Our Generation’s Great Failing

Sep 29 2012 @ 7:37am

Elizabeth Kolbert is alarmed at the almost complete lack of climate change coverage from the media and on the campaign trail. The news they seem to be ignoring:

Last week, the National Snow and Ice Data Center, in Boulder, Colorado, announced that the Arctic sea ice had reached a new low. The sea ice shrinks in the summer and grows again during winter’s long polar night. It usually reaches its minimum extent in mid-September. On September 16, 2012, the N.S.I.D.C. reported, the sea ice covered 1.3 million square miles. This was just half of its average extent during the nineteen-eighties and nineties, and nearly twenty per cent less than its extent in 2007, the previous record-low year.

It would be difficult to overstate the significance of this development.

We are now seeing changes occur in a matter of years that, in the normal geological scheme of things, should take thousands, even millions of times longer than that. On the basis of the 2012 melt season, one of the world’s leading experts on the Arctic ice cap, Peter Wadhams, of Cambridge University, has predicted that the Arctic Ocean will be entirely ice-free in summer by 2016. Since open water absorbs sunlight, while ice tends to reflect it, this will accelerate global warming. Meanwhile, recent research suggests that the melting of the Arctic ice cap will have, and indeed is probably already having, a profound effect on the U.S. and Europe, making extreme weather events much more likely. As Jennifer Francis, a scientist at Rutgers, observed recently in a conference call with reporters, the loss of sea ice changes the dynamics of the entire system: "It’s like having a new energy source for the atmosphere."