“Polar bear extinction now likely”

The National Science Foundation (NSF) ran the headlinePolar Bears: On Thin Ice? Extinction Can Be Averted”. The blogger Joe Romm suggested that perhaps a more apt headline might be “Polar bear extinction now likely.”

Sadly, Joe seems to have hit the nail on the head. There is no positive spin to put on this story. The Arctic sea ice has shrunk to 4.1m sq km (1.6m sq miles) which breaks the previous record of 4.3m sq km in 2007). This is not good news for polar bears.

The problem is, as I have said before, I don’t really care about polar bears. I suspect, if you are honest with yourself, nor do you. Can you imagine living in a world without polar bears? I can.

Of course, this isn’t about polar bears, it’s about humans.

Rising sea levels…

The sea won’t rise because of arctic sea ice melting. Even if the Arctic sea ice completely disappears within 30 years, this won’t directly affect sea level.

But here’s the thing…it’s all connected. A warmer arctic will accelerate the Greenland ice sheet melt and this, leaves us in big trouble.

The Greenland ice sheet is 1.9 miles thick and contains enough ice to raise global sea levels by 7.5 meters. The 2007 IPPC report considered the Greenland ice sheet to be stable having a small effect on sea level rises over the coming century. There is evidence however showing that the Greenland ice sheet is melting much faster than we had originally considered. Indeed, in July the Guardian reported that “The Greenland ice sheet melted at a faster rate this month than at any other time in recorded history”.

It is estimated that the Greenland ice sheet currently contributes about one fifth of the current annual seal level rise of 3mm. As the melt of the ice sheet continues we leave our coastal communities in serious risk.

As Kumi Naidoo, the executive director of Greenpeace said, we put “billions of people’s future in jeopardy”.

It’s your fault…

There is little doubt now about man’s contribution to global warming. The Economist summed it up in their article on arctic ice melt saying:

There is no serious doubt about the basic cause of the warming. It is, in the Arctic as everywhere, the result of an increase in heat-trapping atmospheric gases, mainly carbon dioxide released when fossil fuels are burned. Because the atmosphere is shedding less solar heat, it is warming

It’s going to get worse

Feedback mechanisms are often talked about it terms of global warming. Symptoms that then act as a catalyst for further change in global temperature. The most obvious example here is the melting arctic sea (a symptom of a rise in temperatures) absorbing more heat (as ice reflects heat) and therefore causing more warming.

One feedback mechanism which is often not discussed though is human stupidity. With the melting of the arctic sea ice (largely caused by human burning of fossil fuels) it opens up new possibilities of fossil fuel extraction in the arctic.

The Washington Post reports that “Shell is finally close to drilling a well in the pristine Chukchi Sea…[which] could eventually yield 400,000 barrels of oil per day”. Another example shows Exxon exploring the once frozen Kara Sea enabling an additional 38 billion barrels of oil a day.

Human stupidity is only accelerating the nature of the problem we face.

As George Monbiot points out, on the same day the new figures showing arctic sea ice melt are released we spend the day arguing about whether or not we should be building a third runway at Heathrow – a move that wouldputs the target of reducing…carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050…even further out of reach”.

There is no positive spin on this story

This isn’t about Polar Bears – although they will inevitably struggle to survive as their habitat is all but wiped out – it is about humans and how billions of us are going to struggle to survive.

It is estimated that climate change is already killing 300,000 people a year. As Nobel peace prizewinner Wangari Maathai, said: “Climate change is life or death


Filed under Climate Change

3 responses to ““Polar bear extinction now likely”

  1. Pingback: ‘The greenest government yet’ claim is melting – a bit like our arctic sea ice | Hynd's Blog

  2. Excellent blog, Steve.

    The issue is too overwhelming and actually happens on too large a scale for our brains to really compute. But I’m glad you provided some statistics here because I don’t often read the science behind climate change.

    My one concern is your focus on ‘our’ stupidity. Now, I’m as convinced as the next person that the human race is unfathomably stupid in quite stupendous ways but I feel it’s dangerous to pin climate change on ‘our’ collective stupidity. Largely, I feel this because it suggests that there is some kind of genuine “opt out” available to us all that we are just too greedy or selfish or unintelligent to choose. That’s the key word, for me: Choice. It is the illusion of choice that the neoliberal project is built upon.

    In actual fact, our *only* choice is how and what we consume within the current narrow set of assumptions about how human society can be organised and this is hardly much choice at all (a little bit like our choice of who to vote for.) We, and by the virtue of history and global power-politics everyone else, is locked into a system that is, by its nature, a world-destroyer. The statistics for ecological degradation in the last 300yrs compared to the previous few million are pretty conclusive of that. The more I read, the more convinced I become that the nature of the capitalist mode of production, and its implicit dependence on compound growth for its own survival, is unsustainable to maintain widespread human habitation on this planet. Prosperity Without Growth by Professor Tim Jackson is a great guide on these matters as he uses sobre science and reason to bat away fanciful suggestions that technological innovation alone will “save us” and the carbon party can continue ad infinitum. There’s also some interesting stuff on renewables that I commissioned for the next OT (PLUG.)

    Now, as for destroying capitalism and replacing it with something that doesn’t involve tyranny, drudgery and perpetual domestic holidays: I’m working on it but will have to get back to you with my findings…


  3. anyawhiteside

    This is scary stuff and whats even more scary is how little coverage its getting. Climate change has vanished from the news. Thanks for sharing steve


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