The National Science Foundation (NSF) ran the headline “Polar 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 would “puts 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.