The fact of retreating ice at Earth’s poles triggers hot debate over root causes. It fuels discussions about environmental adaptation. It has nations jostling for geopolitical advantage. Our writer visited a scruffy port town in Norway’s far north to see how local pragmatism – the simple need to find a new place in a new Arctic landscape – fits in.
What is going on at the top of the world? “Pretty crazy things,” according to top climate scientist Mark Serreze. And as the Arctic ice melts, nations near and far are jockeying for pole position in a tussle for economic, military, and strategic dominance.
Within the next half-century the Arctic Ocean will be ice-free in summer, offering blue-water shipping lanes from the Pacific to the Atlantic; China is looking to exploit this shorter and cheaper alternative to the Suez Canal, and Beijing has declared its goal of becoming a “polar great power.”
Russia, which has the longest Arctic coast of any nation and a wealth of natural resources, is building air bases in the frozen North and ice-breaking naval vessels armed with cruise missiles. Washington, though, has paid little attention to the Arctic in recent years, and the United States is “late to the game,” in the words of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Meanwhile, a tiny town at the top of Norway has set itself an ambitious target: to be the next Singapore.