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September 13, 2007

Northwest Passage is Heating Up

This morning’s Wall Street Journal ran an article about an American pig farmer/yachtsman who successfully navigated the Northwest Passage in 45 days.  It’s an achievement that not many people in history have done, but due to global warming, it’s something that may no longer be an achievement.

By 2020, commercial ships could start operating in the channel, undeterred by the shifting ice packs that once made this one of the most treacherous waterways in the world.  Already, governments and business interests are lining up to tap this asset and though there’s nothing inherently wrong with making use of this resource, it brings up several interesting questions:

-Won’t increased traffic compound the problem of global warming by raising greenhouse emission levels in the Arctic?
-Will surrounding habitats be adversely affected by new commercial interests in the Arctic?
-Do stakeholders in future Arctic enterprises realize what’s at stake?
-What if we become too reliant on the Northwest Passage, or even dependent on it?

There are no simple answers to these questions but Oceana is tackling the issue head-on using science and policy to inspire change.  For the moment, it’s not a panacea, but it’s a start.