The US & Norway cooperate to save the Arctic
Linda Priebe speaks of the dangers facing the region and what’s being done to protect it
Christine Foster Meloni
Linda Priebe addressed the Washington, D.C., Sons of Norway lodge on September 16 on the subject of “The Arctic: Shared Opportunities and Challenges for Norway and the U.S.”
The image that comes to mind when most people think of the Arctic is the icy, uninhabited North Pole with its polar bears and penguins. Priebe provided a more accurate description of this region.
The Arctic covers a total of 4.4 million square miles, 17% of the world’s land area. The weather is hostile, violent, and extreme. The winter temperatures can go below -58 degrees F (-50 degrees C).
The area is sparsely populated with only four million people. Eight nations have land in the Arctic and are members of the Arctic Council: Russia, Canada, Denmark/Greenland, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Norway, and the United States.
In 2012, China declared itself a “Near Arctic State” and sought observer status before the Arctic Council. In 2014, six countries, including China, were added to the Arctic Council as “Observer Countries”: India, Italy, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea. These countries have pursued economic opportunities in the Arctic and view participation in the Arctic Council as a means of influencing the decisions of its permanent members.
The indigenous peoples who live in the Arctic are represented on the Council by six Permanent Participant Organizations. These indigenous peoples include Sámi in circumpolar areas of Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Northwest Russia; Nenets, Khanty, Evenk, and Chukchi in Russia; Aleut, Yupik, and Inuit (Iñupiat) in Alaska; Inuit (Inuvialuit) in Canada; and Inuit (Kalaallit) in Greenland.
The future of the Arctic should be of interest to every nation because what is happening there affects the entire world.
Priebe explained how 95% of the world’s warming is absorbed by the oceans. The average Arctic temperature is rising two to three times as fast as that of the rest of the world. This is having numerous catastrophic effects.
The sad fate of Arctic animals is well known. The warming is causing the disappearance of sea ice. In the past thirty years, more than 50% of the Arctic summer sea ice has been lost. Walruses, for example, need the ice to rest on after actively searching for food in the sea. And the ice must be thick enough to support their heavy bodies. Without this sea ice, they starve.
Indigenous groups are also suffering. The Sámi in Norway are losing their traditional food sources. Reindeer pastures are being lost to oil and gas and other energy development, tourism and recreation, and contaminants. Twenty-five indigenous towns in Alaska are literally slipping into the ocean as a result of coastal flooding caused by the melting of Arctic ice and melting permafrost. One of these communities has recently voted to be relocated to another area farther inland.
Norway is the acknowledged leader in the efforts to halt the destruction of the Arctic. In 2005 Norway announced its Hi-North Strategy. One of its top priorities is to safeguard the livelihood and culture of its indigenous Sámi population.
The United States is the current Chair of the Arctic Council and works closely with Norway and the other nations. President Obama issued the National Strategy for the Arctic Region in May of 2014. He stated the Arctic priorities for the United States: Advance U.S. security interests; pursue responsible Arctic region stewardship; and strengthen international cooperation.
Priebe emphasized that the current greatest threat to the health of the Arctic is plastic. This is a problem that could be solved with the goodwill of the world population. It takes 450 years for a plastic bottle dumped into the sea to dissolve. Ninety-five percent of Norway’s seabirds have plastic in their stomachs. One million Arctic birds die each year.
A new problem has just arisen: cruise intrusion with its huge potential for pollution. In August 2016 the Crystal Serenity was launched with 1,700 passengers and crew. It traveled from Seward, Alaska, to New York City via the Northwest Passage, largely in uncharted waters. Only 1% of Arctic seas have been mapped so it is very dangerous to navigate there.
The cost for this unique and questionable cruise ranged from $22,000 to $120,000 per passenger. Each passenger was also required to purchase $50,000 in emergency extraction insurance; however, it is estimated that 80% of the ship’s route was beyond the reach of emergency services.
Ocean noise is also a serious problem. Ships create a lot of underwater noise. Wind turbines do as well. Whales are an important example of a group affected by noise. The noise can interfere with underwater communication, and it disrupts important activities such as migration and mating.
The health of the Arctic is in serious danger. Priebe emphasized Norway’s leadership role in trying to find ways to save the region. For more information, visit the Royal Norwegian Embassy’s website at www.norway.org/News_and_events/Embassy/Proposed-FY2016-Budget-Norways-Activities-in-the-Arctic-/#.V_UCPjKZNo4.
Priebe has long been concerned about the fate of the Arctic. She is a lawyer with Culhane Meadows, PLLC in Washington, D.C., where she advocates on behalf of a variety of Arctic stakeholders before U.S. agencies and is a member of the International Advisory Board of the Polar Research and Policy Initiative, an international think tank headquartered in the UK. Linda grew up in a Norwegian-speaking home in Seattle and is Vice President of the Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce (NACCMA) in Washington, D.C. She has been named a Washington, D.C., Super Lawyer by Thomson Reuters, Legal Division and is certified in EU data privacy/security law. You can read more about her Arctic work at polarconnection.org/rendezvous-linda-priebe.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 21, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.