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Look North, America

Author: Captain Melissa Bert, USCG, 2011-2012 Military Fellow, U.S.Coast Guard
September 27, 2011
International Herald Tribune

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As American lawmakers struggle to fix the economy, they are missing the elephant in the room — or, more aptly, the polar bear.

America has a vast pool of untapped resources in its backyard. The North American basin, the Alaskan Arctic, holds an estimated 30 billion barrels of oil and more than 220 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, as well as rare earth minerals and massive renewable wind, tidal and geothermal energy.

The economic potential is in the trillions of dollars, as with the Siberian and Eurasian Arctic basins. The difference is that other nations, like China and Russia, have responded by building polar icebreakers and ice-strengthened ships, and by investing in resource exploration. The United States has not.

The Arctic is the newest emerging region, and yet the United States has no action plan. Both the Bush and Obama administrations have proclaimed it to be in America's strategic interest, but Washington has done little to convert words to action. The Pentagon, Coast Guard, National Science Foundation, academics and nonprofit organizations have compiled study after study. It's time for policymakers to act.

The problem lies partially with the term “Arctic,” which evokes “climate change” and divides decision makers.

The fact is, with or without climate change, the Arctic is now. Not one more shard of ice need melt to make this a reality. Maritime activity is increasing annually, and close calls that place people and the environment in extreme peril have become routine. Lack of resources and attention from policymakers could prove deadly to those who live, tour, work or transit the Arctic's pristine waters.

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