Melting Polar Sea Ice: A story we ignore at our peril

I spend a lot of professional time reading about the Arctic (for an upcoming WWF report that my firm is developing). Conclusion: the media is practically ignoring one of the biggest stories on the planet.

arctic-and-antarctic-sea-ice-31dec2016Consider the first graph, and the red line at the bottom, which combines the data for all of 2016 on global sea ice (Arctic + Antarctic). The second graph is the size of the temperature anomaly in the Arctic year on year. This is “graphic” evidence that 2016 was the weirdest of weird years. And yet, as documented by a blogger (!), major English-language newspapers were still publishing articles in 2016 talking about a “hiatus” in global warming. (See links at the end of this post.)

Frankly, it’s far too late to stop the melting of arctic-temperatures-2016the Arctic sea ice, or the northward shift of fish species, or the opening of newly ice-free zones to ship traffic, or the new mining or tourism development. And also, frankly, many people living in the Arctic (e.g. on Greenland) welcome the new opportunities. So the report we are working on will focus on how to steer the inevitable economic development in the Arctic Ocean more sustainably.

But this does not mean we should give up on reducing CO2 emissions: quite the opposite. The melting of the Arctic tells us that truly anything is possible — including, for example, the spreading of deserts northward, the deadly acidifcation of the oceans, the creation of a truly hot world. We have come to grips with this, seeing the Paris Agreement of 2015 not as the last word, but as the first hopeful step in a process of continuous and increasingly ambitious action.

We also need to get serious about removing excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Greens often don’t like this fact, but when you run the math, there is no way easily around it: we need to do everything we can, from drawing down emissions (Paul Hawken & colleagues have a great book on “Drawdown” coming out in April) to cleaning up our already-tossed-out atmospheric garbage (I support the work of Klaus Lackner & others on this).

For people like me, and those senior to me, who have been working in this field a long time, this moment is looking more and more like the “day of reckoning.” The Arctic is doing just what was predicted decades ago, but it’s doing it faster than even the most dour analysts thought possible.

And hardly anyone seems to be paying attention, because it’s barely getting reported. Where are the big headlines?

Follow the links below to check the data, the sources, and to start building this story for yourself. Especially if you are a journalist, or someone with access to an audience of people who need to know.

Because everyone needs to know.


Original data from National Snow and Ice Data Center:

The website of Wipneus, the researcher who graphed this data:

The blogger (Tamino) who documented media mis-reporting that painted a picture of a “hiatus” in global warming in 2016:

New York Times story on spiking temperatures (21 Dec 2016) — covers sea ice, but buried in the article:

New York Times story (30 Dec 2016) on northward moving fish species — focuses on the economic challenge this creates for US fisherman:

Paul Hawken’s forthcoming book, Drawdown, is previewed here:

The Center for Negative Carbon Emissions, run by Prof Klaus Lackner (who invented the concept 20 years ago):

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