The seasonal melting of Arctic sea ice this summer -- which started at a frightening pace that seemed likely to break the record melt of 2007 -- has slowed, and a new record is unlikely this year, according to federal scientists.
But don't be fooled by the headline: The Arctic is still under extreme stress from global warming. The melting of 2009 is likely to produce an Arctic with more ice than was recorded in 2007 or 2008, but with far less than the average over the previous 30 years.
The scale of these measurements is staggering. At this point in 2007, there were 370,000 fewer square miles (Texas + Colorado) of ice recorded than in 2009 -- but 530,000 fewer square miles (Texas + Colorado + California) than average. There's still a month or so left in the melt season, and we'll probably see another state or two's worth of open water by mid-September. In August 2009, the rate of ice loss has equaled about a New York (54,000 square miles) a day; in 2008 it was a Minnesota (plus a Connecticut -- 91,000 square miles) a day, and in 2007 a Utah (84,000 square miles) a day.
The rate of ice loss has slowed in August 2009, as compared to either previous year and as compared to July 2009, primarily because of a shift in wind patterns, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Though there is variation from year to year, the long-term trend is still of dramatic decline in sea ice extent.
A team of Obama Administration science advisers just visited Alaska to learn about Arctic issues first-hand, presumably to build up knowledge that will inform the ongoing debate about how to tackle global warming. The House passed a landmark cap-and-trade regulation for carbon dioxide pushed by President Obama, but the Senate has yet to debate the issue.
The lull in the debate has not stopped the lobbyists or pressure groups. More than 1,000 lobbyists are signed up to pressure Congress on energy policy, and the oil industry has recently launched an astroturf effort (that is, a highly manufactured top-down faux-grassroots effort) to use masses of people to influence the debate. (In AstroTurf, the playing field, news ... California just won a concession from the makers of the synthetic fields that will see them rip up and replace acres and acres of playing fields that are contaminated with lead.)
The oil industry, the coal industry and other highly polluting industries, are fighting climate legislation hard -- if subtly, at times -- because they have a lot to lose. Profits, and jobs, will be lost in fossil fuel industries as the nation transitions to cleaner forms of energy. There's no doubt about that. But overall, the country should see an increase in jobs supporting clean, green energy. Ohio, one of the key manufacturing states, and a state heavily reliant on the oil-reliant car industry, can revitalize its economy only through investments in clean energy, according to a recent analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
The melting Arctic is a reminder that global warming is a real and present danger. The exposing of heavily funded interest groups posing as grassroots activists is a reminder to check the facts, check your sources and make decisions about energy policy based on science and the best interests of not only this generation, but future generations.
As the Arctic goes, so will the rest of the world -- eventually. That's the bottom line. The changes we're witnessing in the Arctic -- their scale, their consequences for Arctic wildlife like the polar bear and walrus, and their tendency to reinforce warming trends -- are leading-edge indicators of what we can expect worldwide. Not only because the Arctic is the world's "air conditioner," as is often said, but because it's just a little more sensitive than other regions to temperature change.
What can you do? You can start by joining The Daily Green's carbon rally team, and pledging to do your part to reduce your carbon footprint. You can also start with these 15 resolutions anyone can do, courtesy of The Daily Green's partner, the Natural Resources Defense Council.
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