Map of the Arctic U.S. Department of State

As the Arctic grows ever warmer, one of the many impacts of climate change, it is likely to present Maine with “a huge opportunity,” U.S. Sen. Angus King told students and educators on a Friday Zoom session.

King said newly opened shipping lanes through the Northwest Passage means Maine should benefit from having three excellent deep-water ports that would be the first ones ships heading from Asia to the East Coast would reach.

“I believe we’re going to see an explosion of trade,” King said.

He told the call that trade built Maine’s economy, and its impressive 19th century houses, and might again in just a couple more decades as vessels increasingly head north to save 15 days’ worth of travel crossing the oceans going to and from the United States.

The Zoom session, organized by Edward Little High School teacher Erin Towns, offered about 75 students the chance to hear from King about climate change and the Arctic, a topic many of them have been studying. Towns is teaching a Geopolitics of the Arctic course.

“Why are we even talking about the Arctic?” King asked. “The short answer is the ice is melting.”

For the entirety of humanity’s recorded history, ice covered the northern seas, he said, but rising temperatures caused by burning fossil fuels have heated the atmosphere so much that in recent years, it’s become increasingly easy to voyage above the northern ring of Europe and North America.

“It’s as if we’ve discovered a whole new ocean,” King said.

During a Zoom session with Maine students Friday, U.S. Sen. Angus King talked about the soaring level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, caused by burning fossil fuels, and the threat it poses to a warming planet.

While there are benefits to opening up the Arctic, there’s no question that the climate crisis that’s making it possible offers far more downside than whatever gains it makes possible.

King said melting glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica will likely cause sea levels to rise by 6 feet or more by the end of the century unless something unexpected happens. That would inundate many low-lying cities, including Miami and Los Angeles.

King said his interest in the far north has blossomed as he’s learned more. He said he’s been under the ice in a U.S. nuclear submarine, seen a river of meltwater flowing off a glacier in Greenland and talked with experts around the world to learn more.

King is not alone in sensing that big changes may be afoot for the Arctic.

U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, addresses Maine students about the Arctic during a Friday Zoom call. Video screenshot

He said Russia is militarizing its northern border quickly.

“So far, it appears to be defensive but it’s still worrisome,” said King, who serves on the Intelligence and the Armed Services committees.

Plus, he said, about five years ago, the Chinese suddenly took a major interest in the Arctic for the first time.

“We’re not sure what they’re up to,” King said, but speculated they may be interested in obtaining minerals there as well as in the shipping prospects.

In any case, the region has become “a serious national security issue” and potentially big expense, “something we ignore at our peril,” King said.

King said he works closely with other senators who are keen on the subject, including Alaska’s delegation.

He said that one day as he walked toward the floor to vote on something, he told U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, that he planned to be “the arctic senator.”

“No, Angus, you can be the assistant Arctic senator,” the more senior Murkowski informed him.

The Zoom session with students was originally slated to take place a week earlier, but King had to cancel because he had to get a tooth pulled. “It wouldn’t have been good,” the senator said.

Students from Lewiston, Brewer and other towns also participated Friday. Many were also from teacher Martin Bressler’s Honors World History class at Edward Little.

With an audience of eager and bright high school students, King put in a plug for the Maine Maritime Academy, a public college in Castine that he called “the single best deal in American education” because its graduates are in such demand for everything from operating a ship to logistics to overseeing power plants.

But he also told them to press for better environmental practices.

“You’re the ones who are going to inherit this planet. You have a real stake in it,” King said.

He said people today don’t own the Earth. They’re just borrowing it from future generations and have a responsibility to make sure it is in as good or better shape when they’re done as it was when they came along.

“It’s a matter of ethics,” King said.

This year’s Camden Conference, which will take place online because of the pandemic, will focus on “The Geopolitics of the Arctic: A Region in Peril.” It takes place Feb. 20 and 21.


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