Climate Change Opening Up Russia’s Frozen North

Drastic shifts in global weather patterns are, in the aggregate, a catastrophe for human welfare. But it’s a big planet, and there’s always some upside somewhere. And in an odd way, the catastrophe is better illustrated by the success stories, if only because there’s less incentive for denial. So I thought Andrew Kramer’s report from Russia’s Arctic seaports is pretty fantastic:

One thing Captain Bozanov did not encounter while towing an industrial barge 2,300 miles across the Arctic Ocean was solid ice blocking his path anywhere along the route. Ten years ago, he said, an ice-free passage, even at the peak of summer, was exceptionally rare. […] Oil companies might be the most likely beneficiaries, as the receding polar ice cap opens more of the sea floor to exploration. The oil giant Exxon Mobil recently signed a sweeping deal to drill in the Russian sector of the Arctic Ocean. But shipping, mining and fishing ventures are also looking farther north than ever before.

In most contexts, if you phone up Exxon Mobil and ask about climate change you’re likely to get an evasive answer. But you can see here that they’re putting real money down on the prospect that this isn’t just some random coincidence of warm weather, but that an actual large permanent shift in the polar ice caps has happened and will continue to happen. For the narrow purposes of Arctic Ocean oil drilling, this is good news. And arctic seaports will benefit. But of course precisely because the climate is so inhospitable, very little of humanity lives in the arctic. Instead, people live in places where the climate has historically been suited to living. Dramatic shifts in global weather patterns will disrupt all those lives and degrade the value of the massive fixed investments we’ve made over the years in our non-arctic cities and farms.