Of all the manifestations of global warming, none is as visibly obvious as the melting Arctic sea ice. It’s the idiot light at the top of the world.
The sea ice is signaling us to pull over and stop.
With all respect to Bill McKibben, the Arctic sea ice is a more potent rallying symbol than 350 ppm of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
The NOAA chart that traces the relentless climb of CO2 levels in the atmosphere is deeply disturbing. But it’s abstract. Unless you’re tuned into the underlying reality, it doesn’t have any intrinsic meaning. Usually, ascending chart lines imply something good. Just ask anyone who bought shares of Apple Computer in 2004.
I caught Chasing Ice last night. It documents how James Balog went from climate skeptic to climate hawk as he photographed the disappearing boreal glaciers. The time-lapse images of the disappearing ice are disturbing and inarguable.
This NSIDC animation from satellite images and data is compelling.
The implications of an open Arctic are profound. The sea ice performs a systemic function, reflecting the sun’s radiation back into space to keep the planet in the narrow temperate zone that sustains the plants and animals that have evolved on it over the eons. Once the sea ice is gone, that radiation will be absorbed by the dark Arctic waters.
The Arctic ice underlies the temperature gradient responsible for the jet stream and the seasonal highs and lows that govern the rains in northern latitudes. When the ice is displaced by warming seas, and the gradient decreases, the highs and lows will not form as they once did but will shift, or form earlier or later, or grow larger or smaller, or direct the jet stream differently, or do all of these things. The rains will fall where they shouldn’t, when they shouldn’t, in amounts they shouldn’t, instead of where, when, and in the amounts that the seven billion souls on this planet depend on to grow grains and fruits and vegetables.
And each year, it will get worse. Once the sea ice goes, even if just for a few weeks, a self-reinforcing feedback loop will have been set into irreversible motion. The permafrost at the edge of the Arctic will melt and release eons of sequestered methane and carbon dioxide, which will drive yet further warming, and further melting, and further releases. Seasonal weather patterns will be further distorted. From the point of view of agriculture, the atmosphere will experience total systemic failure.
The disappearance of the sea ice is the precipitating event in my novel, A Change in the Weather. Dr. Mark Serreze of the NSIDC says, “We are already seeing (as predicted) outsized warming of the Arctic compared to other parts of the globe. There is growing evidence that we are already seeing weather patterns being influenced by loss of Arctic sea ice.” And Dr. Jeff Masters, founder of Weather Underground: “Earth’s climate is unstable, and we are pushing it hard towards a sudden shift to a new state by pumping huge quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. A radical shift in the climate between the years 2018-2028 as envisioned by Welch is entirely plausible.”
How do we keep agriculture from failing? How do we get atmospheric CO2 levels back to 350 ppm?
Keep the idiot light at the top of the world from going white to black. Save the sea ice.