Tuesday, November 9, 2004
NOT ONLY HAS it moved beyond the realm of science fiction, but the Arctic ice cap's melting has been much faster than anyone has suspected. That is one of the important conclusions of a report published yesterday at the behest of the Arctic Council, a forum composed of eight nations with Arctic territories, including the United States. Yet the report, produced over four years by several hundred scientists, government officials and indigenous groups, is not sensational or alarmist. It simply compiles the data, noting that because of long-term global warming, average winter temperatures in Alaska, western Canada and eastern Russia have increased by as much as seven degrees over the past 50 years. If the trend continues, about half of the Arctic sea ice is projected to melt by the end of this century.
The report describes some of the possible environmental effects of this change. Many northern animal species, including polar bears and seals, are likely to become extinct. Vegetation and animal migration patterns around the world will shift. Low-lying parts of the world, including Florida and coastal Louisiana, are likely to experience serious flooding. But although the report's scientific conclusions will be the subject of an international conference in Reykjavik, Iceland, this week, the authors intentionally do not offer specific recommendations, political or environmental, on how to halt or cope with these changes.
Such recommendations are supposed to come from diplomats and indigenous representatives who will also be meeting at the Reykjavik summit, however. And already, these are the subject of controversy: Some participants have accused the Bush administration of resisting a mild endorsement of the report and of rejecting even vague language suggesting that greenhouse gas reduction might be part of the solution. Given the thorough nature of this report, and given that the election is now over, that would be inexcusable. At the very least, we hope that the final language reflects a practical, commonsensical and depoliticized approach to what will certainly be one of the most pressing environmental issues of the next half-century.
For more on this subject:
Study Says Polar Bears Could Face Extinction
Global warming could cause polar bears to go extinct by the end of the century by eroding the sea ice that sustains them, according to the most comprehensive international assessment ever done of Arctic climate change.
Study: Arctic warming threatens people, wildlife
Eight-nation report faults fossil fuels; U.S. in wait-and-see mode
OSLO, Norway - Global warming is heating the Arctic almost twice as fast as the rest of the planet in a thaw that threatens the livelihoods of millions of people and could wipe out polar bears by 2100, according to an eight-nation report released on Monday...
President Bush has made clear he opposes mandatory curbs on gases like carbon dioxide, which create a greenhouse effect on Earth. Many scientists fear fossil fuel sources of CO2 and other gases are warming the Earth beyond the natural greenhouse effect.
Bush also pulled out of the U.N.’s 1997 protocol on global warming, arguing it was too expensive and exempted China, India and other rapidly developing nations.
The Arctic report is online at http://amap.no/acia/.