For an administration that has routinely denied that climate change is anything more than a hoax, Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was quick to celebrate its effects on Monday. At a meeting of the Arctic Council in Finland on Monday, Pompeo celebrated the “opportunity and abundance” offered by a warming and thawing arctic.
“Steady reductions in sea ice are opening new passageways and new opportunities for trade,” he said. “It houses 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil, 30 percent of its undiscovered gas, an abundance of uranium, rare earth minerals, gold, diamonds, and millions of square miles of untapped resources, fisheries galore.”
“Arctic sea lanes could become the 21st century Suez and Panama Canals.”
Some estimates suggest that receding sea ice will make the long-fabled Northwest Passage navigable year-round, and it’s already accessible during the summer months. It would save thousands of miles for trips between Asia and Europe or the East Coast of North America. In 2014, a cargo ship became the first to use the passage between Quebec and China.
While acknowledging the recent changes in the Arctic, Pompeo managed to not mention the term “climate change” even once. On Sunday, Pompeo said he “can’t rank” climate change as a top national security threat, directly contradicting the Pentagon’s own conclusions.
Shortly after the Department of Defense outlined how climate change would impact its operations this past January, Trump once again mocked the idea of climate change, saying the country needed some “good old fashioned Global Warming” in the midst of a winter storm. And of course that perspective also reflects policies like Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement and rollback of policies to reduce carbon emissions.
We’re left to wonder, how can the administration tout the silver lining of a thawing arctic while denying that climate change is even taking place?
Such selective thinking is nothing short of bizarre. Arctic warming, which is occurring twice as fast as warming elsewhere, will have a domino effect on the rest of the world. In a vicious cycle, global warming itself will increase—the albedo effect describes how white surfaces, such as ice and snow, reflect 80 percent of the sun’s energy back into space. Without that snow and ice, more warmth will be absorbed. Disappearing sea ice is already responsible for about 25 percent of the global warming that’s occurring.
While melting sea ice does not raise sea levels, land-based ice in areas like Greenland does. Scientists estimate that if Greenland’s ice melts, it would raise sea levels as much as 20 feet, wreaking havoc on coastal cities.
That’s not all—thawing permafrost releases trapped carbon, feeding the cycle of warming. And some scientists believe that a warming arctic leads to more extreme weather elsewhere in North America.
A warming arctic contributes directly to global climate change and its effects. The Fourth National Climate Assessment, released last November, suggests the US economy will shrink by as much as ten percent if climate change continues at its current pace. How would this stack up to the benefits a shorter shipping route?
Not to mention Pompeo’s other point—new opportunities for oil and gas drilling. The administration sees the thawing of the Arctic as an opportunity to drill for the same fossil fuels that caused the problem in the first place.
There are only two possible explanations for this level of recklessness. Perhaps the administration honestly believes that climate change is occurring, but is not caused by human activities like fossil fuel use.
But not only do many of Trump’s statements dismiss the idea of climate change altogether, any honest examination of the science suggests otherwise. At least 90 percent of scientists and 97 percent of peer-reviewed papers agree that humans are causing global warming.
Instead, it seems much more likely that the administration is simply playing into the polarized nature of US politics, with little regard for the science one way or the other. Climate change is no longer thought of as a science issue, but as a political one.
Playing up “uncertainties” in the science, and casting climate change as a liberal hoax, has been the strategy of fossil fuel interests since the 1990s, as shown by documents published by journalists and activists in recent years. There’s little political risk in the administration’s brazen hypocrisy and ignorance, when scientists publishing real results are automatically assumed to be left-wing partisans with their own agenda.
Hopefully, the hypocrisy and irony of Pompeo’s celebration of the thawing of the Arctic is enough to break through the partisan echo chamber—but it doesn’t seem likely.