Arctic landscape with clear skies overhead and cracked ice on the water
A view of the Chukchi Sea from aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy. Photo: NOAA Ocean Exploration / Flickr .

The Arctic, and its images of icebergs and the Inuit people, are in trouble. This November, Arctic sea ice coverage plunged 300,000 square miles lower than ever recorded for that time of year. That is an area four times bigger than Washington state. Last week, Arctic temperatures were at least 20 degrees Fahrenheit higher than normal. In these conditions, native people can’t hunt, and ecosystems won’t survive.

The Arctic is ground zero for the effects of climate change, and so it is perhaps fitting that some of the world’s largest producers of carbon-based fuels are lining up to drill for more fossil fuels there. For them, adapting to these new conditions in the Arctic means one thing — easier access to oil and gas.

Thankfully, the Obama administration has seen it differently. With the joint U.S.-Canada announcement that the Arctic will remain permanently off-limits to new oil and gas drilling, Obama recognized the risk of spills to communities, but he also showed he understands the climate consequences.

Everyone understands how an oil-soaked coastline is bad news. But it can be harder, especially for political leaders and government agencies, to see the connection between new offshore oil drilling and climate disruption.