Not everyone will suffer from global warming. There will be winners as well as losers. The coldest, most inhospitable regions of the globe will benefit from a milder climate, and it will be possible to farm areas that were previously hard to cultivate. Canada, Russia, and southern Argentina could all see their agricultural productivity increase.
The Arctic typifiesthese future opportunities, in particular with the melting of the ice floes. Once all the ice has gone, it will be possible to navigate the entire region. The Northwest Passage will open and the dream of 19th-century explorers to sail from the Atlantic to the Pacific via the North will be a reality at last.
Sailing past northern Canada, the great ships voyaging between Europe and Asia will no longer need to use the Panama Canal. The journey between Tokyo and Rotterdam will be reduced from the current 14,300 miles (23,000 kilometers) to a mere 9,950 miles (16,000 kilometers). By sailing past northern Russia, via what is known as the Northeast Passage, the distance will be reduced still further, to 8,700 miles (14,000 kilometers).
The Arctic subsoil could contain the most extensive gas fields and oil, diamond, and gold reserves still to be discovered on the planet. Riches that were previously protected by a layer of hard ice and the harsh Arctic climate could become much easier to exploit.
For all these reasons, the Arctic is an area of increasing economic and strategic interest. Already, Canada, Russia, Denmark, the USA, and Norway are engaging in intense diplomatic manoeuvres in an attempt to establish control over the region—a previously overlooked part of the world, whose frontiers have never been clearly delineated.
But for the traditional inhabitants of the Arctic—the Inuit, Sami, Nenets, and others—the influx of money and development brings its own challenges. Their way of life and their culture are threatened today by changes to both their physical and their political and economic environment.