Polar Code enters into force, but doubts remain about its ability to protect environment

The Silversea Silver Explorer ship at Monacobreen Glacier in Svalbard. Photo: WikiMedia Commons

The Silversea Silver Explorer ship at Monacobreen Glacier in Svalbard. Photo: WikiMedia Commons

On January 1 of this year, the International Maritime Organization’s Polar Code entered into force. The new regulations are intended to improve safety at sea and environmental protection in Arctic and Antarctic waters. Years in the making, the Polar Code couldn’t have come sooner, for the number of vessels, particularly cruise ships, in the Arctic grows each year. Cruises are increasingly venturing into the Arctic in order to cater to tourists seeking destinations marketed as pristine and untouched. And indeed at a regional scale, the world’s northernmost oceans are relatively unpolluted compared to the rest of the world, as the map below reveals.

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Ocean pollution levels in the Arctic in 2013. Data: National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. Map: Mia Bennett/Cryopolitics.

Yet trading a holiday in the Mediterranean for one in the Arctic comes with consequences for fragile polar ecosystems. In the Arctic, cruise ships are often mentioned in the same breath as “ecotourism,” with tourism seen as an environmentally friendly alternative to industries like oil and gas or mining. Yet cruise ships generate large amounts of pollution. In terms of wastewater generation, cruise ships can also be worse offenders than lightly staffed cargo ships simply by virtue of having so many people on board.

Cruise-related pollution includes black water (sewage), gray water (from sinks, laundries, showers, etc.), and oily bilge water. Cruise ships also spew black carbon into the air, especially when they burn heavy fuel oil (HFO), which organizations like HFO-Free Arctic are trying to ban from the region. When the soot released into the air from burning HFO falls onto ice and snow in the Arctic, it can accelerate melting and, by consequence, climate change.

Epitomizing the boom in Arctic shipping in part thanks to more navigable waters, last summer, the first-ever cruise ship transit of the Northwest Passage took place. Though Crystal Serenity’s pioneering voyage attracted major headlines, more modest cruises into the Arctic are arguably exerting a bigger overall impact. Crystal Serenity had some 800 passengers and at least 600 crew. Yet according to John Kaltenstein, a Senior Policy Analyst at Friends of the Earth U.S., 10 other cruise ships with over 1,000 passengers traveled to the Arctic last year. That makes for 10,000 people who sailed through the Arctic in addition to Crystal Serenity’s high-paying customers, all leaving various forms of pollution in their wake.

Many of these cruises travel to places like Svalbard and Iceland, where high levels of marine traffic have resulted in elevated ocean pollution. The waters around Iceland, in fact, appear almost indistinguishable from the heavily trafficked waters around the United Kingdom. Though Iceland is imagined as lying on the frigid periphery of Europe, the high levels of pollution around its coastline reveal its deep integration into the North Atlantic shipping network.

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Polluted waters around northern Norway and Svalbard.

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Polluted waters around Iceland and the North Atlantic.

Even Greenland, which sees a lot of smaller-scale traffic from personal vessels and cargo ships making deliveries up and down the coast, has relatively polluted waters.

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Crystal Serenity voluntarily adhered to stricter environmental controls than required by law, including using marine distillate fuel, which is a better grade than HFO. But Arctic cruises that are away from the spotlight are not likely to voluntarily follow the same standards set by the high-profile voyage.

That’s where the Polar Code could come in useful, but the policy is not as strong as it could be. The regulations ban heavy fuel oil in Antarctica, but not the Arctic. Attendants at the 10th Arctic Shipping Summit in Montreal next week will discuss whether to expand the ban into the Arctic. The Polar Code also prohibits oily discharge, but it fails to mention of gray water even though it can introduce “faecal coliform bacteria, nutrients, food waste, and medical and dental waste” into the surrounding seas, according to a report associated with the 2013 Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting.

Poster of the Polar Code's regulations pertaining to the environment.

Poster of the Polar Code’s regulations pertaining to the environment. Source: IMO

For a story I wrote for this month’s issue of The Maritime Executive on pollution solutions for the global cruise shipping industry, I interviewed John Kaltenstein, senior policy analyst at Friends of the Earth U.S., regarding the environmental impacts of Arctic cruising. He was kind enough to let me republish our wide-ranging conversation in full. We touched on the Polar Code, cruise-related pollution, the fate of the Arctic Ocean under Trump, and what the deliberate pollution cover-up at Princess Cruise Lines means for the Arctic.

MB: How will the new Polar Code affect cruise shipping?

JK: In a nutshell, I don’t think it will affect it that much. There seems to be a tendency or a movement of larger cruise ships into the Arctic. I think our records indicated that there were 11 that had over 1,000 passengers and crew that traveled in Arctic in 2016, and I don’t think that trend will diminish in any way going forward – especially in light of the successful cruise ship activity of the Serenity through the Northwest Passage last summer. So I think the industry is flourishing. From a lot of parts of the world – Asia, Oceania – we’ll see continued activity into the Arctic. I don’t think the Code will constrain that activity.”

MB: Will the Polar Code help reduce pollution? 

JK: The environmental groups were fairly critical of the environmental portion of the Polar Code. Heavy fuel oil was a big issue for us. There’s a recommendation there with respect to the Arctic, but we felt more should have been done with respect to a fuel that poses so much risk to the region.

Some of the other provisions in the Code also didn’t improve the situation all that much. When you look at the sewage provisions, we don’t believe they added a lot. There, of course, is no Polar Code provision with respect to gray water, which is a big issue when you’re talking about cruise ships – the amount of wastewater at issue. Those are the areas we felt are deficient and still are. Hopefully, they’ll be addressed at some time going forward. As for now, there are definitely some large gaps when you’re talking about pollution control and some of the environmental provisions in the code. And cruise ships do represent a lot of waste stream. And especially in an area like the fragile Arctic, we believe a lot more can be done. We’ll have to look to other measures besides the Polar Code.

MB: Do you think cruise ships could take it on themselves to try to reduce pollution? 

JK: A lot can be done voluntarily. There will probably be some focus on what cruise ship lines are doing in the Arctic. As I mentioned, with the 11 cruise ships with 1,000 passengers or more, more and more lines will be entering into those waters, and I think they should be evaluated because the types of operations can really differ.

The Serenity did a number of positive things including using marine distillate fuel, but many aren’t sure that others will follow suit in terms going above and beyond certain environmental aspects. I think this is a situation where the market and information can make a difference in terms of environmental performance in terms of the industry. Because the Code is not going to provide the stringency we need, and national regulations do vary a good deal. So this is one of those areas where we could see some significant improvement by looking at what actors are doing. If consumers and policymakers need information about practices, those voyages need to be transparent. That would help a lot. Then we can talk about setting high standards and using good practices. There’s been some good stuff in the Arctic Council about best practices, and we’re hoping these can translate into real world benefits and minimizing risks. The environmental community would like to see that, as well as international organizations in the Arctic, policy makers, and the Council.

In the short term, that’s what we’re going to have to look at. We might see some efforts at the national level. And you know, if we’re talking about voluntary measures, the lines can do that immediately this coming season. We’re hopeful and I think the issues in the Arctic are being covered a lot more – somewhat in mainstream press, but definitely in niche and industry press. Sea ice and climate change have definitely been getting some attention in the mainstream press as to how that’s opened up the Arctic for travel and leisure.

MB: What is the number one threat posed by Arctic cruising?

JK: The number one threat is still represented by heavy fuel oil in terms of both spill [possibility] but also the pollution profile in terms of warming and air quality impacts. I think we could do without it. We have been doing without it in some parts of the world for a good chunk of time. For us, it really comes down to the industry showing the will to be an environmentally responsible actor. I think the rhetoric is often there, their professing to be responsible actors, but the will is often lacking. You’re judged on what you do up there, and this is one of those very discrete cases where you’re operating on heavy fuel oil or liquefied natural gas. What are you doing up there to make a difference in terms of your impact or profile? I think we have a good precedent with the Serenity. Hopefully other lines in the region can follow suit. It’s definitely a good start.

There are other issues. Wastewater needs to be taken into account: what kinds of treatment systems, what are they doing with their gray water – it’s a concern for environmental groups and Arctic organizations, especially in the Bering Strait area. There’s lots of concern about what this influx of cruise ship activity, especially large cruise ship activities, will bring in terms of discharges and how it will affect their way of life and subsistence practices. That’s a very real issue and if you’re familiar with the recent executive order with the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resiliency Area, it’s a good indication of how concerned they are because there is specific reference to discharge in the order.

MB: How do you think the Trump administration will impact regulations on pollution in the Arctic?

JK: I’m hopeful there will be a continuation of the good policies that have put forward by the Trudeau and Obama administrations to safeguard the region. We’ll see what transpires. I think they made a very good start, both countries, especially of late, to chart out what course they’d like to see in the Arctic.

MB: Any last thoughts you’d like to add?

JK: The situation with Princess and the criminal charges and the fine1 – that brings up some real issues in terms of compliance monitoring. This is an issue that concerns me a lot with respect to shipping and the cruise industry. If you look at the different regimes, in Alaska, we have a fairly comprehensive regime in place that pertains to their waters that has stringent regulations with respect to sewage and gray water effluent standards that it must meet including permitting, sampling, monitoring, and record-keeping. It’s a whole gamut of things that one looks at. We also have Ocean-Ranger – independent 3rd party monitors.

And the Princess case is an important one because I think it shows if you peel back the curtain, and you look beyond that, you see that the situation with Princess was largely premised on a whistleblower incident. Had we not had that, those violations could have continued to this day and we would not know about it – and the records go back to 2005 in terms of when the improprieties started at Princess. I think that should give people pause that especially when operating in very remote regions, if there’s not a third party Ocean Ranger or some kind of independent monitor in place, we don’t really know what’s going on at sea. And the practices like these, like we saw with the Princess Caribbean and some of the other Princess ships, and what was also admitted to, and other Carnival family ships, we’re left in the dark. And we don’t have a rigorous enough compliance monitoring system in place for temperate waters, let alone the Arctic. So that gives me a lot of concern.

I think policy makers and others really have to look at this seriously and the industry itself. Obviously they’re going to be under this court-ordered environmental compliance plan, but there’s also Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Lines, etc. – they weren’t part of this settlement. So I think we really have to look seriously and evaluate our compliance schemes, especially in the Arctic. And I haven’t been given any reassurance that we’ll be in good hands when we’re operating more in the Arctic, and that’s a very real concern. That for me would be up there with actual pollution source. It’s one of the biggest deficiencies that I see right now. Because obviously the Coast Guard is doing the best they can with limited resources, but they’re not out there on the ships with every line, every cruise ship, in the engine room, etc.

And you know, practices like these that we saw with the Princess incident could foreseeably occur in the Arctic and we would not know. We wouldn’t have the ability to stop those. That’s a problem. I think Friends of the Earth are going be looking more at what can be done in terms of these regimes to see what we can do to make sure the environment is being protected. I think looking at Alaska and maybe elsewhere to see what has worked to see that the standards will be complied with is a very important way to go.


***

In December 2016, Princess Cruise Lines was fined $40 million after the company pleaded guilty to seven felony charges of illegally dumping oily waste into the sea between 2005 and 2013.

Why Republicans’ Russia-Envy in the Arctic is Misplaced

A flurry of headlines have recently declared that Russia is kicking its militarization efforts in the Arctic into high gear. Bombastically, UK tabloid The Daily Star screamed, “Russia moves to CONQUER the Arctic: Putin’s troops prep for VERY Cold War.” More somberly, Foreign Policy described, “Here’s what Russia’s military build-up in the Arctic looks like,”complete with a Cold War-esque map of Russia’s military bases symbolized by red planes and missiles all pointed directly at the United States.

The map comes from the office of Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), who has spoken pointedly on the need for the U.S. to boost its Arctic abilities so that it can compete with Russia. Comparing the U.S.’ paltry two icebreakers to Russia’s 40 and counting, he admitted, “The highways of the Arctic are icebreakers…Russia has superhighways, and we have dirt roads with potholes.” Russia, it should be said, also has the Northern Sea Route connecting Europe and Asia, while the U.S. has the western end of the less geostrategic, harder to navigate Northwest Passage.

Sullivan is not the only Republican calling for greater investment in America’s Arctic capabilities. Representative Duncan Hunter (R-California), chairman of the House Committee on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, sent a letter to the White House urging the U.S. to build more icebreakers. In a line that echoed Trump’s choice of vocabulary, Hunter wrote, “Russia is launching its biggest icebreaker — The Arktika. It should be of tremendous concern that next to this vessel, there is no equivalent in the world.” He added that Russia already has 40 vessels, with more coming online in the future, while the U.S. only has two.

The sudden concern for Russia’s icebreaking capabilities seems odd considering that no country has ever come close to it since the Soviets launched the nuclear icebreaker, Lenin, in 1959.

The USSR launched Lenin, the world's first nuclear icebreaker, in 1957.

The USSR launched Lenin, the world’s first nuclear icebreaker, in 1957. Photo: Encyclopedia Britannica.

But the real question is, why does Russia have so many powerful icebreakers? Why is it building so much in the Arctic? Could they really be girding to attack the U.S., and if so, does American need to respond in kind?

The short answer is no.

Russia has always been more active in the Arctic than the U.S. for a combination of geographic, economic, and cultural reasons. The country has much more northern territory than the U.S., which is partly why the Arctic economy forms a much larger share of the country’s national economy.

Throughout Russia’s history, a culture of imperial expansion has also motivated its drive to the north. The Cossacks’ rapid drive across Siberia, completed in 60 years, emerged in relation to an inability to push south across its steppe frontier into Central Asia due to tough opposition. Expansion was easier to the north and east across Siberia, where indigenous populations were sparser and resistance was weaker.

In the modern era, cities like Murmansk, Arkhangelsk, and Norilsk all testify to the Soviets’ enormous efforts to industrialize and urbanize the Russian Arctic. Even traditional practices became subsumed within the Soviet Arctic economy, with reindeer herding collectivized and industrialized, for instance.

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Yakutsk, Russia. Photo: Mia Bennett.

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Watermelons, likely imported from the Caucasus, for sale in Arkhangelsk in the Russian Arctic. Photo: Mia Bennett.

Russia constitutes about half of the entire Arctic region, while the U.S. controls significantly less than that. By some accounts, the Russian Arctic accounts for 20% of the country’s GDP, and it would be even more if Tsar Alexander II hadn’t sold Alaska to the U.S. in 1867. Alaska, on the other hand, counts for a paltry 0.003% of U.S. GDP according to a back of the envelope calculation I did. In relative terms, Alaska has the 45th smallest economy of all 50 states (although it has the highest per capita GDP).

Here’s a map that illustrates how much bigger Russia’s Arctic economy is than Alaska’s from the Steffanson Arctic Institute.

arctic_economy_map
As a primary example, Russia has advanced more in developing its Arctic oil and gas resources than any other country. In 2012, it opened the world’s first Arctic-class ice-resistant oil rig, Prirazlomnaya, in the Pechora Sea. Last month, the country opened three new Arctic pipelines, with President Vladimir Putin giving a speech by video link. The U.S., by contrast, has not opened an Arctic pipeline since the one and only Trans-Alaska Pipeline began operating in 1977.

Development is also proceeding apace at Russia’s Yamal Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project, which is receiving funding and cooperation from Chinese, Korean, and French partners. The LNG project sits in the middle of the Northern Sea Route, an Arctic thoroughfare used during Soviet times to supply the country’s numerous northern settlements. Today, the Kremlin hopes the Arctic shipping passage can be transformed into a global thoroughfare to connect Russia’s Arctic resources to markets in Europe and Asia.

Russia is also carrying out much of this Arctic economic activity at a loss. The hope is that drilling in the Arctic will one day be profitable – and indeed, if the Russian economy continues to rely on oil, it is crucial that new sources be found. The Arctic could hold a massive amount of mineral wealth for Russia, especially in the way of natural gas, which could boost the national economy.

Given all of this activity, logically, Russia needs infrastructure and personnel to support and secure that activity – not to prepare for war in the Arctic. The country simply has a far greater national stake in supporting northern economic activity than the U.S. federal government. So why exactly do we need a fleet of icebreakers that can compare with Russia’s?

Even if Alaska, which the U.S. Geological Survey estimates has more oil than any other geological province in the Arctic, started churning out fossil fuels, it would likely have a minimal impact on the U.S. economy at large. Thus, since we simply don’t have as much coastline, as much economic activity, or even as many people in the Arctic as Russia, the U.S. probably doesn’t need to spend billions of dollars on icebreakers to pretend like we do.

The Russian media has been astutely covering the West’s obsession with the country’s Arctic development. In an interview with Russian internet portal and media outlet Rambler, Vladimir Batjuk, professor in the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs at the Higher School of Economics, explained, “In my opinion, the Americans [do] not quite clearly understand why this is necessary. They have a very limited sector around Alaska and it is difficult to squeeze out something serious from it. A fight against Russia for its own sake does not make much sense for them. The only thing that interests them is the internationalization of the Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage.”

Constructing pricey icebreakers (Arktika is reckoned to cost $2 billion) is not the only investment Republicans are seeking in the Arctic. Senator Sullivan, along with the senior senator from Alaska, Lisa Murkowski, is also seeking to open up part of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. In January, the two senators introduced the Alaska Oil and Gas Production Act, Senate Bill 49, to permit oil and gas development in areas not classified as federal wilderness. The hope is that more drilling will revive the Alaskan economy, which is currently facing a $3 billion deficit.

Many Republicans and Alaskans believe that with President Trump in office, now is the time to act. Andy Mack, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, said to the Los Angeles Times, “Politically, in Washington, D.C., we have all the right folks in place.”

But even with individuals like former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson in charge of the State Department, having big oil inside the bureaucracy is no guarantee of development. As Trump’s travel ban highlighted, the judicial system can prove to be a major obstacle to executive action – and there’s no doubt that a huge fight would go down in court should Congress open up ANWR to drilling. Thus, despite having the “right folks in place” right now, there could be years of delays before ANWR opens up – and who knows who will be in the Oval Office then, and what executive orders the president then might sign.

This is where Russia and the U.S. differ. If the Russian government seeks to open up its Arctic to drilling, the state-owned companies of Rosneft and Gazprom will go ahead and do so – costs be damned, courts be damned. This mentality of development of the Arctic at all costs has its roots in the Soviets’ push to remake the Russian North into their own image – one of concrete buildings, radar arrays, and thousands of workers extracting oil, gas, nickel, diamonds, and all sorts of other minerals out of the frozen ground.

So if Republicans have Russia-envy when it comes to the Arctic, they should think twice. Yes, the Russian Arctic is vibrant and economically dynamic in parts. In the city of Arkhangelsk, you can enjoy watermelons from Georgia and the finest Russian caviar. In other parts of the Russian Arctic, you can still lose yourself in the cold caresses of the White Sea or the soft underbelly of the mossy tundra.

But the Russian Arctic has also been indelibly scarred by development that was too rushed and haphazard in its unveiling. Norilsk, a nickel mining city in the Russian Arctic, has been ignominiously deemed one of the ten most polluted places on Earth. Suicide rates among Russian reindeer herders, stripped of the ability to continue their traditional practices as they once did, are extremely high. These scars on the landscapes and societies are remnants from the Soviet push to conquer the Arctic through industrial development.

One has to wonder what will be the consequences of the contemporary push to open up the Arctic to the global economy via the development of oil and gas, shipping routes, and tourism. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that after the current boom in Arctic development comes to a close, the idea of the Arctic as a “last frontier” may no longer make sense if the ice-bound landscape has melted away. Without ice, the Arctic would just be another mineral-rich area peripheral to the global economy.

This is partly the concern motivating the $500 billion geo-engineering project that could “re-freeze” the Arctic. In a new paper, scientists have proposed to “enhance Arctic sea ice production by using wind power during the Arctic winter to pump water to the surface, where it will freeze more rapidly.” The fact that surreal study has attracted a wealth of media coverage speaks to a fear that we are at risk of losing the Arctic altogether.

While the Arctic melts away, many are rejoicing in the discovery of seven Earth-sized exoplanets. Surely, this is a cause for wonder, but it it also a cause for concern given the history of what humans have done when they encounter places at the edge of the known universe whether in the Arctic, at the bottom of the ocean, or in outer space. If we ever make it to these exoplanets, will the powers that be seek to remake these edges of the map in their own image? Or for once, will they leave the frontier alone?

Just the other week, another discovery that did not attract quite as much attention concerned the finding of “extraordinary” levels of pollutants at the bottom of the seven-mile deep Mariana Trench, one of the most remote places on Earth. This, however, shouldn’t be all too shocking. Trillions of microscopic bits of plastic have been found in Arctic icebergs. A Russian scientists studying beluga whales once told me that they had high levels of pollutants that could be traced to fertilizer used in India. Arctic indigenous peoples, due to their consumption of whales and other marine mammals, have some of the highest levels of PCP’s among humans.

Human presence is thus contaminating places people haven’t even inhabited. A part of me would not be surprised if a probe were to travel to one of these newfound exoplanets and find a trace of human life on its rocky surface. On the bright side, scientists think some exoplanets have polar ice caps. I suppose that these could serve as a sort of Arctic 2.0 if we need an Earth 2.0

A plastic bag on Enigma Seamount near the Mariana Trench.

A plastic ice bag found on Enigma Seamount near the Mariana Trench. Photo: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas.

New feature: From the Arctic archives

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Newspaper headlines tend to recycle certain contemporary tropes about the Arctic. Climate change is accelerating, the race for resources is heating up, and “the Russians are coming!” are some of the most common threads. Given the consistency of themes in reporting on the Arctic, it can be hard to imagine how the region was discussed in previous decades before climate change began to rear its head and before offshore oil and gas became the north’s hottest commodity. Yet the media has discussed and portrayed the Arctic for hundreds of years in ways both surprisingly similar and starkly different from today.

With this new blog feature, Arctic News in Review, I’ll showcase old newspaper reports of Arctic happenings. From perusing through the Library of Congress’ digital archives of newspapers from 1789-1924, the printed pages of the late-19th century and early 20th-century reveal stories filled with characters like self-aggrandizing explorers, overzealous prospectors, and a handful of Native Americans who managed to make money out of the gold and fur rushes that at the same time were desecrating their lands. There are even a few comics about the adventures of strapping young men in the wild and untamed Arctic.

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A comic strip, “Adrift in the Arctic,” from the New York newspaper, The Evening World, on April 22, 1915. 

The historic newspaper pages also show that the more things change, the more things stay the same. The first old newspaper clipping I’m including for this feature, shown above, is the front page of the now defunct Topeka State Journal on December 30, 1905. The front page’s two sole stories concern immigration and the Northwest Passage. These two topics have come up repeatedly in the past few weeks and months, the former most saliently with Trump’s temporary ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries and the latter with Crystal Serenity’s pioneering cruise through the Northwest Passage last summer.

The topics are the same, only the characters have changed. In 1905, referring to a newly published report from the U.S. Bureau of Immigration, journalist Adelbert Strong writes, “No one who reads the report even superficially can fail to realize the magnitude and gravity of the problems suggested by the rapid increase of America’s alien population.” The differences is that a century ago, the immigrants Americans feared were coming from Europe rather than the Middle East. Italians, Russian Jews, and Polish people topped the list of largest immigrant groups. Italians were even still categorized according to whether they came from northern or southern Italy, for the country had not yet unified.

Strong also betrays a deep fear of “orientals,” specifically Chinese people. He cautions that although the number of Chinese immigrants is low (only 1,971 came in 1905) and largely concentrated in the western U.S., the “problem” could spread to the rest of the country at some point. He warns, “It is only when the total annual influx reaches formidable numbers that the uneasiness which is confined almost entirely to the Pacific coast becomes manifest.”

The irony of American society’s fear of the Chinese is that the story on the bottom half of the Topeka Journal’s front page, which covers the Northwest Passage, illuminates just how obsessed Western explorers were with finding a shortcut to Asia. On December 5, 1905 – a few weeks prior to the edition’s publication on December 30 publication (also showing how relatively slow news traveled in those days), Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen completed the first expedition from the Atlantic to the Pacific through Canada’s Northwest Passage. Reporter Elbert Woodson, contextualizing Amundsen’s historic journey in the context of previous expeditions, described, “For many generations the avowed purpose of these undertakings was to find a navigable short route from Europe to Asia.” Amundsen was nominally more interested in locating the magnetic north pole, but his journey is still embedded within a history of Arctic exploration that was hell bent on finding a route to Asia even as the Americans were trying to keep Asians out of their own territory.

One hundred years from now, a concerned citizen somewhere may look back and reflect on the hypocrisies of current events in January 2017. Sadly demonstrating how little we have progressed from the past, ours is a world where the U.S. bans citizens from the very countries that its state and corporations seek to exploit for their natural resources. Case in point: within the span of a few days this month, Trump on the one hand brazenly remarked to the CIA on the subject of Iraq, “We should have kept the oil, but, OK, maybe we’ll have another chance,” while on the other hand banned travel by Iraqi citizens and six other countries to the U.S.

Immigration and Arctic shipping routes may very well still be controversial issues in 2117. The subjects might be a little different: perhaps America will fear environmental refugees from, say, Southeast Asian countries ravaged by climate change and deforestation (one of the regions whose countries are most subject to long-term climate risk, according to a German report), while the developments in northern navigation may involve the first navigation of a trans-polar route across the North Pole, which could be ice-free in summer as soon as this year if this Cambridge ocean physicist is proven right.

But while the stories of 1905 have repeated themselves in 2017, we can’t always be guaranteed of having a second chance to repeat our mistakes.

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One hundred years from now, will refugees from a region like Southeast Asia be placed on a U.S. travel ban list? Photo: Inle Lake, Burma, 2012. Mia Bennett.