Melting Arctic ice is bringing big changes to the world’s shipping and energy industries. It’s opening up access to new stores of oil and gas—the region is estimated to contain 13 percent of the world’s untapped oil reserves and 30 percent of its gas—that were previously inaccessible. And it’s also opening up a new shipping route across the Northern Sea; Russia has already issued permits to more than 400 firms looking to take advantage of the new alternative path between Europe and Asia. Conspicuously absent from that list of permittees is the environmental activist group Greenpeace, whose request to, as one member put it, monitor the “unprecedented risks in an area teeming with polar bears, whales and other Arctic wildlife” being taken by oil companies in the region has been repeatedly denied.
But there’s a green aspect to the Arctic melt. As the WSJ reports, the new shipping route is shorter for some inter-continental trade:
Earlier this month, Chinese shipper Cosco sent a container vessel from China to Europe along the route, which it said would not only cut shipping costs and carbon emissions, but also bring it closer to Western markets and foster economic development in Chinese coastal areas.
The newly available hydrocarbon reserves will help power a world not ready to run on solar, wind, and well-wishes, and in some ways the melt is actually green, insofar as it shortens trade routes and provides access to previously inaccessible natural resources.
Consider: As China continues to grow, it’s going to need to import more and more energy from abroad. The rest of Asia is also looking to import more oil and gas in the coming years, some of which will come from Europe. Going from Rotterdam in the Netherlands to the Chinese port of Dalian takes an average of 48 days when traveling by the Suez canal, these days a dicey proposition as Egypt continues to deteriorate. But if you’ve got the right ship, you can travel across the top of Russia, shaving nearly two weeks off of the voyage.
Greens tend to see climate change and its causes and effects in black and white. Fossil fuels: black. Renewables: white. Melting ice: black. Polar bears: white. That’s rarely an effective way to view the world, and the goings-on at the North Pole are the latest example of that.
[Cargo ship photo courtesy of Shutterstock]