In the last fifteen years, I have been up to the North Pole and high Arctic several times. I am saddened and amazed to have seen a change in the level of ice in the tiny amount of time that I have visited.
In 2007, acclaimed US scientist Mark Serreze announced that the Arctic summer sea ice had reached an ominous low. Summing up the science, he concluded: ‘The Arctic is screaming.’ Since then the September minimum fell even further; this year fits within this long-term downward trend.
If the Arctic is screaming, it’s hard for most of us to hear. Despite the social, environmental and economic opportunities and risks, the world blithely ignores the sound of Arctic change. So much has been written on what we need to do but I like Jeremy Wilkinson (Sea Ice Physicist, British Antarctic Survey) and Gail Whiteman (Director, Pentland Centre for Sustainability in Business, Lancaster University) on breaking it all down.
Three things WE can do to save the polar ice caps
1. LEARN AND BE ACCOUNTABLE
What we measure, we value! Research shows that the things we monitor, we care more about and try to adapt our behaviour. Just like fitness geeks who train harder when they have an app that tracks their daily lifestyle, Arctic change can be monitored on a daily basis by satellite, with data and blogs readily available – the ‘National Snow and Ice Data Centre’ and ‘Arctic Sea Ice Forum’ being two.
Arctic sea ice is a barometer for the health of the global environment so get interested in it all, discuss it with your mates, colleagues, and peers and make your voice heard and let’s get some substantial and passionate dialogue across all levels of society, commerce and politics flowing.
2. DEMAND ACTION
Watching the ice melt more closely won’t make it melt any slower on its own. Cumulative emissions of CO2 are the main culprit driving the melting of Arctic summer sea ice. The only way to help save Arctic ice is to demand action – from yourself, your city, your country and from the companies that make all the goods and services you consume.The Earth has a finite climate boundary that supports life as we know it. Scientists estimate that we have already used up more than half of the planet’s carbon budget, so we need to reduce our emissions fast. How do we do this?
- Support meaningful climate action and our leaders need to agree on the next global framework for greenhouse gas emissions. COP21 is a critical time for leaders to act to ensure that we curb emissions in time to stay within a global temperature rise of less than 2 degrees Celsius or less. Anything more and we approach many tipping points. Wherever you are from get your leaders to stop blocking climate mitigation measures. The Arctic and the global climate system are long-term assets. (You can check your country’s 2014 climate change record according to the Climate Change Performance Index from the Climate Action Network Europe).
- Do your own low-carbon thing. Reduce emissions wherever possible. Gandhi said ‘be the change you want to see in the world’. There is no better time than now to put that into action. Fly or drive less, buy green energy, turn your gadgets off rather than on standby, eat less meat and try slow food, the list goes on and on. Choose five things and build your own carbon reduction plan now.
- Support companies and politicians who are leading the charge towards a new low-carbon future. A growing group of progressive companies and mayors have recognized that the future has got to be low carbon.
- Keep it in the ground. It’s a brutal irony that melting sea ice – caused by CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning – is making Arctic oil that much easier to access and drill. Yet estimates suggest that to keep the Earth within a safe 2C level of warming, we have to keep much of the oil and gas reserves in the ground. This also applies to Arctic oil.
3. GET GLOBAL LEADERS TO CONVENE
Saving Arctic ice is a complicated ask. It is not a job only for Arctic countries, because what happens in the Arctic, doesn’t stay there. So we need global leaders from many countries – particularly an alliance between the most polluting countries and those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change – to convene with industry and civil-society leaders to develop innovative, systemic solutions along with Arctic scientists working on the frontline.
A celebrity advocate or two wouldn’t hurt either. But seriously, given the global economic risks of Arctic change, a Polar “information” base camp at a world gathering such as Davos would be a good place to start an innovative and impartial public-private discussion on how to mitigate Arctic risks and start the ball rolling for implementing solutions and educating the masses as to what we all need to do.