While many members of the global community grow concerned about the impacts of climate change, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo seems to have found the bright side to a warming world.
In his remarks while in Finland on Monday for the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting, the secretary lauded the presence of undiscovered oil, natural gas, uranium, and rare earth minerals throughout the region.
“And its centerpiece, the Arctic Ocean, is rapidly taking on new strategic significance,” he said.
Pompeo’s remarks included no mention of climate change, but he did make one — if somewhat ominous — reference to the impacts of a climate in flux:
“Steady reductions in sea ice are opening new passageways and new opportunities for trade. This could potentially slash the time it takes to travel between Asia and the West by as much as 20 days.
Arctic sea lanes could come before – could come the 21s century Suez and Panama Canals.”
Pompeo’s apparent praise for the commercial benefits of melting sea ice was just about all the Trump administration had to say about climate change at the Arctic Council meeting. According to Reuters, a final accord from the eight nations present was tanked over U.S. objections to phrasing on climate change as a “serious threat to the Arctic” in the final text.
But Arctic sea ice serves a greater purpose than simply obstruction potential shipping channels. The ice that covers roughly 15 percent of the ocean’s surface at certain points of the year reflects sunlight back out into space, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). As that ice melts, more solar energy is absorbed by the ocean at the poles, increasing the temperature of the oceans and fueling a cycle of further sea ice melt.
“Even a small increase in temperature can lead to greater warming over time, making the polar regions the most sensitive areas to climate change on Earth,” the NOAA says.
According to the NOAA’s 2018 Arctic Report Card, the region continues to warm at twice the rate of the rest of the globe. The report also found that sea ice in 2018 was “younger, thinner, and covered less than area than in the past.”