This post is a follow-up to JFC!, which I wrote on September 11, 2012. That post was about oil and natural gas drilling in the Arctic. If you read it last year, no doubt you remember it. If you're wondering what "JFC" stands for, I suggest you read that post before you read this one.
And why am I invoking Our Savior today? That becomes obvious when you read CNN Money's Global warming is about to remake worldwide shipping. As you read it, bear this question in mind—
Can a species this dim-witted be redeemed?
OK, here we go.
FORTUNE — Call it a silver lining: Geographers are predicting that by mid-century, melting sea ice will open up new commercial shipping routes in the Arctic. That would shave off costly travel time in the late summer and reduce Russia's control over trans-Arctic shipping. For the first time, icebreakers will be able to make a straight shot over the North Pole, and the treacherous but coveted Northwest Passage through Canada's Arctic Archipelago will become a viable commercial route.
UCLA's Laurence C. Smith and Scott R. Stephenson reported the findings on what they're calling "Supra-Polar" routes Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The pair used computer modeling to predict optimal navigation routes for mid-century (2040-2059) between the North Atlantic and the Bering Straight based on seven independent climate models. They restricted their study to September, when Arctic ice is at its minimum...
Smith and Stephenson are looking at optimal polar shipping routes for the years 2040-2059. These routes may become navigable (in September?) just as the planet is becoming uninhabitable for billions of bipedal, big-brained primates. JFC!
But wait, it gets better, because there's potentially a lot of money to be made.
Although it's too soon to know what all this means in economic terms, shipping is already ramping up in the Arctic as ice retreats. A handful of shipping vessels first navigated the NSR in 2010, when the summer ice thinned sufficiently there. Last summer, 46 ships carried oil, gas, and hard minerals from Russia, Norway, and Denmark to China, says Lawson Brigham, a professor of geography and Arctic policy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks...
"The driver of most Arctic shipping today and in the future is Arctic natural resource developments — the linkages of Arctic natural resources to global markets," Brigham adds. "Sea ice retreats as observed in the Arctic provide for longer navigation seasons and marine access, but global commodities prices and economics drive the essence of Arctic shipping in the future."
In 2055, those ships will be carrying oil and gas from Europe to China! I don't even know how to begin to respond to this. JFC!
From my post The Earth's Climate — Rethinking "Rethinking Wedges" (January 16, 2013) ... it is possible we would see a 2°C warming even if we implement 9 climate stabilization wedges, which means the Arctic will likely be 5-7°C warmer than the pre-industrial late Holocene average by 2060. Also see Death Spiral Watch: Experts Warn ‘Near Ice-Free Arctic In Summer’ In A Decade If Volume Trends Continue
There's more. With humans, experience tells me that there's always more.
Smith thinks that unreinforced open-water ships could become far more common in the Arctic by mid-century. "These places capture the imagination," he says.
"Many intrepid explorers died seeking clear passage through both the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route in the late nineteenth century while looking for the shortest route between Europe and the Orient, as it was known then. Temptation will grow for ordinary vessels to enter these waters."
Capture the imagination. At least you got that part right, Mr. Smith.
As the Northwest Passage and the North Pole open up, some ships will be able to avoid Russia's Exclusive Economic Zone; Russia charges steep fees for mandatory escorts through this zone.
Although navigating through less-regulated international waters could cut costs, Smith says environmental and safety issues will emerge. "It's both exciting and worrisome," he says. "The Arctic is a dangerous place and always will be. The ice will always return in winter. It's dark. It's remote. Let's just say the northern countries are going to have some patrolling, search-and-rescue, and security issues on their hands in the coming years."
Environmental and safety issues will emerge. Now, stop me if I'm wrong here, sometimes I'm a little off-base, but it seems to me that "environmental and safety issues" have already emerged. JFC!
And what about the ice will always return in winter? No doubt Smith is right that in 2055 there will still be (some) ice in winter, but I abso-fucking-lutely guarantee you that if we wait long enough, and humans burn every combustible thing on this planet in a futile effort to keep going, the Arctic will be ice free all year long, just as it was during the Eocene 56-34 million years ago. And what a glorious time that will be for trans-polar shipping!
If there's anybody left to drive the boats, that is.
Have a nice weekend.