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Scientists Warn of Polar Emergency: Melting Ice and Methane Releases Threaten Global Starvation by 2015

June 22, 2013
Martin Banks / The Parliament & The Arctic Methane Emergency Group

The most visible repercussions of sea ice decline and rapid Arctic warming are the escalating emissions of methane -- a potent global warming gas -- now seen to be bubbling in vast plumes from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf seabed. The "global weirding" manifested by extreme weather events -- droughts, fires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes -- will continue to be affecting farmers all over the world as the Arctic warms.


Arctic Ocean Predicted to Be 'Ice Free' by 2015
Martin Banks / The Parliament

LONDON (April 15, 2013) -- A parliamentary hearing heard that draft legislation "fails to address current gaps" in EU rules on offshore exploration. The meeting was told that the draft law "also falls short in terms of provisions on liability" in the case of avoiding accidents such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

The event, organized by parliament's Greens/EFA group, comes as MEPs are to vote on a future EU directive on offshore drilling. The Greens have expressed regret about the outcome of the deal on this agreed by parliament, council and commission during informal first reading trilogues.

EU energy commissioner Günther Oettinger had previously promised that the aim of the draft legislation was to ensure that an accident such as Deepwater would never happen in EU territory.

The Greens used the 'Arctic melt' hearing to launch a new campaign warning about the situation in what is regarded as one the most vulnerable regions in the world. The group also renewed its demand for a moratorium on drilling in the arctic.

The hearing was told that the EU has three Arctic council states among its members and maintains close relations with Iceland and Norway through the European economic area.

Delphine Chalençon, climate change campaigner for the Greens, pointed out that group has pressed the EU institutions to "ensure that the EU is equipped with the most robust rules to deal with the risks of offshore drilling". She added, "But once again, decision makers are favouring the short-term solutions over the long-term ones, such as the rush for more business opportunities, hydrocarbons and raw materials instead of the safety for all."

She says, "The changes to the climate in the arctic or any possible accident happening in the area will have a direct and major impact on coastal regions in Europe and on its climate-dependent sectors, such as agriculture, fisheries, renewable energy, tourism and transport.

"The EU has a responsibility to protect this area and to encourage its other arctic partners to jointly safeguard such a fragile region. Arctic ice is melting at an unprecedented rate. The disappearance of so much ice should be seen as a serious wake up call for concrete action to protect our climate. It should not be seen as an opportunity for developing more exploitative businesses, which are -- very ironically -- the direct reason why global warming is intensifying and thus the arctic sea ice is melting."

Her concerns were shared by several speakers at the hearing, including Peter Wadhams, professor of ocean physics at the UK's university of Cambridge, who said, "Man-induced global warming does not involve a steady change over the whole planet.

"The arctic is warming at three times the rate of lower latitudes, and this is already having serious impacts. The sea ice cover is diminishing both in area (measured by satellite) and thickness (measured by submarines), and in summer now has less than 30 per cent of the volume of 30 years ago.

"At this rate, the arctic ocean will be ice-free in the month of September by 2015/6. It is changing into a seasonal ice cover, like the Antarctic, rather than a permanent one." He added, "The immediate commercial impacts seem positive -- a stimulus for trans-arctic shipping and oil exploration. But the planetary impacts are wholly negative and extremely dangerous.

"The retreating sea ice uncovers continental shelf areas where warming of the sea causes offshore permafrost to melt, releasing large plumes of methane which is a powerful greenhouse gas whose level in the atmosphere is rising.

"More methane is released from permafrost melt on land, and the retreat of ice and of the snowline give an albedo feedback which also acts as a global warming accelerator.

"The warmer air and sea around Greenland are increasing the melt rate of the Greenland ice sheet, which has become the largest single contributor to global sea level rise. So far, most people have viewed the arctic as a bellwether, an indicator of global change to come, but in fact arctic change is one of the most powerful drivers acting to accelerate change over the entire planet, with serious consequences for our survival."

John Crump, senior advisor at the GRID-Arendal polar centre, said, "The increasing focus on climate change in the circumpolar region demonstrates that what happens in the arctic doesn't stay in the Arctic. The changes now taking place have regional and global implications.

"They also present an opportunity for a new way of making decisions in a region which, despite the pressure it is under, has not suffered from the same kinds of mistakes as the rest of the world. Land rights settlements, co-management regimes and the role indigenous peoples have played at the Arctic council offer guidance. And an alliance between the Arctic and 'small island developing states' shows that it is possible to think outside the climate change box."

Another keynote speaker, Nils Andreas Masvie, of Det Norske Veritas, said, "The authorities' duty is to regulate the Arctic responsibly and the industry must operate safely. It is a joint responsibility for people and the environment."

Governments Must Act to Save the Arctic Sea Ice or We Will Starve
Arctic Methane Emergency Group

(June 20, 2013) -- Next week, the White House will hear evidence from Australian scientist, Carlos Duarte, that the Arctic sea ice is on such a downward spiral that we may see a dramatic decline of sea ice over the next two years [1].

Evidence was given to the UK government last year from British scientists, Peter Wadhams and John Nissen, that we could see minimal sea ice by September 2015, simply extrapolating the sea ice volume trend [2].

Evidence from recent satellite images suggests that a record melt is in progress this year. The plight of the Arctic was highlighted to MPs and the Met Office in a recent showing of the film Chasing Ice at the House of Commons, London [3]. The Arctic has recently become an issue in the European Parliament [4].

Weather Extremes and Food Security
Research from US scientist, Jennifer Francis, suggests that the retreat of sea ice is causing a disruption of jet stream behavior, producing weather extremes [5]. Evidence was given to the UK government last year that the weather extremes being experienced in the UK and elsewhere could be due to this disruption of weather systems as the Arctic warms relative to the tropics.

This evidence was reported by Robin McKie in The Observer, on 7th April in an article entitled: “Why our turbulent weather is getting harder to predict” [6].

The weather extremes from last year are causing real problems for farmers, not only in the UK, but in US and many grain-producing countries. World food production can be expected to decline, with mass starvation inevitable. The price of food will rise inexorably, producing global unrest and making food security even more of an issue [7].

Action Required
Putting these two strands of evidence together, it is obvious that we face an ever-worsening food crisis unless something dramatic is done straightaway to cool the Arctic and save the Arctic sea ice. This sounds impossible, but can be done.

Our best chance of success in cooling the Arctic quickly involves cloud cooling techniques, such as being developed by engineers Stephen Salter in the UK and Aaron Franklin in New Zealand. Franklin’s technique could be deployed almost immediately.

Rapid collaborative action is common-sense logic and therefore the morally and legally correct thing to do in protecting citizens, see UNFCCC, Article 3 [8]. It also presents a golden opportunity for reconciliation between all peoples and all communities through working together towards a common purpose: to save our planet for enjoyment by future generations. There is no time to lose.

[1] http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/-/wa/16886947/professor-joins-fight-to-save-arctic/
[2] http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmenvaud/c1739-ii/c173901.htm
[3] http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/channel/a-night-of-exploration/episodes/chasing-ice/
[4] http://www.theparliament.com/latest-news/article/newsarticle/arctic-ocean-predicted-to-be-ice-free-by-2015/#.UXaQU0qINQJ
[5] http://e360.yale.edu/feature/linking_weird_weather_to_rapid_warming_of_the_arctic/2501/
[6] http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/apr/07/science-behind-britain-coldest-easter?INTCMP=SRCH
[7] http://www.financialsense.com/contributors/joseph-dancy/record-food-prices-will-likely-disrupt-energy-markets
[8] http://unfccc.int/essential_background/convention/background/items/1355.php

We Are Facing An Unprecedented
Threat to the Human Race

John Chair / AMEG

What is happening in the Arctic is what Peter Wadhams, myself and others in AMEG have been dreading -- that our deductions from the physics of the Arctic sea ice situation have come true. We also understand some of the dreadful repercussions from a sea ice collapse, which nobody has wanted to believe. But it is also like a cloud lifted, because now we can tell the world that we’ve been right all along.

The sea ice extent was bound to start collapsing within the next year or two, because the thickness was decreasing steadily. Now it’s happened. Now people will have to face up to the repercussions. Now people can realize that our only choice -- if we want to avoid decent into a hellish nightmare -- is to geo-engineer like mad -- use all the measures and techniques at our disposal that we can deploy immediately or at least before next summer’s melt, in the hope of trying to prevent further collapse.

We have left action awfully late. The first sea ice collapse in 2007 should have prepared us for further collapse in the following years. The physics is elementary. It was not put in the climate models, which have continued to forecast that the sea ice would last for decades. The Hadley Centre models were predicting end century demise.

This is what is cemented into IPCC AR4 on which all climate negotiations are based. These models have now proved rubbish. Yet it was the chief scientist at the Met Office, Prof Julia Slingo, ultimately responsible for the Hadley models, who rubbished the PIOMAS data on sea ice volume, saying that her models would prove Wadhams and AMEG wrong. This is on public record, because she gave this as evidence to the Environment Audit Committee hearing on “Protecting the Arctic”.

But far more serious than the denial of physics and the laws of nature was the denial of the precautionary principle -- if our concerns about sea ice loss and repercussions (particularly a methane excursion) had even a small probability of proving correct, it would have been sensible to prepare for the worst by developing the geo-engineering techniques that could provide enough cooling power to avoid a sea ice collapse.

The cost would have been minimal in relation to the cost of trying to deal with repercussions -- which some of us fear could be the end of civilization. But nothing happened, so no geo-engineering has been prepared.

AMEG has had a predicament -- a dilemma. If we say how bad the situation really is, people will brand us as doom-mongers and not want to listen. If we don’t, then nobody will learn the truth.

But now it’s different. Our predictions on the sea ice have proved correct. We have the credibility. Our timescales are appropriate. (Only the other day a student wrote an article for The Ecologist saying that, after consulting experts at UEA, he was convinced that AMEG had got its timescales wrong.)

The most visible repercussions of sea ice decline and rapid Arctic warming (it’s warming five or six times the global average by my reckoning, and that ratio will leap up as the sea ice disappears) are the escalating emissions of methane, now seen to be bubbling in vast plumes from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf seabed, and the global weirding, seen to be affecting farmers all over the world as the Arctic warms, polar jet stream meanders more, sticking in places to cause weather extremes, long periods of both hot dry weather and cool wet weather. These two repercussions have been AMEG’s focus of late.

Never in the history of the human race has there been so much danger to confront. We have the brains -- we should have the intelligence -- to deal with it. Psychologically we have real problems, continuing to believe that we are immortal and “it can’t happen to us”. It is.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.




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