In a last-minute and possibly far-reaching decision, President George W. Bush has issued a directive claiming that the U.S. has the right to exploit oil and gas reserves locked in the Arctic, according to Reuters.
The move is the latest in a multiyear jockeying match among Arctic powers, primarily Russia and the U.S. though Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland all claim swaths of the Arctic, based on international treaty and geologic surveys of the ocean floor.
Russia has made the most waves, planting a titanium flag on the sea floor at the North Pole in 2007. But the U.S. has been sending scientists to the far reaches of the Arctic to map the sea floor and justify just the sort of claims that Bush is making.
The great irony of the Arctic and it's a sad irony is that it wouldn't be open for the business of fossil fuel exploration, and subject to international disputes if it weren't for global warming, which is caused by burning fossil fuels.
The Arctic has been melting to unprecedented degrees in recent years. The summer melting of sea ice produced the two most ice-free seasons on record in the last two years. The Arctic is warming faster than any other place on Earth, showing the earliest signs of what is to come.
When it comes to the future of energy, exploiting fossil fuels in the Arctic is bad strategy. Like offshore oil drilling, or development of oil shale or tar sands deposits, it would provide a boost to oil and gas supplies only at enormous cost and risk to local environments. More importantly, though, it would commit the U.S. to another decade or more of reliance on fossil fuels.
Russia, on the other hand, has seemingly few strategic reasons to ween itself or the world off fossil fuels. It's been flexing its muscles by turning off the natural gas spigot to Europe, demonstrating how unsustainable it is to rely on anyone else to supply or transport your energy. And as more fossil fuels are burned, Russia only gets more access to more territory to exploit.
The U.S. has much more to gain by transforming its economy, and turning away from fossil fuels. Our technological prowess is still the envy of the world. Our innovations could be sold throughout the world to places like Europe so that they can lift themselves out from under the thumb of Russia, just as we can lift ourselves from under the thumb of the Middle East and other oil-producing regions.
We can't drill our way to energy independence whether we're drilling offshore or in the Arctic. We can innovate our way there, by investing in renewable, alternative and non-fossil fuel energy sources. What the country and, indeed the world needs, is not more energy exploitation of the Arctic. It needs a new plan.
President-elect Obama should add President Bush's Arctic initiative to the pile of orders to overturn. Or, at the least, he should ignore it.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.