“In January, when an undersea telecommunications cable connecting this far-flung Arctic archipelago to mainland Norway and the rest of Europe was damaged, Norwegian officials called to port the only fishing vessel for miles, a Russian trawler. Police in the northern city of Tromsø interviewed the crew and carried out an investigation into the incident, which was seen as a major threat to the security of Norway and other nations, including the United States. Had there not been a back-up cable, the damage would have severed internet to the world’s largest satellite relay, one that connects the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA and other government agencies from around the world to real-time space surveillance.
The investigation’s findings were inconclusive, if worrisome. Something “man-made” had damaged the cable, but Norwegian police could not prove the Russian fishing vessel was responsible, authorities told me. The police allowed the fishing boat crew to return to their ship and set back out to sea.”
“today, this Arctic desert is rapidly becoming the center of a new conflict. The vast sea ice that covers the Arctic Ocean is melting rapidly due to climate change, losing 13 percent per decade — a rate that experts say could make the Arctic ice-free in the summer as soon as 2035. Already, the thaw has created new shipping lanes, opened existing seasonal lanes for more of the year and provided more opportunities for natural resource extraction. Nations are now vying for military and commercial control over this newly accessible territory — competition that has only gotten more intense since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”
“For the past two decades, Russia has been dominating this fight for the Arctic, building up its fleet of nuclear-capable icebreakers, ships and submarines, developing more mining and oil well operations along its 15,000 miles of Arctic coastline, racing to capture control of the new “Northern Sea Route” or “Transpolar Sea Route” which could begin to open up by 2035, and courting non-Arctic nations to help fund those endeavors.
At the same time, America is playing catch-up in a climate where it has little experience and capabilities. The U.S. government and military seems to be awakening to the threats of climate change and Russian dominance of the Arctic — recently issuing a National Strategy for the Arctic Region and a report on how climate change impacts American military bases, opening a consulate in Nuuk, Greenland, and appointing this year an ambassador-at-large for the Arctic region within the State Department and a deputy assistant secretary of defense for Arctic and Global Resilience. America’s European allies, too, have been rethinking homeland security, increasing national defense budgets and security around critical energy infrastructure in the Arctic as they aim to boost their defense capabilities and rely less on American assistance.
But 17 Arctic watchers — including Norwegian diplomats, State Department analysts and national security experts focusing on the Arctic — said they fear that the U.S. and Europe won’t be able to maintain a grip on the region’s energy resources and diplomacy as Russia places more civilian and military infrastructure across the Arctic, threatening the economic development and national security of the seven other nations whose sovereign land sits within the Arctic Circle.”
“In Norway’s High North, a term used to describe the Norwegian Arctic territories, no fewer than seven Russian citizens have been detained over the last few months for flying drones, prohibited under the same bans for Russian airlines in European airspace. The drones were discovered flying near areas of critical infrastructure. One of those arrested in October was Andrey Yakunin, 47, the son of Vladimir Yakunin, the former president of Russian Railways and an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin who was sanctioned by the State Department after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.”
“ranked choice voting actually encourages voters to look beyond partisan markers and choose (or block) candidates based on their merits.
Under Alaska’s new election system, all candidates compete in a single primary contest—rather than in party-specific contests—with the top four vote-getters advancing to the general election. That meant that the general election ballot for Alaska’s congressional seat contained four names on Election Day, with Republican Nick Begich and Libertarian Chris Bye qualifying alongside Palin and Peltola.
In the general election, ranked choice voting is used to determine the winner. That means that every voter ranks their choices from one through four. As the votes are counted, there is an “instant runoff” in which votes cast for losing candidates are reallocated to reflect the ranks assigned by individual voters.
To see how this works in practice, let’s look at Chris Bye, who finished last in the first round of vote counting. He received 4,560 first-place votes. After being eliminated, those ballots were re-distributed to the other candidates. Begich was the second choice of 1,988 Bye voters, so he received those ballots for the second round. Palin was the second choice of 1,064 Bye voters, and Peltola was the second choice for 1,038 of them.
At that point, no candidate had more than 50 percent of the total, so an additional elimination was necessary. Despite getting a plurality of Bye’s votes, Begich was still in third place, so he was eliminated and his votes were reallocated to Palin and Peltola. Voters who had picked Begich as their first choice had their ballots distributed to their second-place choice (unless the second-place choice was Bye), while Bye voters who’d picked Begich second had their votes redistributed to whomever they’d picked as their third choice.
As you might expect since both were Republicans, a majority of Begich’s ballots ended up in Palin’s pile. But not all of them, and the Begich-to-Peltola pipeline was enough to push the Democratic incumbent over the 50 percent threshold.”
“she lost because not enough Alaskan voters picked her to represent them in Congress. It’s really as simple as that. Ranked choice voting rewards candidates who are viewed as being acceptable even if not ideal by the majority of voters. Palin, for the second time in a handful of months, failed that test.”
“After the first ballot, Palin trailed Peltola 40–31, with Nick Begich III in third with 29 percent. After Begich was eliminated and his ballots were re-tallied, Peltola prevailed over Palin 51–49.
In the days after Palin’s loss, prominent conservatives and Republicans criticized the new system for contributing to her defeat. After the results were announced, Sen. Tom Cotton (R–Ark.) tweeted, “Ranked-choice voting is a scam to rig elections.” (Previously, he has referred to it as a “radical scheme.”) Palin herself called the system an “experiment” that’s “crazy, convoluted,” and “confusing.” In National Review, Jim Geraghty termed it “a legitimate electoral system…that doesn’t make sense.”
But it’s not ranked choice voting’s fault; Palin was simply a bad candidate.
Geraghty complained that ranked choice voting was “more complicated” than “the familiar ‘first past the post’ system,” that “the Democrats came out the big winner, even though their candidate finished fourth in the first round of voting.” This is true, though the third-place finalist, Al Gross, withdrew from the race after the June primary and encouraged his voters to support Peltola.
Cotton complained that even though “60% of Alaska voters voted for a Republican…a Democrat ‘won.'” This is also true, though notably they did not all vote for the same Republican. Begich and Palin collectively accounted for 59.8 percent of the first-round vote, but only about half of Begich’s voters chose Palin as their second choice; nearly 30 percent picked Peltola, while 21 percent did not choose a second or third choice.”
“Far from being some radically convoluted “scheme,” the most direct effect of ranked choice voting is to serve as an “instant runoff” by letting voters indicate which candidates they would prefer if their first or second choice didn’t win.”
“85 percent of Alaskan voters polled by Alaskans for Better Elections found the new system either “somewhat simple” or “very simple.””
“Tariffs on seafood have hit Alaska in particular, Alaska’s fishing industry generates over $5 billion dollars in economic activity and creates nearly 70,000 jobs in the state, making it a vital lifeline for the state. Over 40 percent of U.S.-caught Alaskan salmon and one-third of all seafood from Alaska is exported to China each year. Much of it is processed in China and then re-imported to the United States for sale in grocery stores.
As the National Fisheries Institute points out, this split processing stream has contributed to rising seafood costs for U.S. consumers, as China’s retaliatory tariffs hit seafood when imported for processing and the original U.S. tariffs hit products upon their return to American shores.”
“For consumers, meanwhile, these costs are discouraging consumption of fish, according to a February study published by data analytics firms IRI and 210 Analytics. That month alone, sales of frozen seafood products decreased by 9.4 percent, while fresh seafood sales decreased by 12 percent.”
“the primary is plenty interesting on its own. First of all, it will winnow a field of 48 candidates(!) down to four. Why four and not two? Because following the passage of an election-reform ballot measure in 2020, Alaska now uses a unique top-four primary system whereby all candidates (regardless of party) run on the same ballot and the top four finishers advance to the general election. (In a further twist, the general election will also use ranked-choice voting.) “
“the Biden administration revealed plans to reinstate environmental protections preventing logging and mining in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, which the Trump administration had discarded. The 17 million acres in southeastern Alaska — the largest national forest in the US — have been a political battleground for over two decades, bouncing back and forth between the interests of logging industries and climate activists.
In 2001, President Bill Clinton finalized the “roadless rule,” which prohibited road construction on 60 million acres of forested land across the US and heavily restricted commercial logging and mining. But in October of 2020, then-President Donald Trump reversed these protections when he made the Tongass Forest exempt from the rule, doing what many developers and politicians in Alaska had been calling for since the Clinton era.”
“While politicians paint a picture of an oppressive federal government that would deny normal Alaskans access to “jobs and prosperity,” the narrative rings a bit hollow when set against actual feedback from the public. In 2019, the US Forest Service released a summary of over 140,000 comments on the “roadless rule” from the public which overwhelmingly supported the restrictions on forest development. In fact, one of the main points of rationale as to why the public thinks the “roadless rule” should remain was that it is vital to the tourism and fishing industries.”
“In addition to providing jobs, as the United States’ largest national forest, the Tongass plays a significant ecological role in absorbing carbon produced in the US. According to National Geographic, the temperate rainforest absorbs approximately 8 percent of the pollution produced in the US. “While tropical rainforests are the lungs of the planet, the Tongass is the lungs of North America,” Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist with the Earth Island Institute’s Wild Heritage project, told the Washington Post. In fact, the United States Geological Survey recently estimated that if no trees were lost through logging and the land were left unmanaged in the Tongass, its carbon storage could increase by up to 27 percent by the end of the century.
The Tongass is also home to a thriving wildlife population, but Trump’s reversal of the “roadless rule” put this in danger. On land, the state of Alaska is home to 95 percent of America’s brown bear population, and the Tongass specifically contains the highest concentration of brown bears on the planet, while the forest’s 17,000 miles of clean freshwater provide optimal spawning conditions for wild salmon. Due to its high populations, the Tongass is sometimes called a “salmon forest” and, as it produces $60 million of wild salmon annually, this name is not far-fetched. But, if not for the “roadless rule,” this might have changed. Logging around a stream causes runoff like silt or dirt into the water, which can smother developing eggs, while dams, often used to maneuver logs down waterways, disorient the fish and disrupt their natural migratory patterns”
“While this is a loss that can affect any Alaskan, to Alaskan Natives, losing wild salmon and the forests that house them means much more than a declining food source. Twenty-three percent of the region’s population comes from the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian tribes, who have been fighting for recognition and for better treatment of their ancestral land which includes the expansive Tongass Forest.”
“The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, an expanse of public land in Alaska the size of South Carolina, is one of the last untouched landscapes in the world. The native Gwich’in people — who have lived in harmony with the area’s migratory Porcupine caribou herd for centuries — call the refuge’s vast coastal plain Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit, or “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins.”
But in the past few years, the fate of the refuge’s roughly 19.5 million acres has become rather bleak: Its permafrost is melting rapidly, along with the rest of the Arctic region. The refuge’s coastal plain also remains at risk to oil and gas development, which companies have long had their eye on but have been barred from doing — until now.
Drilling in the US Arctic is what President Trump has longed to do, in hopes of making the US the No. 1 energy producer in the world. And in early December, the administration made a stunning, last-ditch announcement that it will auction off drilling rights in the refuge on January 6 — two weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office. It’s the administration’s final attempt to turn a profit on Indigenous lands with little regard for the environmental or cultural ramifications.”
“For centuries, the Arctic refuge — particularly the coastal plain — has been central to Alaska Natives’ way of life. The ancestral name of the plain refers to the calving grounds for the caribou, whose migratory path still guides the Gwich’in and other Indigenous people today. If oil drilling rights in the sacred land are sold, Alaskan Natives fear it would disrupt the caribou’s migratory patterns along with other wildlife. It would also interrupt the way the Gwich’in people prepare for sacred harvest as their ancestors have thousands of years ago.
“This is not just a Gwich’in issue; there are a lot of Alaska Natives who depend on the caribou and the animals that migrate there,” Bernadette Demientieff, a Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich’in and the executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, told Vox. “Our identity as Gwich’in is not up for negotiation and our culture is not up for sale. We will fight this every step of the way.”
Already, the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline on the west end of the national refuge, which has had multiple hazardous oil spills in the region, provides a stark reminder of the fossil fuel industry’s menacing presence on Indigenous lands. Fossil fuel operations emit tons of greenhouse gases that contribute to the planet’s warming temperatures. And to do so on Indigenous lands in the Arctic — already dubbed ground zero for the climate crisis — only adds insult to injury for communities most vulnerable to climate change, like the Gwich’in people.”