America Must Build More Icebreakers or We'll Lose the Battle for the Arctic

America Must Build More Icebreakers or We'll Lose the Battle for the Arctic

WITH THE PARIS climate talks behind us, the world appears serious about mitigating the environmental impacts already afoot and preparing for those ahead. Yet the United States remains dangerously unprepared for the profound changes and opportunities coming to the Arctic. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the pitiful state of its icebreaker fleet. The United States has just one heavy ice breaker and no plans to build more, a short-sighted and foolhardy policy that will leave it scrambling to catch up with Arctic nations competing for shipping routes and resources as Arctic ice continues its retreat. It wasn’t always this way. The country once maintained a fleet of seven heavy icebreakers, but hasn’t commissioned a new one in 40 years. The Coast Guard’s sole remaining vessel, the Polar Star, is slated for retirement as early as 2019. Every other nation touching the Arctic Circle maintains a robust fleet. Russia, for example, is adding a dozen icebreakers to what already is the world’s biggest fleet. This sorry state of affairs led Alaska Republican Senator Dan Sullivan to say, “The highways of the Arctic are paved by icebreakers. Right now, the Russians have superhighways, and we have dirt roads with potholes.”
These vessels will be of increasing importance as vanishing sea ice opens shipping lanes between Asia and Europe that are 40 percent faster than conventional routes. The region also is home to vast fisheries, mineral deposits, and energy reserves estimated at $30 trillion. President Obama called the changes of the far north “the birth of a new ocean.” Read More: WIRED
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