Of all the evidence implicating Man's deleterious impact on the climate of the Earth, few (if any) are more unequivocal than the goings-on in the farthest reaches of the North Hemisphere, the Arctic. As the boreal summer of 2008 fades, even a brief survey of the region reveals the extent of the damage and the depth of humankind's folly...
Arctic sea ice reached it's second lowest areal extent (since 1979), and by volume its lowest level ever this past summer. Rapid sea ice loss may accelerate the melting of the permafrost, which contains more carbon than initially thought.
The northern part of the Greenland ice sheet experienced extreme snowmelt... with large portions of the area subject to record melting days. Melting in northern Greenland lasted up to 18 days longer than previous maximum values.
Most glaciers in every mountain range and island group in Alaska are experiencing significant retreat, thinning or stagnation, especially glaciers at lower elevations.
The Arctic region in general has been getting increasingly stormier since 1950, presumably part of the anthropogenically-induced climate instability we've been experiencing in recent years.
Icelandic glaciers are also melting rapidly, and the rate is projected to increase. Iceland also saw its record high temperature earlier in the summer. (See also this story regarding an Icelandic dust storm associated with the remnants of Hurricane Ike is also interesting...)
While some degree of benefit may be felt by a few segments of society in these regions (see also the Iceland video linked above...), the consequences of climate change are dire for most—both locally and globally. Polar bears are becoming increasingly endangered, as their primary habitat disappears during the summer. Some may shrug their shoulders and say 'So what?', but they fail to realize the danger. The impact of a damaged segment of the Earth system isn't necessarily localized, but rather cascades through the different interlocking 'spheres'. For example, the loss of aquatic sea otters in Alaska has effects on the terrestrial eco-system.
The final result of this ecological damage to the Arctic is ultimately unpredictable, and quite likely to be global. But it most likely won't be positive. But the prospects of the radical changes to our world needed to avert this slow-motion catastrophe don't appear to be forthcoming. Nothing will be done until it is too late. We could save the planet if we wanted, but we're too damn cheap!*
And all this gives me the blues. The Arctic Summer Blues to be exact. Imagine the music of your favorite 12-bar blues rock song ('Red House' by Jimi Hendrix is a good one...) and sing along:
The polar ice is melting...
and its getting more stormy too!
The glaciers are retreating...
as the permafrost turns to goo!
There's only one thing to do for sure...
Stop emitting CO2!!**
Image: Science Daily. Muir glacier: August 1941, August 1950 and August 2004.
*This sentence paraphrased from 'Hocus Pocus' by Kurt Vonnegut.