For the second year running, melting of the sea ice in the Arctic is at record levels. Manmade climate change is causing the ice area to fall and the ice depth to thin.
Scientists predicted just a few years ago that the North Pole would be ice free in summer – but not until 2070. The current loss of summer ice suggests it could be much sooner.
Once summer sea ice disappears, the Arctic will warm even faster – a “feedback” effect as white reflective ice is replaced by dark absorbing ocean.
Whilst melting sea ice does not raise sea levels, melting land ice does. The biggest threat is the isolation of Greenland. Surrounded by warming ice-free seas in summer, the land based ice cap will melt faster. If the Greenland ice cap were to go completely, global sea levels would rise about 20 feet.
The melting of the Greenland ice cap would place East Anglia increasingly at risk from major coastal flooding – both short term storm surges and longer term steady sea level rise. Whilst it might be possible to defend larger towns for some time, many smaller communities, and large areas of agricultural land would fall to the advancing sea more quickly.
Already, there has been some “managed retreat” in East Anglia, and reports of plans for larger retreats. But a rapid melting of Greenland would make all that has happened to date seem trivial. No-one knows how fast the a full melt of Greenland would take (it might be as much as centuries), but even a partial melting would threaten many vulnerable parts of East Anglia at or below sea level, including the coastal strip of Essex, the Fens and the Broads. Even Norwich’s Carrow Road football ground is just 2 metres above current sea levels.
Increasing frequency of storms and extreme rain events are also a warning sign of climate change. As New Orleans is battered by its second hurricane in just 3 years – they haven’t even had time to make all the repairs from the last one! (Is this what the future holds? An increased level of disasters such that we never get back to full normality / to where we were before the disasters hit?) – and flooding events increase worldwide, increasing numbers of people are being hit directly by dangerous climate change impacts – largely caused by accelerating carbon emissions.
These events are warning ells for East Anglia and that urgent action is needed to cut carbon emissions by moving to a green economy based on energy efficiency, renewables and local economic development, not more globalisation.
These events are nature’s way of warning us that we have to radically change direction, and soon. If we don’t take the measures required to deliver a stable liveable climate, then the future outlook for low-lying areas such as East Anglia is grim indeed.
Everyone knows what needs to be done and we keep hearing all the right noises from the corridors of power. But no action. Whilst the Government says it does take climate change seriously, it presses on with plans for a second runway at Stansted, more major road building, a fleet of waste incinerators, even bigger container ports, and so on. These policies are simply incompatible with the big cuts in carbon emissions required.
New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin ordered the city emptied in the face of what he called “the storm of the century.” [http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2008-08-31-gustav-sunday_N.htm ] But there was already a ‘storm of the century’ in the same city, just three years ago. Climate chaos is becoming the norm. It’s important enough, so I’ll say it again:
The clean-up and rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina is still not finished — and now it is getting wrecked again… If manmade climate change is not brought under control, then this may be the new norm: that repairs from the last deadly storm never get fully-made. And over time, if global-temperature-rise is not brought under control, then we will start to get more hurricanes in Britain (We are already experiencing more tornados than was the case 50 years ago).
Thankfully, Gustav seems to be turning out a lot less catastrophic than was feared. But it has still killed, and is still immensely damaging. Right now, my thoughts are with the people of Haiti, the Dominican Republica, Cuba, Mississippi and Louisiana, who have suffered from or are suffering from this deadly storm. But if they and all of us are to be helped, then what is needed is clear: Green Party policies need to be introduced, here and worldwide (via our sister Green Parties and the broader Green movement). A seismic shift is needed in our polities. Only the Greens can be trusted to be serious and to deliver on this most important of all issues…