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U.S. disengaged from chances to utilize the Arctic

As ice melts, Russia, China gearing up to exploit minerals

Published: Monday, Oct. 21, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT
Arthur Cyr

A new, comprehensive report on the environment dramatically declares that global warming is bringing profound changes, and must be addressed urgently regarding causes and consequences.

At the end of September, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change announced that comprehensive evidence indicates most global warming since 1950 has occurred because of polluting human activities.

The IPCC was established by the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization in 1988. An earlier report in 2007 developed the preliminary case for a central human role rather than purely natural causes of recent climate change.

Specifically, heat trapped by greenhouse gases over time is raising temperatures worldwide. This, in turn, is melting polar ice formations, heating and raising water levels of the oceans and inland seas, and changing the atmosphere.

The latest report strongly confirms the worldwide trends outlined in 2007. Those leading this research emphasize the importance of collective global response. Achim Steiner, U.N. Environment Program executive director and under secretary general, declares that the rapid accumulation of gasses requires immediate action.

Melting polar ice is rapidly revealing enormous mineral deposits previously unavailable for exploitation, in turn changing political dynamics within and between nations. China is emerging as a major investor.

Russia, spearheaded by President Vladimir Putin, now plays a principal international leadership role. Simultaneous with the release of the new report, the Third International Arctic Forum was held in the far northern town of Salekhard. Speaking there Sept. 27, Putin emphasized protecting the Arctic environment must go hand in hand with orderly investment.

The Russian Geographical Society in 2010 hosted two international conferences on the Arctic. Over 400 scientists and other scholars, investors, government representatives, and others were brought together.

The darker dimensions of the Kremlin have been demonstrated by the arrest last month of 30 people aboard the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise, protesting a Gazprom oil rig in the Pechora Sea. All, including journalists, have been charged with piracy.

Environmental and territorial conflicts can be expected to multiply. Disputes have aligned Russia against Canada and Denmark regarding control of the Lomonosov Ridge, most of which is in international waters.

Other nations involved in such disagreements include Finland, Iceland, Sweden, and the United States. Under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a nation can claim resources beyond a 200-mile limit if a direct continuous continental shelf can be established.

By contrast, the U.S. government is disengaged. President Barack Obama’s soaring rhetoric regarding the global environment contrasts with absence of action.

There is instructive encouraging history regarding international Arctic cooperation. International Polar Years were held in 1882-83, 1932-33, and 2007-09.

The first two inspired the International Geophysical Year of 1957-58, during the height of the Cold War. American scientific and government leadership was instrumental in launching and successfully completing this comprehensive global research and policy enterprise.

Discovery of the Van Allen Radiation Belts was one of numerous IGY scientific achievements. Demilitarization of Antarctica, initiated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, was an historic accomplishment.

Ban Ki-Moon, U.N. secretary-general, should lead through publicizing the conclusions of the new report. Environmental challenges by definition are global, not national.

International law provides a foundation for environmental protection along with resource development.

Absence of American leadership only underscores the importance of the world body.

Note to readers: Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War.”

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