On May 2, 2012, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spoke at a reception hosted by the Environmental Defense Fund, who were assembled in Washington D.C. to acknowledge the strides made by the Defense Department towards becoming more energy efficient.
As reported in the Defense Department News
, Panetta said “The area of climate change has a dramatic impact on national security. Rising sea levels, severe droughts, the melting of the polar caps, the more frequent and devastating natural disasters all raise demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,”
Panetta cited the melting of Arctic ice in renewing a longstanding call for the Senate to ratify the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea. More than 150 nations have accepted the treaty, which has been in force since the early 1990s, and a succession of U.S. government administrations have urged ratification.
Among other things, the convention would guarantee various aspects of passage and overflight for the U.S. military.
What has the Defense Department so worried? The arctic ice is melting at an alarming rate, and a recent study by NASA has shown that it is not just shrinking in area but that the permanent thick ice is beginning to disappear, and is replaced with thinner ice during the winter freeze.
The thinner ice is then more easily melted during the summer, and scientists now believe that the Arctic Ocean will be ice-free during the summer by 2050. Already the Northwest Passage - which other than one odd year in the early 20th century, before recent years had never been free of ice - permits the exchange of water between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and allows ships to pass seasonally.
As the two oceans intermingle, marine life can now travel between ocean basins through the northern route, creating new micro-environments and upsetting established food webs. In the short run, the fish populations may benefit, but the system is unstable and any headlong rush to harvest fish or otherwise mine the area for resources could have profound effects on a process that is not well understood, leaving our security at risk if there are no controls over nautical traffic.
Another reason the Administration is pushing to ratify the Law of the Sea is to leash in China's claim to excessive ocean rights, and to otherwise make sure our military can conduct necessary business. According to the Voice of America
China claims a 370 kilometer boundary from their shores and thus can ban other nations from free access, including our military. The U.S. only acknowledges a 22 kilometer boundary.
As for the walruses, food is bountiful but according to the USGS
, the sea ice that is fundamental to their lifestyle may turn out to be the most important factor governing the survival of that species as we face global climate change. And the ice is disappearing while nations bicker and blame each other for the conditions that got us to this point.