For centuries, the "Doctrine of Discovery" guided global claims to new territory with a first come, first served mentality. With the Arctic, nations came and went, but no one bothered staking much of a claim, since the icy north wasn't seen as useful territory.
Now, Russia has planted a titanium flag on the sea floor as part of a stunt that is part spectacle and part global posturing: The natural resources that may be buried under the sea floor there are a key asset for any nation in the 21st century, and if estimates prove correct, the reserves could be the source of global power for decades to come. But it's the 21st century, right?
We don't claim territory by sailing big ships and planting flags anymore. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is designed to deal with disputed territory at sea, and it will no doubt get a lot of mileage in the coming years, as Arctic nations move to carve up the fisheries, shipping routes and fossil fuel deposits available at the top of the world.
These claims are made possible by global warming, which is melting ice around the North Pole -- making the U.N. convention a critical piece of paper for any nation wishing to take a place in the geopolitics of the "new" territory.
The United States, however, has yet to ratify this treaty -- and the race, clearly, is already on.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.