the original inhabitants of it, many long for the opportunity to encounter a similar spot on earth and, perhaps, do better by it. The Arctic, long our wild north, currently peaking the interest of the oil and logistics industries, presents us with just such an opportunity.
Think of the opening of the Arctic Northwest Passages due to thinning polar ice like blasting though the Rocky Mountains to complete the Transcontinental Railroad. It offers the possibility of considerable savings to those wishing to ship goods from one point to another. Instead of shipping from New York to San Francisco around Cape Horn in South America, shipping lines use current east-west routes though the Mediterranean Suez Canal and around South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. A voyage from Busan, South Korea to Rotterdam, Netherlands spans 10,744 nautical miles via the Suez and 14,084 via South Africa, but only 7,667 via the Arctic Northeast Passage. The potential for savings on fuel alone during times of high oil prices astounds.
However, our pursuit of a Transcontinental Railroad did not account for impact to the environment, indigenous peoples, or the health and safety of those working to build it. If we have learned from our history we can, and must, do better by the arctic.
We must all do our parts to ensure the future of this still untamed part of our territory. If you agree, please write to your Congressional Representatives and ask them to make it a priority.
These new shipping routes are only navigable because of the effect of climate change on arctic sea ice. While arctic shipping routes may appear as a silver lining to the cloud of global warming, it’s imperative that we not allow increased shipping in the arctic region to become a contributor to same. How the eight Arctic Coastal States choose to address the regulation of shipping in the arctic will impact the health and well-being of nearly four million people living in the area and numerous native species of wildlife. Yet, as one of the Arctic Coastal States, the United States has developed virtually no Arctic policy. A quick visit to the U.S. Department of State website leaves a curious visitor with more questions than answers. Clearly the future of the arctic is not a priority for our current government.
If we are to do better by this new frontier we need a plan before building anything else. Let’s build one now.
Ella Darzycki of Colchester, Michelle Doty of Mystic, and Trudi Morneau of New London are Master of Business Administration Students at the University of Rhode Island.
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