Every Summer, vast sheets of floating ice in the Arctic melt. And every Winter, those ice sheets re-form. But with climate change, fueled by greenhouse gas pollution, the annual cyclic has fallen out of balance. This summer, the ice left at the height of summer covered the third-lowest extent ever recorded. And this winter, the trend continued, with the maximum amount of ice for the season recorded March 7, at an extent that tied for a record-low with 2006.
Relative to an average year, there were 471,000 fewer square miles of ice. That's almost twice the size of Texas.
Few have ever visited the Arctic, or ever will. The changes there are remote, and it may be difficult to get exorcised over the loss of ice in a remote part of the world, when the effect on our daily lives seems insignificant. But the loss of Arctic ice is one of the clearest signs of the dramatic changes to our planet that we've already set in motion through our reliance on burning fossil fuels for energy. Other changes from increased drought in drought-prone areas of the world, including the Southwest U.S., to increased flooding damage from stronger storms are more real-and-present dangers that cost lives and money close to home. Those close-to-home changes, however, tend to feel less-closely tied to the planetary changes underway.
Further, the changes to the Arctic are happening faster than scientists had predicted even a few years ago. Changes close to home could well be more pronounced, and present themselves earlier than expected, too.
The latest data point one of many consistent indicators of the reality of global warming arrives at a time when the U.S. Congress is particularly hostile to federal action to address climate change. Both houses have introduced legislation that would prevent Environmental Protection Agency plans to regulate carbon dioxide from major sources like power plants, and neither house appears to have the political will to pass laws aimed at curbing greenhouse gas pollution on a broader scale. Meanwhile, states and localities, which had led efforts to find solutions to global warming, are so cash-strapped that some have taken steps like raiding funds dedicated for energy efficiency improvements.
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