Arctic madness

Greenland (photo: Christine Zenino, flickr/creative commons)

The Arctic is melting at a rate faster than any climate scientists dared to predict that it would. In what has been very accurately dubbed the ‘Arctic Death Spiral’, the summer minimums of sea ice are getting lower, with each successive summer setting new records for ice lost.

Research from the American Geophysical Union released just this week has shown that not only is the ice melting from the edges faster than predicted, it’s also losing volume, which makes the older ice melt faster too.

It’s likely that the Arctic will be completely ice free in the summer by 2016, and once that multi-year ice is gone, the North Pole will be a floating block of shallow ice that is much easier to melt away each summer, so I guess Santa will need to re-locate his workshop, and the homeless polar bear in that Radiohead video won’t be too far off either.

Homeless Santa (photo: Mark Rain, flickr/creative commons)

The most disturbing thing so far about the Arctic Death Spiral has been the international reaction to it, which has generally ranged from ‘meh, that’s a long way away’ to ‘sweet- let’s drill for more oil’! Seriously? Drill for more oil? Wow, that’s some serious cognitive dissonance there.

Unfortunately for everyone who doesn’t live in the Arctic Circle, this is not another one of those ‘see it on the news, doesn’t affect me’ kind of problems. For those of us in North America, an ice-free arctic is going to seriously mess with our weather. The speed and magnitude of the Jet Stream which you all see in weather reports is caused by the interaction between sub-tropical air masses and dense colder arctic air. A warmer arctic slows down the jet stream, while climate change gives extreme weather events steroids and makes them more likely to be extreme.

This means North America is going to be getting more slowly moving extreme weather – the droughts will last longer, the snowstorms will be more extreme for longer, the rain in Vancouver will last longer, flooding events might take weeks instead of days.

An ice-free Arctic also means the bottom is effectively being pulled out of the food chain in the Arctic. Think growth pattern changes to sea-ice phytoplankton won’t affect humans? Think again. If there is no plankton, or it grows at the wrong time, all the plankton-eating marine species go hungry, which in turn removes the food source for the seals, which removes the food source for the orcas and the polar bears, which removes the tourist dollars because there’s no whales to watch anymore and no polar bears or sea ice to see on your Arctic cruise.

Work the domino effect in whichever direction you like, it will still work its way up the food chain to humans eventually.

But even more horrifying is the addict-like response of oil and gas companies to the melting of the Arctic. While climate change is a large and multifaceted problem to solve, the cause is relatively straight forward. Humans have changed the energy balance of the atmosphere by taking dense, fossilised underground carbon and burning it, releasing it into the atmosphere. So when Greenland starts melting at a rate faster than expected and twice the rate that Antarctica is melting, contributing to rising sea levels, the response is not to keep expanding oil and gas exploration.

To keep enabling and increasing the cause of our warming climate – burning carbon – is insanity. It’s standing on a sinking ship and bailing water into the boat instead of out of the boat. It’s ensuring that by the time I retire, the places in the world I could live in will be limited because climate destruction will already be causing mass migration away from areas that will become inhabitable.

Are we so blinded by our obsession with short term profits at all costs and our ongoing fossil fuel addiction that no-one can see that getting excited about a melting Arctic because it means you can mine it is suicidal?

The climate math is really simple. The scientific best estimate of the remaining space our atmosphere has for more carbon dioxide without completely destroying our biosphere is 565 GT (Gigatonnes). The amount of recoverable reserves that oil and gas companies have on the books is five times that (2,795 GT). So if oil and gas companies have their way, they’ll push humanity over the climate cliff five times over and then still keep looking for more.

This behaviour is suicidal and immoral. It will cause climate chaos within my lifetime and will ensure that humans wilfully cause their own extinction within the next thousand years.

We cannot leave this climate legacy for the next generation without doing our utmost to solve the problem. We need to stop burning carbon. We need to start systematically transitioning to a clean energy economy as fast as possible, which means admitting that we must, for the sake of humanity, stop burning carbon.

Stop burning carbon. Stop spending millions of dollars looking for more carbon to burn. The melting of the Arctic is a forewarning of the climate catastrophe to come, and if we don’t prevent it, the future is not going to be pretty or liveable. 

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The climate math...

Your article said:

"The climate math is really simple."

That of course is complete nonsense. YOU cannot read the climate papers that true researchers publish.  YOU cannot understand the deep details that truly do matter.  You .. unfortunately, are just an activist who has decided they KNOW.

If Kevin Trenbert and Richard Lindzen..( both of whom, by the way CAN and DO read and write the real climate papers ) ... if they cannot agree on the degree to which the difficult science of climate can predict an end to humanity or even the degree to which the planet might respond to the burning of coal, then surely you can say little.  But you dont say little, you bleat and repeat which only says you have an agenda that is not driven by the actual question at hand.


Trenberth.. (spelling)

Bad keyboard.


Reading climate papers

Hi Lee,

I have a degree in environmental chemistry from the University of Melbourne in Australia. This means that I can read climate research papers, and I often do read the most recent climate research papers.

The blog that I run, actually does exactly what you're talking about. I take climate research papers and translate them from scientific language into English for a wider audience. I encourage you to read some of the posts, or even some of the research papers. You will find that the vast majority of them are very concerned with the effects of climate change.

Kevin Trenberth and Richard Lindzen are lobbyists for the oil and gas industry who are very interested in protecting the profits of their funders. They do not in any way represent the mainstream of climate research. 

Lee Leeman: drug pusher.Yes,

Lee Leeman: drug pusher.

Yes, humanity is now officially suicidal. But how do you deal with addiction? Addicts don't hear rationality. Many realize now (q.v. Sierra Club) that only a global dose of tough-love will work, because only repeated disasters will wake the addicts up enough to act. Activism, putting your bodies in the way. Gandhi showed it doesn't have to be violent to work; but it definitely requires guts. Yes, governments can have the greatest effect on climate change; but it's been shown time and time again that no government will do anything for its citizens unless provoked.

It also starts at home. Still riding in your four-seater powered by fossil fuels, all alone too, to get to work or run errands? Not taking transit or walking when you have the option? I see barely any resistance yet to our car-centric culture of entitlement. Living in a typical draughty oil-heated home instead of an energy-efficient Passive House (or at least upgraded your home's insulation)? Feeling you're entitled to a long-distance flight regularly, ruining your carbon footprint, instead of vacationing locally?

End of the world prophets are

End of the world prophets are nothing new to our world. What is new are the millions of university educated climate guru's,all competeing for a few decent paying jobs.That explains why some  have to take work as journalists. Only the most breathless, and dramatic stories get chosen for publication. ALL media is about entertainment, this site and author are about entertainment. It's all o.k. doesn't sell papers or get you published. So only the most dramatic, end of the world stories make the pages of a  rag like this. We're sorry that your chosen profession doesn't pay, but please stop with the dramatics. Scareing people who don't know enough to laugh at you is just immoral. Don't drink the coolaid people, it's just drama.


About 8 years ago while reading the USDA publication “Global Warming and Agriculture, I noticed that the report used an emission scenario that was much less than actual in their calculations.  Then, I began to notice that same error in many other papers on the subject and soon realized the implications: understatement and scientific hedging means that climate change will occur more rapidly and sooner than expected.  In addition, since these emissions are long lived, the impacts will be felt for thousands of years.  

At the 2012 Cabot Lecture, Dr. Kevin Anderson (link below) clearly pointed the finger at scientists and governments for not accurately reporting how bad the climate situation truly is.  He also explains why we cannot meet the 2 degree C (3.8 F) target set by the world’s governments and its impacts on us today (i.e. catastrophic).  His talk is timely in light of the recent report from the World Bank that found:

"Even with the current mitigation pledges fully implemented, there is roughly a 20% likelihood of exceeding 4°C by 2100. If they are not met, warming of 4°C could occur as early as the 2060s."

This nonsense has to stop.  Projects like the Keystone pipeline must not be completed and the oil sands must not be developed (to name just one).  And fracking is not any better.  There isn’t any wiggle room left for any negotiation.  Globally, we are nowhere close to meeting our mitigation pledges and long lived CO2 emissions continue to accumulate in the atmosphere at an accelerating rate.  

Dr. Anderson is very animated and I think you will find it enlightening.


As long as climate"guru's"

As long as climate"guru's" refuse to endorse nuclear power, coal fired power plants will continue to be built and continue to burn coal. These coal fired power plants produce most of the carbon dioxide around the world. We are more likely to die from eating peanut butter sandwitches than a failed nuke plant, yet these end of the world prophets refuse to do what they know is the right thing and endorse nuclear power.It is the ONLY clean alternative, and no amount of rhetoric from self important doomsday prophets can change that. At least the prophets of old had some snake oil to sell. Nonsense? Anyone who looks into the future and predicts the end of the world is a doomsday prophet, no better than Jim Jones and just as dangerous.Stop scaring people with your nonsense and get behind nuclear power before you and your "peers" harm any more people.To focus on a pipeline when coal is the real culprit shows just how out of focus some people are.