Climate Change

Lessons from a Changing Arctic

By Ben Bull
Published November 18, 2007

Some interesting insights in the Toronto Star's Arctic series this weekend.

In part 1 of the series, Atkinson Fellow Ed Struzik tells the story of how a frozen tree trunk led Artic scientists to build a picture of the North Pole as a balmy swamp, "filled with royal ferns and cypress that flourished downstream from pine, spruce and walnut trees."

The High Arctic, Basinger (an Arctic scientist) concluded, was once as warm and lush as the Carolinian forests of Georgia in the United States are today.

Struzik goes on to recount other notable discoveries in the North, and to contemplate the fate of the Arctic today:

In the next 15 to 60 years, (scientists are) predicting, most of the Arctic will be free of summer ice just as it was one million years ago... When that occurs, the polar world could be beyond the 'tipping point'.

The climate change that killed the primitive rhinoceros, scimitar cats and American camels could be equally devastating to current species, even if this time the Arctic is warming once again, not cooling.

As for what this all means, Struzik quotes Mark Serreze, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Col.

"The rest of the world will be in for a few surprises," predicts Serreze. "What happens in the Arctic matters to the rest of the world. If we ignore what's going on, it's going to bite us down here, and it's going to bite us hard."

As for what to do about it, Struzik makes his own conclusions:

Reducing greenhouse gases is one solution because it's accepted that carbon dioxide, and other greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity, are a big driver of the warming. But even if world leaders muster the will to do something meaningful in the coming years, it will take a century or more to stop or even slow the warming that is already melting the polar world.

Many think that adaptation is the key. Not only do governments like Canada's have to control emissions, they need to develop strategies that will mitigate, exploit and help communities and ecosystems adjust to the changes that are coming. A new environmental state requires a new way of managing it.

Reduction and Adaptation. Given the growing consensus that planet earth is either close to or past the tipping point of environmental collapse, or the depressing conclusion that even if we're not, there's nothing we are wiling or able to do about it, these are two themes we are likely to hear a lot more about.

Other reading: Chris Hume on why we need another oil catastrophe to shake us into action.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.


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