Monday, 1 September 2008

Arctic ice in "death spiral"

NSIDC map 26 Aug 2008
Satellite images just published by German researchers show the Northwest and Northeast Passages were completely open in late August 2008. Mark Serreze of the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder CO says this is further evidence that the Artic icecap is in a "death spiral" and may vanish within 5 years, far earlier than previously predicted. Another tipping point has been passed.

Climate-change deniers are already hard at work, some denying the evidence, and others happily proclaiming the start of a gold rush to Arctic gas, oil and methane. Bear in mind that many are funded by rightwing parties and fossil fuel lobby. They are significantly silent on the questions of what permafrost melt, methane release, and yet more CO2 from oil-gas addicted civilization will mean to the world's ecosystems.

Both circumpolar passages have been closed to regular navigation for 125,000 years, since the last Ice Age began. The shipping industry is already making plans. In 2009 the Beluga Group in Germany will send the first ship through the Northeast Passage around Russia, cutting 4000 miles off the route to Japan. Governments refuse to confirm opening, fear of lawsuits if ships are damaged or sunk by ice. Increased oil spills and pollution, the explosion of mineral claims, and disputes over sovereignty -- already severe -- will now enter a crisis period. Native peoples and small nations like Canada and Denmark will certainly be the losers.

Greenland ice melt: photo Far North Science

Meanwhile, UK Tyndall Centre scientists just reported that even if governments immediately take "draconian measures" in a post-Kyoto framework at Copenhagen 2009, global warming will be double the 2C safe limit to avoid catastrophic change. Above 2C what scientists call positive feedback begins -- in plain English, what Dr Richard Dixon, of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) calls a "runaway situation". Tyndall's new prediction means that by the end of the century, 300 million environmental refugees from annual coastal flooding, drought and desertification of all Southern Africa, and extinction of half the planet's animal and plant species. Quick melting of the entire Greenland icecap, previously ruled out by the IPCC but now reported as geologically possible, could raise sea levels 7 metres. In this scenario, degrowth would be the only way to save humanity. Carbon trading and C&C gradualism will be too little, too late.

See also: Nature Geoscience updates on new ice and climate research.
Charles Wohlforth, "On Thin Ice" with Cape Barrow Inuit, Orion 2004.
Canadian scientists report "irreversible" changes 3 Sep 08
Climate Ark discussion of exponential warming and consequent collapse.
Wikipedia on (a post-Kyoto framework of) contraction and convergence; the gradualist C&C scenario by Global Commons Institute.
April 2008 degrowth/décroissance conference proceedings in Paris.
Degrowth economics: various perspectives by Serge Latouche, World Association of Young Scientists, Inclusive Democracy, ESEE, SERI,

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