Today we have polar news from North and South. Starting in the South:
The European Space Agency (ESA) announced today that in light of the precarious state of the Wilkins Ice Shelf it is taking satellite photos of the area which will be updated in a daily animation. This will allow those of you interested in following this drama more closely to have near-real time photo montages of the ice shelf and its breakup. You can see today’s animation below:
A larger version of the animation is available here.
Meanwhile in the North, Canadian scientist, David Barber, presented the results of his recent study on Arctic sea ice to participants from Canada and 15 other countries at the International Arctic Change 2008 conference this week in Quebec City. The findings of Barber and his colleagues are consistent with those of other climate scientists around the world who are finding that Climaticide is occurring much more quickly than has been believed.
The dawning of a seasonal ice-free Canadian Arctic is upon us, said David Barber, one of the leading scientists on the 15-month expedition, adding the consequences for Inuit communities, the wildlife and the entire northern ecosystem are unpredictable.
And it is happening much faster than anyone anticipated, he said, noting that only two years ago a seasonal ice-free Arctic was predicted by 2030.
“I now believe that the Arctic will be out of multiyear ice in the summertime as early as 2015; it is coming very quickly,” Dr. Barber said. “The whole system is in a very rapid rate of change. … The Arctic is telling us that climate change is coming quicker and stronger.”
Like many in the scientific and activist community, Barber is concerned that governments are not keeping with the new scientific data:
He predicted that without the political will and proper leadership in Canada and elsewhere to reduce climate change, the consequences will become increasingly difficult to manage in the near future.
He added that the latest research shows that governments are basing their actions on conservative data.
“What concerns me is that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is making its predictions on modelling results which suggest that we will be seasonally ice free in the high Arctic by 2100. The observations say we are going to be ice free by 2015. That’s a big discrepancy. … That’s got to be transmitted clearly and effectively to the policy-makers of the world,” he said.
In related news
Canadian scientist Don MacIver resigned yesterday as chair of the working group organizing the next World Climate Congress after the federal government revoked his permission to speak at an event in Poznan, Poland, where United Nations climate-change negotiations are being held.
One of Canada’s leading climate-change experts, Gordon McBean, called this an indication of the Conservative government’s policy of ignoring the real effects of greenhouse-gas emissions and supporting the development of heavily polluting fossil fuels, especially the Alberta oil sands.
I recently blogged on the disparity between what the science calls for and what the politicians have been willing to entertain. This discrepancy has caused many to despair of ever reaching an effective treaty to halt greenhouse gas emissions (in fact halting emission is rarely spoken of by politicians who prefer to speak of reductions, even though such reductions will be inadequate to solve the problem.)
A couple of days ago, President-elect Obama, after meeting with Vice-President Gore, gave a very encouraging speech on his administration’s commitment to fighting Climaticide. However, legitimate doubts exist about whether even the Obama administration understands the full severity of the problem.
Delegates in Poznan today found their spirits buoyed by Al Gore’s speech calling for a CO2 emissions target of 350ppm instead of the 450 endorsed by the IPCC. Andrew Light, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, reports that much of that enthusiasm, however, was dampened by the presentation given later in the day by aids to Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar (the room was crammed to hear a presentation by the two Democratic senators and their Republican counterpart, Olympia Snow, but, as a result of a miscommunication (?!!–JR) none of the Senators actually showed up).
Even after Annie Petsonk of Environmental Defense opened the session with a moving plea for how the US could still make progress in Copenhagen and move forward, especially with this president in the White House, the gathered congressional staffers were having none of it. Each presentation offered more and more minutiae of the difficulties of how a bill becomes a law, culminating in Sen. Lugar’s aide Mark Helmke lecturing the audience on how the American Senate gives undue power to small states, thus offering the chance for tiny parts of the electorate dependent on the coal mining industry to thwart the millions of Californians yearning for an even closer relationship to the sun.
As the air left the room, along with a good number of those gathered, a representative from one European state standing next to me began audibly muttering to himself. After it was over I pulled him aside and asked his impression. “I don’t understand you people,” he said, glaring at me. “It’s like you think you’re the only ones in the world with a complicated legislative system! Have you any idea what it’s like to try to get something through the EU?”
This disconnect between what the scientists know and what the politicians regard as possible is likely to be the biggest issue, both domestically and internationally, as the debate over the policies to be adopted to stop global warming continues. I cannot overemphasize the potential role of an aroused citizenry in tipping this debate in the scientists favor. As U.K. Secretary of Energy Ed Miliband has said, we need a “popular mobilization.” If we, the people, fail to mobilize we are unlikely to emerge successful from this historic battle, which may well determine the fate of our civilization and that of many generations yet unborn.