Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Wake-Up Call from the Arctic

Climate
Wake-Up Call from the Arctic

David Suzuki

Arctic sea ice has already melted to a record low this year, in thickness and extent. And summer’s not over yet. According to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center, record melt has occurred for the past six years. Both the NSIDC and the European Space Agency say ice is thinning at a rate 50 percent faster than scientists predicted, mainly because of global warming and that summer Arctic ice could soon disappear altogether.
 
The implications for global climate and weather, and for animals and people in the North, are enormous. One would think the urgency of this development would draw a swift and collaborative response from government, industry, media and the public. Instead, news media have downplayed the issue, the only mention made of climate change at the recent Republican National Convention was to mock the science, and many government and industry leaders are rubbing their hands in glee at the thought of oil and gas extraction opportunities and shipping routes that will open up as the ice disappears.
 
We just don’t get it. As ice melts, more of the sun’s energy, which would normally be reflected back by the ice, is absorbed by the dark water, speeding up global climate change and warming the oceans. The Arctic is now heating at almost twice the rate as the rest of Earth. There’s also the danger that methane could be released as ice and permafrost melt. It’s a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide, so this would accelerate global warming even further. Scientists believe methane may also be uncovered by the warming Antarctic.
 
The Arctic ice cap also helps regulate weather, affecting ocean currents and atmospheric circulation. “This ice has been an important factor in determining the climate and weather conditions under which modern civilization has evolved,” NASA chief scientist Waleed Abdalati told Associated Press. A study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters concludes that melting Arctic ice could lead to more extreme weather events, including drought, floods, heat waves and cold spells–especially in Europe and North America.
 
This not only threatens our future and that of our children and grandchildren; it could also have tremendous negative economic impacts. Because climate change affects agriculture and food supply, energy systems, water availability and weather conditions, it will be expensive. A study conducted for the Pew Environment Group concludes, “In 2010, the loss of Arctic snow, ice and permafrost is estimated to cost the world U.S. $61 billion to $371 billion in lost climate cooling services. By 2050, the cumulative global cost is projected to range from U.S. $2.4 trillion to $24.1 trillion; and by 2100, the cumulative cost could total between U.S. $4.8 trillion and $91.3 trillion.”
 
That doesn’t take into account the effects on the animals and plants in the Arctic–including polar bears, whales, seals and walruses–and the people who depend on them.
 
What’s the solution? During a recent trip to the North, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper confirmed that sovereignty and resource extraction are his government’s priorities for the region. And as Guardian writer George Monbiot points out, companies largely responsible for the climate disaster are scrambling to get as much profit from the situation as they can. Oil companies including Shell and Russia’s Gazprom are taking advantage of the melt to speed up exploratory drilling. Greenpeace activists recently chained themselves to Gazprom’s supply ship in an attempt to stop that company’s activities.
 
We can’t all chain ourselves to ships, so we have to tell our elected representatives, as well as people in the media and industry, that we expect better than short-term gain for long-term pain. Doing all we can to combat climate change comes with numerous benefits, from reducing pollution and associated health-care costs to strengthening and diversifying the economy by shifting to renewable energy, among other measures.
 
From year to year, environmental changes are incremental and often barely register in our lives, but from evolutionary or geological perspectives, what is happening is explosive change. Politicians and businesspeople focused on short-term agendas continue to ignore or downplay the hazards. But the more we stall, the worse it will get. The Arctic warnings provide an opportunity to get things right.

Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.

--------

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Editorial and Communications Specialist Ian Hanington.

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.
 
For more insights from David Suzuki, read Everything Under the Sun (Greystone Books/David Suzuki Foundation), by David Suzuki and Ian Hanington, now available in bookstores and online.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Researchers on the ICESCAPE mission, funded by NASA, examine melt ponds and their surrounding ice in 2011 to see how changing conditions in the Arctic affect the biological and chemical makeup of the ocean. NASA / Flickr

By Alex Kirby

The temperature of the Arctic matters to the entire world: it helps to keep the global climate fairly cool. Scientists now say that by 2035 there could be an end to Arctic sea ice.

Read More Show Less
President Vladimir Putin is seen enjoying the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images

Russia's Health Ministry has given regulatory approval for the world's first COVID-19 vaccine after less than two months of human testing, President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday.

Read More Show Less
A John Deere agricultural tractor sits under a collapsed building following a derecho storm on Aug. 10, 2020 near Franklin Grove, Illinois. Daniel Acker / Getty Images

A powerful series of thunderstorms roared across the Midwest on Monday, downing trees, damaging structures and knocking out power to more than a million people.

Read More Show Less
A scenic view of West Papua. Reza Fakhrudin / Pexels

By Arkilaus Kladit

My name is Arkilaus Kladit. I'm from the Knasaimos-Tehit tribe in South Sorong Regency, West Papua Province, Indonesia. For decades my tribe has been fighting to protect our forests from outsiders who want to log it or clear it for palm oil. For my people, the forest is our mother and our best friend. Everything we need to survive comes from the forest: food, medicines, building materials, and there are many sacred sites in the forest.

Read More Show Less
Everyone overthinks their lives or options every once in a while. Some people, however, can't stop the wheels and halt their train of thoughts. Peter Griffith / Getty Images

By Farah Aqel

Overthinkers are people who are buried in their own obsessive thoughts. Imagine being in a large maze where each turn leads into an even deeper and knottier tangle of catastrophic, distressing events — that is what it feels like to them when they think about the issues that confront them.

Read More Show Less
A newly developed catalyst would transform carbon dioxide from power plants and other sources into ethanol. DWalker44 / E+ / Getty Images

Researchers at the Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory have discovered a cheap, efficient way to convert carbon dioxide into liquid fuel, potentially reducing the amount of new carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Eureka Sound on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic taken by NASA's Operation IceBridge in 2014. NASA / Michael Studinger / Flickr / CC by 2.0

A 4,000-year-old ice shelf in the Canadian Arctic has collapsed into the sea, leaving Canada without any fully intact ice shelves, Reuters reported. The Milne Ice Shelf lost more than 40 percent of its area in just two days at the end of July, said researchers who monitored its collapse.

Read More Show Less