Foreign Policy has an interesting article this week about how the US, short of ice-breakers, is falling behind the “Arctic Game” by not having enough giant-icebreakers, like the nuclear-powered ones Russia has or Finland’s LNG-driven vessels. These are gigantic ships, costing over a billion dollars, and taking almost a decade to build. It’s a story of bureaucracy and priorities, as the Obama administration has slowly pushed for more funding, with limited bipartisan support. It seems America is catching up to its duties, as one of the “Arctic nations.”
A Russian nuclear-powered ice-breaker, seen here devouring the planet. Image from Wikimedia Commons
It’s sort of a strange thing to think about; that residents of Florida or Arizona can consider themselves part of an Arctic nation, but thanks to the ability of great powers to buy and sell land like one does trinkets, America is one. And more than that, as a great power, we’re honor-bound to explore the Arctic, making it safe for oil and gas producers, as well as our navy, not to mention tourist ships. After all, “(T)his summer, for the first time, a cruise ship will sail from Anchorage, Alaska, to New York City, through the Northwest Passage.”
Think about that, and the whole insane scope of the last 500 years comes into focus. The rise of great, globe-stamping powers, the population clash and transfer between Europe and the Americas, the rise of industry and the way it changed the environment, initially imperceptible on a human level, but then suddenly very quickly.
The whole “discovery” of the Americas was an attempt to find a sea passage to the Asian markets. John Cabot probably was the first person (or at least the first famous person; his four-ship crew might argue on “firsties) to die looking for the Northwest Passage. In doing so, though, he claimed much of the northern part of the Canada for England, which eventually set off the fierce wars between England and France, that also pulled in Spain and the Dutch. These wars, particularly the Seven Years War, sparked by inter-tribal rivalry between the Annishabeeg and Iroquois, helped create the crucible in which the United States was formed, and was later able to buy Alaska from Russia, as if the concept of owning land that people lived in was an inarguable right. These wars helped, as wars always do, spur the industrial advances that changed a planet.
And so, here we are, not too long in the scope of things since John Cabot- who was actually Giovanni Cabato, but in his famous voyage he sailed for the King of England, so we can’t be having any excess vowels, by god- possibly died looking for the Northwest Passage. All it took was pumping poison into the air and sea. All it will take to exploit this discovery is billions of dollars and enormous ships, powered by nuclear energy, so that we can dig up more oil and gas. Cabot was just a little early, was all. We’ve finally achieved the dream.