The Arctic is changing — and with that change come both challenge and opportunity. As ice melts and recedes, technology advances and human curiosity is piqued. Indigenous cultures are forced to change their traditions. The political debates get more heated.
Maine, however, has a unique opportunity to be an active, collaborative leader in the “high north.”
Maine is in a unique geographic position in the world. Our state, with its long coastline, is the last stop on the eastern seaboard before ships sail into the frigid seas to the north. Mainers, like the determined Arctic explorer Donald Baxter MacMillan, have been sailing them successfully for centuries.
We border two Canadian provinces and share with them a rich cultural history, active trade relationships, established academic collaborations, emergency mutual support agreements and military-to-military cooperation. Our friendships run deep with our northern allies. This accumulated, well-earned trust and mutual respect gives Maine an advantage when building Arctic partnerships.
Maine can leverage these advantages to work with our regional partners — other New England states, Quebec, the Canadian Maritimes and Iceland, to name a few — and provide leadership on issues relating to the high north. Common interests in environmental stewardship and economic opportunity will help us forge new relationships with Alaska and others who share interests in the far northern lands.
What can Maine do? In January of 2014, the United States published the “Implementation Plan for The National Strategy for the Arctic Region.” It provides some unique insight into a possible role for Maine, including three readily available options: help study the Arctic, build Arctic material, and provide political leadership.
The University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute needs the financial support to fund arctic expeditions and scientific study. Our Canadian allies and sister cold-weather-state of Alaska are passionate about their responsibilities in the high north. They are committed to the indigenous people who live there, the wildlife that thrives there, and the delicate balance between the two. They recognize that 30 percent of the world’s natural gas reserves and 13 percent of its undiscovered oil are hidden under the Arctic’s oceans and permafrost.
Our commercial fishing industries have a mutual culture and shared concerns about fishing regulations and over development. Maine’s scholars must be given the support to partner with Alaska and Canada to provide the knowledge necessary to capitalize on Arctic opportunities and balance the challenges.
Maine has an opportunity to engineer, design and manufacture materials that work in and for the Arctic. Ships that haul cargo across the sea in the high north need a place to dock and transfer their cargo, refit their ships and rest their crews. Global positioning mapping systems are needed to help safely guide mariners through sea ice and to chart navigation lanes that have not yet presented themselves. High tech, reliable communications systems are needed to facilitate emergency response over vast, sparsely populated distances. Modern, polar-ice breaking ships are needed to closely monitor the waterways as maritime activity increases. People need clothing and gear to live and operate in the Arctic Circle. All of these things can be made in Maine.
Lastly, Maine needs to become politically active in the issues surrounding the Arctic region’s growing importance. Maine should actively seek out leadership opportunities when the United States assumes the chairmanship of the Arctic Council in June 2015. The Arctic Council is a high-level intergovernmental forum that addresses issues such as environmental protection and sustainable development. The United States participates in the Arctic Council under the leadership of the Department of State.
Because of Alaska’s position, the United States is an Arctic nation. For years, Alaskans have called for action in the Arctic as they watch Russian paratroopers land on ice flows and commercial activity spike along the Northern Sea Route. Maine should partner with Alaska to lobby for a greater U.S. presence on the Arctic Council. Our representative should be given the authority of an ambassador, as other member countries have done. Maine’s Arctic interest could provide its first-ever Arctic ambassador.
The landscape of the high north is changing. Maine can help shape the Arctic’s future by leading in the face of these unique challenges and opportunities. Mainers thrive in the cold. Let’s leverage our cold weather hardiness and ingenuity to provide leadership where it’s needed — in the high north.
Darryl W. Lyon of Bangor is a member of the Maine Army National Guard.