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The Market Is Heating Up

Savvy speculators cash in as the world burns.


While it often feels like the world's going to hell in a Hummer, global warming has a new unlikely byproduct-and it's not all bad. As climates change, certain regions actually stand to benefit from the shift: Where there was ice, there may one day be shipping ports; where agriculture was unsustainable, it may soon thrive. This is not to say that anyone is rooting for global warming-and, in fact, all related studies show the economic toll of global warming to be far weightier than its possible benefits-but some savvy businesses are recognizing the practical realities of a planet in transition. And, it turns out, the smart money is on rising mercury.

Port of Potential

Suddenly, a weather-hardened outpost in Canada is positioned to be the North American portal for goods traveling to and from Europe and Russia.

On the southwestern shore of Canada's Hudson Bay sits a frigid, sleepy port town that until recently was best known as the Polar Bear Capital of the World. That was before warming waters started freeing the port of its icy grip. Until about 10 years ago, Churchill, Manitoba, was frozen in for nine months of the year. Today, it's open water for four, and most experts agree the melting is hastening not just in the Hudson Bay, but straight across the Arctic.Anyone who's spent enough time hovering over a globe knows the shortest distance between Europe and North America isn't across the Atlantic, so, suddenly, this economically depressed and weather-hardened outpost is positioned to be a major North American portal for goods traveling to and from Europe and Western Russia. That's good news for Churchill, and great news for Omnitrax, a Colorado-based railway company that took the derelict port off the government's hands back in 1997. The cost? About $9, a sum that one day might rank alongside the Dutch deal for Manhattan and the Louisiana Purchase as one of history's best real-estate steals.

North Sea Change

If the Northern Sea Route does melt, shipping lanes from Europe to Northeast Asia could be shortened by up to 40 percent.

Across the shrinking icecap from Churchill is a Russian city with similar ambitions, though Murmansk has a far more advanced history and infrastructure. With a population of 325,000, it's the largest metropolis north of the Arctic Circle, and sitting just east of Norway and Finland, the warmer Gulf Stream waters keep its port free of ice year-round. Twenty years ago, the city had its heyday as the European portal to the Northern Sea Route, a 3,500-mile shipping lane straight across northern Russia to the Bering Sea. The Soviet government used to keep the route clear with icebreakers, a practice the Russian government hasn't continued. But soon, reps from the Murmansk Shipping Company claim, government intervention won't be necessary to clear them.If the Northern Sea Route does melt-and the consensus is that it will, perhaps within a decade-shipping lanes from Europe to Northeast Asia that are currently forced to meander through the Suez Canal could be shortened by up to 40 percent. This will come as a boon to the string of depressed port towns along Russia's northern coast-anchored, of course, by Murmansk. Already, in 2006, exports through Murmansk's ports rose nearly 17 percent.

Migrating Grapes

Champagne growers from France, famous for their unbending traditionalism, have recently begun buying up land in southern England.

There are few crops as dependent on a perfect climate as the grape. Gregory Jones, a climatologist and vineyard owner, draws a clear connection between a region's climate and the quality of wines born there. "History has shown that wine-grape-growing regions developed when and where the climate was most conducive," he writes. As warm, moist air slowly climbs north, it stands to reason that viticulture could stretch with it, up from the historically thin latitudinal band of prime vineyard climes. Nowhere has this played out more dramatically than in England-essentially grape-free until the 1970s, and now home to nearly 400 vineyards.Predicting this shift to be potentially permanent, some particularly bold Champagne growers from France, famous for their unbending traditionalism, have recently begun buying up land in southern England. The region already has the chalky soil that Champagne grapes take to, and many-like Duval-Leroy, one of France's grandes marques-are betting that it'll soon have the climate to match.

Finally Green-land

Average Greenland temperatures have risen by nearly three degrees, and the country's new farmers are suddenly harvesting potatoes from the once frozen ground.

Greenland has long been anything but green. Eighty-five percent of the island is covered by ice, in some places more than two miles thick. Yet on the southern coast, around the town of Qaqortoq, some pioneering spirits are learning a new trade: They're farming. Tilling ground exposed from retreating glaciers and basking in longer, warmer summers-average temperatures have risen by nearly three degrees Fahrenheit over the past 30 years-Greenland's new farmers are suddenly harvesting potatoes from the once frozen ground.That's not all. Last August, the innaugural Inuit brewery bottled its first batch of ale. Greenland Brewhouse's beer, a marketer's dream, is made with what the company calls "the world's purest water." Melted down from the massive inland ice shelf-the youngest bits of which are more than 2,000 years old-the Brewhouse's claim that it is "completely free of pollution" is serious. And it needn't fret about a shortage of the pristine, pure water, as locals are quick to say that they see signs of global warming everywhere they look, from new rivers of glacial runoff.

The Catch

For every topical benefit, there is, of course a cost. While melting sea ice in the Arctic might offer an economic upside on both a macro (cheaper international shipping) and micro (boost to Arctic coastal towns) scale, the opening seas may also lead to grimmer prospects. Energy experts anticipate an Arctic oil rush of historic proportions as new petroleum fields are discovered. According to the United States Geological Survey, a quarter of the world's undiscovered oil reserves lie "trapped" under Arctic ice, the cruel irony being that the same fossil fuels responsible for the melt will soon be accessible because of it. And, sure, the British vineyards may squeeze out some fine vintages in years hence, but that'll come at the expense of the beloved grapes of Bordeaux, Provence, and Tuscany, towns where winemaking is more than just a business, but a way of life. Then there is Greenland's ice shelf, which is melting at a rate alarming to both locals and even the most reserved climatologists. Even if Greenland's breweries were making enough melt- water-brewed beer to supply all the pubs in Britain, it wouldn't make a dent in the rise in sea-level predicted if Greenland sheds its entire frozen layer.So while Churchill and Murmansk, the British vineyards, and the entrepreneurial Inuits showcase some finite benefits of climate change, it's hard to argue that the costs aren't higher. Even while representing a government that potentially has the most to gain from a warming planet, Manitoba's transportation minister Ron Lemieux summed it up best: "It's the positive side of global warming … if there is a positive side."

An artist claims an island

Three years ago, from the bow of the Noorderlicht, a 100-year-old Dutch schooner, the British artist-cum-explorer Alex Hartley discovered unexplored land in the Arctic Ocean. Upon surveying the rocky crag, newly revealed by melted ice, Hartley claimed the island as his own. After treading where no human had ever stood before, Hartley captured the new land's potential in a journal entry:"Nothing has yet been ruled out; annexation, independence, tax haven, wild life sanctuary, short let holiday homes, or time shares. Postcards will be printed and a major architectural competition will be launched. Engineers will be consulted as to how best to keep all the mud together and prevent any shrinkage of our island."Two and a half years later, Hartley's claim on the island, which he has fought all the way to the United Nations, is still in question.
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