The spiral speeds

The ice cap on the North Pole is vanishing. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, the minimum extent of Arctic sea ice during this past summer season was 4.13 million square kilometers. The previous record low, in 2005, was 5.32 million sq km.

Chorus: Alarmist! Unproven! How do you know the ice wasn’t moved to Syria?!!

Losing a million square kilometers of ice may sound like a lot, but to me the proportional loss is even more striking: the Arctic has suffered a 22% loss of sea ice in only two years. Which means there’s that much more dark sea water absorbing solar radiation during the summer, and that much more heat trapped in the system, melting next year’s ice.

I just thought I’d point this out to you, as world leaders ask their staffs to ponder how to tweak greenhouse gas emissions downward over the next forty years without significantly harming economic growth. Because the polar ice cap doesn’t seem to be waiting around for our prudent proposals to be implemented, nor, ungratefully, is it giving us any grace time for having good intentions.

Note: a fascinating and easy book to read about the impact of global warming on the Arctic ecosystem and its peoples, as well as scientific efforts to understand climate change, is Alaskan writer Charles Wohlforth‘s The Whale and the Supercomputer (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004), which I had the pleasure of reviewing for the San Francisco Chronicle (here).

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