PORTLAND, Maine—A less icy Arctic is coming, and generally speaking, that’s not a good thing. Climate change is warming this region twice as fast as the global average, threatening wildlife and indigenous communities. Melting permafrost in Greenland and the Arctic tundra is releasing vast amounts of methane, a potent climate-altering gas.
But some see an Arctic with navigable seas in the summer and newly accessible fossil fuels as an irresistible opportunity. Cargo shipping, cruising, mining, oil drilling, fishing—all these industrial activities could expand to the Arctic, one of the last remaining wild places, and with potentially devastating consequences.
The people of Maine want in. Public and private interests in the state are working to build trading relationships with other Arctic (and Arctic-ish) nations and communities. Though there is not a tremendous appetite for Arctic mining and fossil-fuel exploration in Maine, these commercial connections could serve to establish the state as an Arctic player for decades to come.
Maine is not, strictly speaking, in the Arctic, but a few things have happened to reorient the state’s compass north. First, in 2013, the state successfully persuaded Eimskip, a major Icelandic shipping company, to move its North American headquarters to Portland from Norfolk, Virginia. Within four years, Eimskip went from biweekly journeys between Portland; Reykjavik, Iceland; and parts of Canada to making them every week, taking Maine cranberries, wood pulp, candles, and more abroad and bringing back goods like frozen fish and sparkling water. From Reykjavik, Maine goods can head to any of the ports that Eimskip services in Norway, Denmark, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, and elsewhere.