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Alaska Sees 'Astounding' Rise in Temperature as 'Drill, Baby, Drill' Planned for Arctic

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As 2016 is set to be the warmest year on record, Alaskans are seeing an "astounding" rise in temperature. Throughout October, average temperatures in Alaska ran 6.7 degrees above normal.

Barrow, the northernmost community in the U.S., set its warmest October on record. Its monthly average came in at 30.1 degrees Fahrenheit, an astonishing 12.9 degrees warmer than the 1981-2010 average. Oct. 10 was the warmest October day ever, with a high of 44.

Every October since 2001, Barrow has been warmer than normal. Three other Alaskan coastal communities—Nome, St. Paul and Kotzebue—all set monthly records this October. Oct. 12 was the warmest October day ever in Nome by far—20 degrees above the previous record.

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. This year, the sea ice tied for its second-lowest extent after a record-early spring melt set in. And it's having a lot of trouble reforming for the winter.

Zach Labe, University of California-Irvine

In October, the sea ice covered 2.5 million square miles, the lowest October ever seen. It remains low in the Beaufort, Chukchi, East Siberian and Kara Seas, where water temperatures were above normal. It's the slowest regrowth of Arctic sea ice on record.

Older, thicker ice is disappearing. As more sea ice melts each summer, the ice that reforms in winter is new, thinner ice.

"The older ice is becoming weaker because there is less of it, and the remaining ice is more broken up and thinner," said Walt Meier, a sea ice researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Thirty years ago, old ice comprised 20 percent of the sea ice cover; today it is just three percent.

There is a direct link between global carbon emissions and the loss of Arctic sea ice. For every metric ton of CO2 put into the atmosphere, 30 square feet of sea ice is lost. That's the conclusion of researchers Dick Notz and Julienne Stroeve in a landmark study published last week.

With new oil discoveries in Alaska and a fossil-fuel friendly president about to enter the White House, the future looks even darker.

Here are seven key concerns when it comes to drilling in the Arctic:

1. Smith Bay: Caelus Energy announced what it called a "world-class" find in Smith Bay that could prove to be one of the largest oil fields in Alaska. The site, just 50 miles from Barrow, could produce 200,000 barrels per day of light, highly mobile oil, the company said.

2: Moose Pad: Hillcorp Alaska is set to drill up to 44 wells in an area 25 miles from Prudhoe Bay. The company expects to begin drilling in 2018.

3. Liberty Field: Another Hillcorp site in the North Slope, this one on the outer continental shelf, could add up to 70,000 barrels of oil per day to the 40-year old trans-Alaska pipeline.

4. North Slope and Beaufort Sea: Alaska is conducting a lease sale now on state-owned land on the North Slope and state-owned waters of the Beaufort Sea.

5. Beaufort and Chukchi Seas: Alaska Gov. Bill Walker has asked the U.S. Department of the Interior to include the two Arctic seas in the federal offshore leasing program. These include areas where Shell drilled in 2015.

6. Fiord West: Last month, ConocoPhillips ordered a monster new drilling rig that can radiate outward to reach oil within 125 square miles from a single site. It will use the rig to develop the Fiord West field on the North Slope.

7. Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: A political battleground for decades, with the control of the federal government now squarely in Republican hands, "pro-development Alaskans could already taste oil," wrote Alaska Dispatch News following the election. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who chairs the energy committee, said that she "is a champion of access to federal lands and waters."

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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