Warning from the Arctic

Warning from the Arctic

September 10th, 2012 in Opinion Times

Gwynne Dyer, who provides astute commentary on a wide variety of subjects for publications around the globe, wrote about the rapid melting of Arctic sea ice and the significant impact it has had on global climate in a column that appeared on the Chattanooga Times editorial page Sunday. His explanation of the changes already underway as a result of the melt was instructive and eye-opening -- a call to action for a world where many people still ignore the consequences of global warming.

Dyer focused on the facts and figures of the ice melt and the rising temperatures that cause it. He noted the relationship between the melting ice, concomitant warmer Arctic temperatures and climatological changes that are responsible for extreme weather around the world. Those who doubt the connection ignore the increased incidence of longer and extreme heat waves, droughts, floods, cold spells, storms and rains and the toll they take on global food production.

Dyer's view is, at best, a gloomy, if thought-proving one. Given the facts, it could have been worse. Dyer noted that Arctic sea ice cover is smaller now than at any time since satellite mapping began over three decades ago, but his necessarily short overview did not note other pertinent information. The entire Arctic region, for example, is now warming more quickly than almost any other locale on Earth. He certainly agrees, though, that the overall trends have ominous consequences for global climate.

The rapid melt feeds a vicious cycle that perpetuates and accelerates the decline in ice cover. As ice melts more quickly, it allows more heat absorption by open water. That in turn leads to more warming. The melting ice is not the only indication of a warmer Arctic.

Scientists report that recent annual average increases in temperatures there have been twice as high as those reported in the rest of the world. Indeed, studies of ice cores, tree rings and lake sediments indicates ice temperatures have been higher in the last 30 years than at any time in the last two millennia. There's no escaping the fact -- it's no longer a theory -- that warmer Arctic temperatures already are prompting changes in sea levels, available supplies of fresh water, crop production and the health and safety of millions of individuals.

At the current rate, it seems likely that summer ice in the Arctic will became a rarity soon if global warming is not reversed. When that occurs, it surely will spur competition, and perhaps worse, between nations pursuing military superiority in the region and control of the vast mineral and oil resources under the exposed seabed. The globe has enough flashpoints. There's no need to create another.

The facts documented by scientists in the Arctic and around the globe and the continued reportage by Dyer and many other journalists should spur governments to slow global warming and to limit, if they can, its affects. The United States should take the lead, but unwarranted political skepticism about the reality of global warming, and congressional partisanship have made that difficult. The president and Mitt Romney, his challenger, don't agree on much, but global warming poses an imminent danger to all regardless of political affiliation.

They should, individually and jointly, demand an end to the political impasse and to the thinking that increasingly put both present and future residents of Earth at risk.