This is Why the U.S. Arctic Matters
Growing up in Alaska, I learned to value the land and resources around me. Alaskans -- and believe me they will tell you -- are especially passionate about the many unique characteristics that make up our state. As the northernmost state, part of Alaska lies above the Arctic Circle, making the U.S. an “Arctic country.” As one of the last largely undeveloped places in the world, the Arctic is not only one of the most beautiful places in the world: it also has enormous economic, energy, and strategic potential. Its resources have the potential to be tapped into in a responsible way, and we can do so without compromising the integrity of the region and land.
In May, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attended the Arctic Council ministerial meetings in Rovaniemi, Finland. Secretary Pompeo’s speech and attendance highlights a key international convening with an ever-increasing U.S. presence committed to addressing Arctic issues. That same month, U.S. Senator and Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) spoke at the Arctic Circle Shanghai forum and led a Congressional delegation to Canada, Greenland, Svalbard (Norway), Scotland, the Faroe Islands, and Iceland. The trip, which included a bipartisan group of Senate leaders, provided an in-depth look at energy and environmental impacts in the Arctic. These events would not have occurred 15 years ago and do signal great progress. As more attention and geopolitical emphasis is placed on the high north, Americans are starting to pay attention and are sure to become leaders on the Arctic stage.
As one of eight Arctic countries, those with a geographic presence in the Arctic Circle, the U.S. has a pivotal role to play in the policy formation of one of the last emerging and untapped places on earth. Although Arctic policy isn’t a “hot button” issue in D.C., members of Congress and the Administration are stepping up and addressing Arctic issues through a myriad of policy proposals. Senators Murkowski, Schatz (D-HI), and Sullivan (R-AK) introduced legislation titled the Arctic Policy Act (APA). This bill would further bolster and modernize U.S. Arctic policy, providing a step in the right direction toward more up-to-date policies in the region. Through establishing an Arctic Executive Steering Committee, more collaborative solutions will be found. And, by efficiently and properly engaging multiple departments and agencies, the Arctic Policy Act will work to advance U.S. Arctic interests.
Due to climate change, the Arctic is warming at 2 times the global average. In fact, earlier this summer it was announced that the Greenland ice sheet lost over 2 billion tons of ice in one day. These are both staggering statistics and are impacting communities and peoples throughout the Arctic. It is imperative for the future prosperity of the environment and the people in the region that Congress actively seeks meaningful policy solutions.
In Alaska, we are at the forefront of experiencing climate change impacts. In rural Alaska villages, like Newtok, people’s lives and homes are at stake as they face erosion of 10 to 20 feet in severe storms. We must work together in D.C. and across the country to increase Arctic dialogue and find meaningful and effective solutions to these issues.
As the globe continues to warm, the Arctic is quickly gaining international attention for energy development. As a result of receding ice caps, new resource development is now becoming possible. In fact, nearly 30% of the world’s undiscovered gas resources and 13% of the world’s discoverable oil are thought to be in the Arctic. As the U.S. looks to bolster its national security assets, Arctic energy development will aid in domestic energy independence.
It is in America’s best interest to responsibly and meaningfully develop resources for the betterment of our political, economic, energy, and strategic standpoints. Resource development and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive and can work in tandem.
Renewable and clean energy have potential in the Arctic, too. Iceland has harnessed renewable energy, particularly geothermal and hydro, to supply almost 100% of its electricity and energy demands. Iceland has worked tirelessly to harness their standing as an Arctic nation which, in turn, benefits their people. This is an area where the U.S. has room to grow, and it is in our best interest to pursue such a plan that allows clean energy to thrive based on consumer demand.
As a geopolitical, energy, security, and national asset, we must act quickly in order to ensure we remain at the table concerning Arctic issues. As an international leader, the U.S. is well-positioned and has the potential to expand influence into the Arctic.
My hope, as a young person concerned about our future in the Arctic, is that we continue to bring forth bipartisan and meaningful dialogue to solve the problems facing the very fragile and vitally important Arctic region.