Arctic Voices

Arctic Gardens Ebook - Chapter Five: The Warming of Arctic North America

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Chapter Five: The Warming of Arctic North America

No geophysical phenomenon has emerged in recorded history with the potential to change life on planet Earth like global climate change. Now accepted to be caused substantially by human activity—principally the burning of fossil fuels to generate energy, and the deforestation of enormous areas of the planet to develop agriculture—global climate change is already creating economic, political, health, and social disruption, and will dramatically affect the web of life that supports humans and every other living organism on the planet. While society is still debating the specifics, it seems that the human inhabitants of the planet are slowly and reluctantly beginning to comprehend the reality that the Earth is warming, which leads broadly to climate change, with its potential adverse effects on life on the planet. According to the IPCC Fourth Synthesis Report (more later), while the vast preponderance of evidence (Bernstein et al., 2007, p. 30) states unequivocally that the planet is warming and that the warming is changing the Earth’s climate by changing the temperature, rainfall, wind circulation patterns, ice cover, sea levels, fire frequency, and ocean circulation—many do not understand and are still reluctant to accept the threat that climate change presents, with the inevitable changes to society required to mitigate and adjust to its effects. The concept of climate change is proving to be a tough sell for the average American. Scientists now have accurate measurements of temperature trends and levels of gases in the atmosphere and how those gases affect temperature. We now know what is happening, and why it is happening. The scientific method is the process that, over time, arrives at truths in our physical world. But the American population is anxious about losing jobs, and industry is adept at portraying measures to mitigate climate change as threats to one’s job. If you will read the following pages, you can arm yourself with the facts so that this society can arrive at the right answers before we cross thresholds from which we cannot return.

Background and Discussion of Climate Change:

Geologic time is measured in thousands, millions and billions of years. The Earth has gone through countless geologic eras where the climate warmed and cooled over periods of thousands or tens of thousands of years. But the increase in global temperatures in the last 150 years has no analog in the geologic record (Maislin, 2009, pp. 6-8). In that blink of the geological eye, the 12 warmest years on record have occurred in the last 13 years. As reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Summary for Policymakers, “Average Northern Hemisphere temperatures during the second half of the 20th century were very likely higher than during any other 50-year period in the last 500 years and likely the highest in at least the past 1300 years.” (Bernstein et al., 2007, p.2) (More about the IPCC later in this chapter.)

The smoking gun in this scary tale is the dramatic increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere over the past 200 years, coinciding with the start of the Industrial Revolution, the era where we humans learned that we could invent power machines to do work for us. Machines do the work, but require energy to do so. That source of energy has been plentiful fossil fuels, like coal and oil. Burning of fossil fuels has released enormous amounts of carbon dioxide and other complex molecules into the atmosphere where they trap heat from the sun, and prevent its radiation back into space.

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