by Alison Tsai
The rate at which the ice in the Arctic is melting has reached record levels this year, setting off numerous predictions, warnings and questions about the future. The ice that melted had an area the size of Canada and Alaska combined, causing the total Arctic ice expanse to dip below 1.4 million square miles, a drastic change from the 2.7 million square miles in 1972. This massive discrepancy is largely due to human activity and the burning of fossil fuels.
The shrinking ice mass has had several notable effects, including the reopening of the Northwest Passage. The use of this passage would be beneficiary to large companies, who would glean bigger savings from a shorter shipping route through the Arctic.
But without as much white ice reflecting the sun’s heat, temperatures will rise, causing an amount of global warming equivalent to twenty years of carbon dioxide emissions. The warming is also affecting the jet stream, in which greater fluctuations may cause more extreme climate conditions. Animals indigenous to the area, as well as native communities, are already being forced to adapt.
The retreating ice has also allowed more accessibility to the fossil fuel supply the Arctic holds. This opens the area up to major ecological damage in the case of leaks or explosions. Shell has already been granted permission to drill for oil in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas and is expected have a $10 billion profit. Shell has already experienced problems with its spill containment dome though, raising concerns that the risks outweigh the profits.
Coastal cities are at risk as well, as rising sea levels threaten to encroach on the land. Island nations such as Tuvalu are already considering evacuation plans.
Some have predicted the ice will have almost completely melted as soon as 2020. One report predicts that if the earth does not adjust to climate change, over one hundred million lives will be lost by 2030.
These dire forecasts have environmentalists and other experts in the field clamoring for reform and change in human behavior before it is too late. Any difference you can incorporate into your daily living to reduce your CO2 emission footprint will help, whether it is by consuming less red meat, opting for public transport, walking or biking, purchasing local produce, using alternative energy sources, or choosing any of the countless other options.
What changes will you make?