‘We’ve never seen anything like this before’


Every day, a new reminder of the urgency of the world’s climate crisis — and, by logical extension, the 2016 elections here in the United States — shows up in my inbox or somewhere on the web. The streak of record monthly average world temperatures shows absolutely no sign of letting up. The hurricanes are coming earlier and growing stronger; the floods in places like Texas are more robust, and the droughts in key regions are growing more severe.

Nowhere on the planet has served as more of a canary in this coal mine of pollution, if you will, than the Arctic Ocean. A string of balmier summers than anyone has ever seen in the formerly ice-bound region, not to mention less extreme winters, has opened up waters to navigation that were once impassable. Ironically, the improved navigation in the Arctic has led some oil giants and power-mad governments to dream of expanded oil exploration…even though it’s the burning of fossil fuels and the emission of greenhouse-gas pollution that is the driving force behind this crisis in the first place.

In the past few summers, the world’s climate experts have expressed growing concern about the increasing pace of the loss of sea ice in the Arctic region. This year, that alarm has turned into something just short of panic:

The 2016 race downward in Arctic sea ice continued in May with a dramatic new record.

The average area of sea ice atop the Arctic Ocean last month was just 12 million square kilometers (4.63 million square miles), according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). That beats the prior May record (from 2004) by more than half a million square kilometers, and is well over a million square kilometers, or 500,000 square miles, below the average for the month.

Another way to put it is this: The Arctic Ocean this May had more than three Californias less sea ice cover than it did during an average May between 1981 and 2010. And it broke the prior record low for May by a region larger than California, although not quite as large as Texas.

To climate scientists, those numbers are like an alarm bell. “We’ve never seen anything like this before,” Mark Serreze, who directs the data center, told the Washington Post. “It’s way below the previous record, very far below it, and we’re something like almost a month ahead of where we were in 2012.” The article further notes:

The May record was driven, naturally enough, by significant warmth — Arctic air temperatures were 4 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit above average in the region, NSIDC said. Pockets of the Arctic had temperatures even more anomalously high than that.

Following an extremely warm winter for the Arctic, these temperatures suggest “that warmth has persisted through spring, and so we’re in a bad way right now,” Serreze said.

Of course, some short-sighted people are going to look at this and say the glass is half-full — less ice in the Arctic opens the region up for international shipping, tourism, and more oil exploration. But let’s not kid ourselves — this is a disaster for the planet. The rapid melting of the sea ice has already wreaked havoc on the climate throughout the Northern Hemisphere, and the accelerated action is also causing the world’s sea level to rise much faster than projected.

This is one more sign that the impact of climate change is no longer debatable, because it’s already here. As I mentioned in my last post, one of the two major candidates for president — that would be the Republican Donald Trump — has said that he wants to undo the Paris climate accords, a move that would have a disastrous impact on our efforts to control greenhouse gas pollution. His opponent, Hillary Clinton, understands and appreciates the threat posed by global warming. Frankly, it should not be that hard for anyone to understand. Just look at the remarkable events that are taking place in the Arctic this summer.

To find out more about this year’s rapid melting of Arctic sea ice, please read: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/06/07/weve-never-seen-anything-like-this-arctic-sea-ice-hit-a-stunning-new-low-in-may/

Learn more about the need for worldwide action on fossil fuels in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on Americahttp://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2015 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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