No Arctic Ice By 2013 (or, time to paint your roof white)

I was reading the current issue of Orion last night. One article in particular really rang some bells for me. The article is called Snap Into Action For The Climate. The comment thread over there is pretty interesting, too.

As I read it, the point of the essay is that climate change is happening faster than anyone predicted. It’s quite possible that arctic ice will be gone within five years, and there is utterly nothing humankind can do to slow or reverse that trend. The feedback loops are in play, and are compounding one another. The outcome isn’t contested, just the timing and the consequences of the outcome.

From the article:

Actually it’s the so-called feedback loops that have tripped up scientists so badly, causing the experts to wildly misjudge the speed of the climate crash. Having never witnessed a planet overheat before, no one quite anticipated the geometric rate of change. To cite one example, when that brilliantly white Arctic ice melts to blue ocean, it takes with it a huge measure of solar reflectivity, which increases sunlight absorption and feeds more warmth back into the system, amplifying everything dramatically. And as northern forests across Canada continue to die en masse due to warming, they switch from being net absorbers of CO2 to net emitters when forest decomposition sets in. And as tundra melts all across Siberia, it releases long-buried methane, a greenhouse gas twenty times more powerful than even CO2. And so on and so on and so on. Like the ear-splitting shriek when a microphone gets too close to its amplifier, literally dozens of major feedback loops are screeching into place worldwide, all at the same

It’s important to note, as the essay does, just who is to blame: all of us…

But first, if there’s any good news surrounding the sudden and unexpected speed of global warming it is this: it’s nobody’s fault. New evidence shows that we were almost certainly locked into a course of violent climate snap well before we first fully understood the seriousness of global warming back in the 1980s. Even had we completely unplugged everything twenty years ago, the momentum of carbon dioxide buildup already occurring in the atmosphere clearly would have steered us toward the same disastrous results we’re seeing now.

What happens to Earth when there is no massive icecap to act as a giant Sun-reflector? How hot will the earth get? What reasonable options remain for humankind? In the comment section of the essay, I think many folks are either getting sidetracked about whether we can reverse climate change and/or what those options might be. The real question, in my mind, is much more local: how will this change impact the way I care for my family and community? Without an arctic icecap, what will Newberg, Oregon be like in 10 years? A town that’s been literally whitewashed in an effort to help the Earth’s reflectivity? A UV wasteland, unfit for habitation? Beyond that, what happens to poor nations without resources to get adequate food, let alone paint to cover their roofs?

And here we are in the middle of a Presidential election cycle. Where’s the debate over climate change? Who is taking a stand that makes a difference? I suspect that if there were significant differences between the three main candidates regarding climate change, we’d have heard them by now. As much as I like Obama, I’m utterly underwhelmed by his lack of vision in this arena. All three candidates are part of the system that just passed an initiative to establish a 35MPG initiative by 2020. Puhleeze. Where’s the vision in that? We’ll probably be crispy bits of carbon by then (is my doomsday showing?), but if cars are still around in 2020, they should be getting WAY more than 35MPG.

The whole thing leaves me wondering whether I should redouble my efforts to live more lightly upon the Earth, or just give up altogether. Does it even matter at this point whether I fly to Boise every month? Does it matter whether I drive a car or ride a bike to work? Whether we recycle our plastic and bring our own bags when we go to the grocery store to stock up on local, or organic, food?

In any event, if there’s still an Internet in five years, let’s come back to this post and see where we’re at.

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