Climate Crisis

3 ways you can save the Arctic ice

Gail Whiteman
Professor of Sustainability, University of Exeter Business School, University of Exeter
Jeremy Wilkinson
Sea Ice Physicist, British Antarctic Survey
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Climate Crisis

In 2007, acclaimed US scientist Mark Serreze announced that the Arctic summer sea ice had reached an ominous low. Summing up the science, he concluded: “The Arctic is screaming.” In 2012, the September minimum fell even further; 2015 fits within this long-term downward trend.

If the Arctic is screaming, it’s hard for most of us to hear. Despite the social, environmental and economic opportunities and risks, the world blithely ignores the sound of Arctic change.

Here are three things you can do:

1. Pay more attention

What we measure, we value. Research shows that the things we monitor, we care more about and try to adapt our behaviour. Just like fitness geeks who train harder when they have an app that monitors their daily lifestyle, Arctic change can be monitored on a daily basis by satellite, with publicly available data (if you know where to look). While not yet compiled into a user-friendly app (hello Indigogo?), the National Snow and Ice Data Center provides regular updates. Blog wesbites like the Arctic Sea Ice Forum also track more informal yet technical discussions. Arctic sea ice is a barometer for the health of the global environment.

Just like Earth Overshoot Day, which tracks the day that the consumption of resources overshoots its annual renewal rate, the September minimum of Arctic summer sea ice should be a date we mark outside the Arctic Circle.

2. Demand action

Watching the ice melt more closely won’t make it melt any slower on its own. Cumulative emissions of CO2 are the main culprit driving the melting of Arctic summer sea ice. The only way to help save Arctic ice is to demand action – from yourself, your city, your country and from the companies that make all the goods and services you consume.

The Earth has a finite climate boundary that supports life as we know it. Scientists estimate that we have already used up more than half of the planet’s carbon budget, so we need to reduce our emissions fast. How do we do this?

  • Support meaningful climate action in Paris this December: From 30 November to 11 December, world political leaders convene in the city to agree on the next global framework for greenhouse gas emissions. COP21 is a critical time for leaders to act to ensure that we curb emissions in time to stay within a global temperature rise of less than 2 degrees Celsius or less. Anything more and we approach many tipping points. And if you’re Canadian, Australian or a US Republican – get your leaders to stop blocking climate mitigation measures. The Arctic and the global climate system are long-term assets. (You can check your country’s 2014 climate change record according to the Climate Change Performance Index from the Climate Action Network Europe and Germanwatch.)
  • Do your own low-carbon thing. Reduce emissions wherever possible. Gandhi said: be the change you want to see in the world. There is no better time than now to put that into action. Fly or drive less, buy green energy, turn your gadgets off rather than on standby, eat less meat and try slow food, the list goes on and on. Choose five things and build your own carbon reduction plan now.
  • Support companies and politicians who are leading the charge towards a new low-carbon future. A growing group of progressive companies and mayors have recognized that the future has got to be low carbon. Check out who they are here.
  • Keep it in the ground. It’s a brutal irony that melting sea ice – caused by CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning – is making Arctic oil that much easier to access and drill. Yet estimates suggest that to keep the Earth within a safe 2C level of warming, we have to keep much of the oil and gas reserves in the ground. This also applies to Arctic oil.

3. Get global leaders to convene

Saving Arctic ice is a complicated ask. It is not a job only for Arctic countries, because what happens in the Arctic, doesn’t stay there. So we need global leaders from many countries – particularly an alliance between the most polluting countries and those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change – to convene with industry and civil-society leaders to develop innovative, systemic solutions along with Arctic scientists working on the frontline. A celebrity advocate or two wouldn’t hurt either.

But seriously, given the global economic risks of Arctic change, a Polar “information” base camp at Davos would be a good place to start an innovative and impartial public-private discussion on how to mitigate Arctic risks.

This blog is part of a four-part series in which we discuss how Arctic summer sea ice affects our global economy, our lifestyles and the Earth’s ecosystem. We also sketch out reasons to be hopeful.

Other blogs in this series
3 industries that will be hit by Arctic change
6 charts to help you become an Arctic ice expert
5 reasons to care about Arctic summer sea ice

Authors: Professor Gail Whiteman (@GenerationCO2) is the new Chair of the Pentland Centre for Sustainability in Business at Lancaster University; and Dr Jeremy Wilkinson (@ICEARCEU), from British Antarctic Survey. They are working on the European Union’s Ice, Climate, Economics – Arctic Research on Change project.

Image: Sunlight shines just after midnight on a fjord near the Norwegian Arctic town of Longyearbyen. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

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