Who Cares if the Arctic is Warming?

Who cares about climate change? Polar bears care. Or at least they would if they had the ability to understand the depth of the problem. Their habitat is shrinking, and there is little that we can do about it. By 2050, two-thirds of the current population of Polar Bears will be gone, pushed back to a fraction of their original habitat.1 Even if we decided as a society to cut carbon emissions to marginal levels, the heat would continue to clime. The ocean absorbs heat and releases it slowly. Because of that (and other reasons), there is a climate change time-lag. A certain amount of global warming is now inevitable.

Right there, we’ve convinced most of the worlds 8 year olds that there is a serious problem with a warming world. The idea of a planet without polar bears (or at least one with drastically reduced numbers) would anger most children to action. It would also anger a number of adults, but not likely to the same degree, nor to the same level of action. (Adults are, by nature, far more self-absorbed than that). And since only adults actually have the right to vote, and hold politically and economically high positions, then we’ll need to find a reason that adults can get on board with: a reason that affects them.

Over this next century, regardless of what we do, and projecting conservatively, the worlds oceans will rise by 3 feet.2 It may be a whole lot more, but no less than 3 feet. If 3 feet doesn’t sound like much, remember that much of the earths population lives at or below sea level. A 3 foot rise in the ocean spells doom for literally billions of the worlds people. Homes will be deluged, whole cities placed under water, untold billions made into refugees. It will be Katrina on an earth-sized scale. There will be no more stability. The coast lines will be ever increasing.3 Land developments, and sea-side homes will have to be abandoned. The economic costs alone will be staggering.

But that’s the easy news. It could all end up being far worse. The 3 foot sea level rise is conservative, and understated. If any of the worse projections come to life we will be looking not at a rise of 3 feet, but 3 meters!4 And this would not happen gradually, but quickly, and with force. Millions upon millions of lives would be lost. New York’s Manhattan Island would be under water. Much of Washington DC would be under water. 5 And the third world and poorer countries would take an even greater hit since they would lack the economic means to adapt quickly to an ever changing world.6 Death, disease, and refugees. That is our future world.

The only way that we can affect positive change is if we can convince a larger number of adults to see the problem as one needing to be solved. The arctic is the proverbial canary in the coal mine. When the Arctic goes, so goes the world. The earth is warming at an alarming rate. But it matters not if no one is paying attention to the canary.

1“Warming is Seen as Wiping Out Most Polar Bears,” Andrew C. Revkin and John M. Broder. New York Times. Sept. 8th, 2007.

2“In Greenland, Ice and Instability,” Andrew Revkin. New York Times. Jan. 8th, 2008.

3see footnote 2.

4see footnote 2.

5“While Washington Slept,” Mark Hertsgarrd. Vanity Fair. May 2006.

6“Distributional aspects of climate change impacts,” Richard S.J. Tol, Thomas E. Downing, Onno J. Kuik, Joel B. Smith. Global Environmental Change. 2004.

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