US military plans for Arctic melting

USS Scranton breaking through Arctic ice.

The US military wants more budget to police Arctic sea lanes opened by global warming. Photo: Marion Doss via Flickr.

As civilian Washington, with climate skeptics in the ascendant, continues to bicker about how-real and how-bad, the military has once again shown that, when it comes to global warming, it’s a much more reality-based organization than Congress.

The new House wasted no time to start moving backwards on climate. In just one example, Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, who in December called the EPA’s plan to regulate carbon emissions “an unconstitutional power grab,” last week took the helm of the Energy and Commerce Committee. House Republicans have already begun efforts to block the EPA move.

But that hasn’t deterred the military from moving forward to prepare itself for the warmer climate that admirals and generals recognize as inevitable. As the Washington Post reports today, the ice along Alaska’s northern border is melting quickly because of accelerated climate change and “government and military officials are concerned the United States is not moving quickly enough to protect American interests in this vulnerable and fast-changing region”:

“We’re not doing OK,” said Lt. Cmdr. Nahshon Almandmoss as he flew the massive plane on the nine-hour flight from Kodiak to the northern border then down along the coast through the Bering Strait. “We definitely don’t have the infrastructure available to operate for an extended period of time in the Arctic in the summer, much less in the winter when it’s more critical for logistical purposes.”

The military projects an ice-free Arctic for several weeks of the year during the summer months, beginning as early as two years from now. And the Pentagon is worried that it lacks the resources to compete with Russia, Canada and other Arctic nations to claim new territory out at sea.

Ironically, planners have their eye on Arctic oil. The Post quotes Coast Guard Rear Admiral Christopher C. Colvin: “With 20 percent of the yet-to-be-discovered oil, gas and minerals remaining in the world in the Arctic, the U.S. can’t risk losing it.”

It’s understandable that the military would be asking for more budget to claim America’s stake in what’s shaping up to be a new Arctic gold rush, especially since Pentagon resources are already stretched thin from Iraq and Afghanistan.

But in a future where the US must respond to not only climate change but also peak oil, we are unlikely to be able to grow our defense budget much further. At some point, we will reach our limit — what some have already called “peak empire.”

Does that mean we’ll let the Russians just grab all the Arctic oil? Don’t count on it.

And that means global warming could be heating up the Arctic enough to melt more than just ice in the coming years.

— Erik Curren

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