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The Business of Green

Money matters in the green world, by Leon Gettler.

Melting ice: Earth's white flag


Credit: sxc.hu

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The melting ice is a warning signal from a planet under atmospheric attack mounted by humanity. The melting of the Arctic will affect everyone around the world, including Australia.

Environment reporter Adam Morton tells us that American and Chinese scientists have found that the melting ice in the Arctic has led to record snow dumps and freezing winters in the northern hemisphere.

It is estimated that estimated that about half of the ice loss between 1979 and 2005 has been caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

“US National Snow and Ice Data Centre director Mark Serreze has said that reports and aircraft reconnaissance indicated the recent summer sea ice levels were the lowest since 1900. Analyses of ancient material have suggested it was likely to be at the lowest level since the end of the last glacial period about 8000 years ago. The Arctic was ice free in the interglacial period about 125,000 years ago.”

Writing in The Conversation, Carlos Duarte, the director of the Oceans Institute at the University of Western Australia, says we are reaching a tipping point. The melting Arctic and its impact will be felt right around the world.

“Research shows that the Arctic is now warming at three times the global average.” Duarte writes. “The loss of Arctic summer sea-ice forecast over the next four decades – if not before – is expected to have abrupt knock-on effects in northern mid-latitudes, including Beijing, Tokyo, London, Moscow, Berlin and New York.”
He says the meltdown needs to be managed. There are some economic positives, but there are lots of negatives too. Like, for example, the extinction of species – such as polar bears, walruses, ice-dependent seals and more than 1000 species of ice algae. Not to mention the knock on effects for economies around the world.

“Of course there are those who benefit from a warmer Arctic,’’ he writes. “A drop in Arctic ice has opened new shipping routes, expanded oil, gas, and mineral exploitation, increased military and research use, and led to new harbours, houses, roads, airports, power stations and other support facilities."

“It has triggered a new gold rush to access these resources, with recent struggles by China, Brazil and India to join the Arctic Council where the split of these resources is being discussed. Not everyone is in favour of reducing the impact of warming on Arctic ice.

“But all of us need to take this melting seriously. Top predators such as polar bears are declining. More methane gas is entering the atmosphere as permafrosts and submarine methane hydrates thaw. Freshwater discharge has increased 30 per cent in recent years. And the Arctic Sea is warming faster as the ice cap melts, trapping more solar heat instead of reflecting it back into space, since ice reflects about 90 per cent of the indecent solar radiation compared to the absorption of 60 per cent of solar radiation by an open ocean surface devoid of ice.”

“In the subarctic region, dieback of the boreal forest and desiccation of peat deposits is leading to uncontrolled peat fires (such as those that plagued Russia in the summer of 2010) increases with warmer weather. This burning will further enhance greenhouse gas emissions."

“We expect the Arctic will switch from being a carbon dioxide sink to become instead a source of greenhouse gases if seawater temperatures rise 4-5°C.”

As reported here, it will affect Australian ports and shipping. And the streets of many current coastal cities would be underwater.

Low-lying countries, like for example Indonesia, could become almost entirely submerged. Flooding also could cover much farmland and affect the world's food supply.

It’s a problem we need to start managing now. For sure there will be economic benefits for some, like the opening of new shipping routes and opportunities for minerals exploration. The rest of the world might pay the cost.