Arctic Ice, Arizona, and I am the Walrus

WalrusIt has been widely reported this year that the Arctic ice melt this summer was the largest on record. Particularly alarming is the speed with which the ice is melting – much faster than climate models have predicted – and that it is not only “seasonal” ice but the permanent ice cover that is shrinking.  

It is still too early to know with certainty the full effects the rapidly disappearing ice will have on climate and the environment, but here are some anecdotal events that portend serious consequences:

  • The Northwest passage has opened up for the first time, well, ever (at least as far as recorded history goes). Never ones to miss an opportunity, many nations are staking their claim. Resource exploitation, and further environmental degradation, is likely to expand with the shrinking ice.
  • The U.S. southwest, including California, Arizona, and Nevada, are experiencing ongoing drought and serious water shortages. Many scientists hypothesize that weather patterns are altered as the ice disappears. The climate models predicted this would happen in the coming decades. Oops, I guess the climate models are wrong. It appears to be happening right now.
  • It was reported over the weekend that thousands of walrus have appeared along Alaska’s northwest coast; which is unusual since they normally spend their time, especially breeding females, on the ice pack. Oh, that’s right, the ice pack is vanishing. Since the sea ice is now much farther north than it usually is, the animals can no longer use the ice as a platform to feed on the clams, snails and other bottom feeders found off the outer continental shelf. Instead, the walrus have gone to Alaska’s beaches, making feeding more difficult and endangering younger animals with trampling when spooked herds are panicked by passing planes, boats, or polar bears (who are themselves endangered by the disappearing Arctic ice).

Many fear that the alarmingly rapid retreat of Arctic ice is already past a tipping point and can’t be reversed no matter what we might think we can do to stop it. Given the swift retreat of the ice and the glacial pace with which we are dealing with climate change, that seems, to me, as a given.

Perhaps “glacial pace” wasn’t the right phrase to use – they’re shrinking along with Arctic ice.

It’s right in front of us, and moving fast. But let’s not rush into anything. After all, with the Northwest Passage opening up for shipping, perhaps I can get my beach ball (made in China) for these arid California summers.

Anyway, I’ve changed all my lightbulbs. What more can a person do?

I wonder what it will take to spur the kind of action required to deal effectively with climate change, and how many “tipping points” will have already been passed by the time we get there.



Tags: arctic+ice, north+pole, northwest+passage, walrus, climate+change, global+warming
Thomas Schueneman
Thomas Schueneman
Tom is the founder and managing editor of and the PlanetWatch Group. His work appears in Triple Pundit, Slate, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, Earth911, and several other sustainability-focused publications. Tom is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

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