Faced with ever-increasing global temperatures and rapidly melting Arctic ice, what might the next logical step be for U.S. President Barack Obama? To call for an end to Arctic drilling?
No! More icebreakers!
On the second day of his controversial three-day visit to Alaska on Tuesday, Obama declared that in order to stay competitive with Russia amid a frosty new resource grab, the U.S. must speed up its investment in a heavy icebreaker.
The U.S. currently owns seven icebreakers, though only two are functional. In comparison, Russia owns 40, with an additional 11 planned or under construction. Obama said that he will call on Congress to procure another $1 billion vessel for the Coast Guard by 2020, two years ahead of schedule.
Such polar icebreakers are specifically designed cutters for open-water icebreaking. As the ice sheet melts and new shipping routes open up, there will be a dramatic increase in the amount of human activity and commerce on the Arctic Ocean. Further, the latest U.S. push to drill for oil in the Arctic is also driving industry to the barren and fragile landscape.
“Arctic ecosystems are among the most pristine and understudied in the world, meaning increased commercial activity comes with significant risks to the environment,” the White House said in a statement.
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“The growth of human activity in the Arctic region will require highly engaged stewardship to maintain the open seas necessary for global commerce and scientific research, allow for search-and-rescue activities, and provide for regional peace and stability,” the statement continued.
The move was applauded by Alaska’s Republican Senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan.
“The highways of the Arctic are paved by icebreakers,” Sullivan said. “Right now, the Russians have superhighways, and we have dirt roads with potholes.”
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