Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Here Comes the Arctic, There Goes the Arctic

Special report on the Arctic in this week’s Economist. The region has warmed twice as much as the rest of the world over the last 60 years, mainly due to the replacement of ice with darker coloured land water (which, for all you Jeopardy buffs, is known as the Albedo effect ).

Like most changes, global warming has some projected winners too. The region hosts an estimated 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil, and 30% of its natural gas, and a more temperate Greenland holds promise for mining and agriculture. To say nothing of the fabled Northwest Passage (Northeast, if you’re going through Russia), which is now navigable for 4-5 months per year.

Last year 34 ships made this voyage, compared to four the year before. But it will be at least a decade—due to the shortness of the season, the cost of ice-breaking ships and the unpredictability of the crossing—before container ships are following this route. Once they are, though, the Suez Canal, which brought Egypt $5 billion dollars last year, may not be so popular, and Somali pirates will be wondering where all the boats went.

The report concludes by calling the Arctic a textbook Tragedy of the Commons, as the costs of global warming are so widespread. That makes a tax on carbon emissions—widely believed to be the most sensible response—as unlikely.

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