Quantcast

Wake-Up Call from the Arctic

Climate

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

Individual standing in Hurricane Harvey flooding and damage. Jill Carlson / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Allegra Kirkland, Jeremy Deaton, Molly Taft, Mina Lee and Josh Landis

Climate change is already here. It's not something that can simply be ignored by cable news or dismissed by sitting U.S. senators in a Twitter joke. Nor is it a fantastical scenario like The Day After Tomorrow or 2012 that starts with a single crack in the Arctic ice shelf or earthquake tearing through Los Angeles, and results, a few weeks or years later, in the end of life on Earth as we know it.

Read More Show Less
A pregnant woman works out in front of the skyline of London. SHansche / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Air pollution particles that a pregnant woman inhales have the potential to travel through the lungs and breach the fetal side of the placenta, indicating that unborn babies are exposed to black carbon from motor vehicles and fuel burning, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

Teen activist Greta Thunberg delivered a talking-to to members of Congress Tuesday during a meeting of the Senate Climate Change Task Force after politicians praised her and other youth activists for their efforts and asked their advice on how to fight climate change.

Read More Show Less
Ten feet of water flooded 20 percent of this Minot, North Dakota neighborhood in June 2011. DVIDSHUB / CC BY 2.0

By Jared Brey

When Hurricane Michael tore through the Florida panhandle last October, it killed at least 43 people, caused an estimated $25 billion in damage and destroyed thousands of homes.

Read More Show Less
A protestor holds up her hand covered with fake oil during a demonstration on the U.C. Berkeley campus in May 2010. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

The University of California system will dump all of its investments from fossil fuels, as the Associated Press reported. The university system controls over $84 billion between its pension fund and its endowment. However, the announcement about its investments is not aimed to please activists.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Forest fire continues to blaze in Indonesesia on Sept. 18. WAHYUDI / AFP / Getty Images

Nearly 200 people have been arrested in Indonesia over their possible connections to the massive wildfires raging in the nation's forest, officials said this week.

Read More Show Less

By Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

World leaders have a formidable task: setting a course to save our future. The extreme weather made more frequent and severe by climate change is here. This spring, devastating cyclones impacted 3 million people in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Record heatwaves are hitting Europe and other regions — this July was the hottest month in modern record globally. Much of India is again suffering severe drought.

Read More Show Less
Covering Climate Now / YouTube screenshot

By Mark Hertsgaard

The United Nations Secretary General says that he is counting on public pressure to compel governments to take much stronger action against what he calls the climate change "emergency."

Read More Show Less