Global Warming in the Arctic

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3)

Where’s the Ice? [The Cats Jungle / Flickr]

The New Year in the depth of winter seems like a good time to look north and make some resolutions about how to deal with the rapid warming in one of the world’s iciest places: the Arctic.

Many of us are only slowly waking up to the fact that global warming is going to have real impacts on our daily lives — Hurricane Katrina may have been one warning — but in the far north it’s already a startling reality. The Arctic is the proverbial canary in the climate-change coal mine. And that canary isn’t looking very healthy to many Arctic residents whose subsistence hunting lifestyles are already threatened or compromised by dramatically changed weather and unpredictable ice.

Here are some of the things we’d like to ask this hour: How will the Arctic nations divide up control over the Arctic “pie” — which, surprisingly, has not yet officially happened? What new kinds of commerce will exist if the ice opens up — as it’s soon predicted to do — during the summer months? New shipping routes? New or shifted fishing grounds? Ironically (given that fossil fuels produce much of the carbon dioxide that causes global warming) the Arctic contains about 1/4 of the world’s untapped oil & gas resources. Under thick cover of ice, these were hard to exploit and transport — but the melt opens up huge new opportunities that underscore the building political tensions and business interests.

What do you want to know?

Eric Larsen

Member of the One World Expedition team that attempted to ski and canoe across the Arctic Ocean last summer — to collect data and raise awareness of global warming.

Dog musher, white-water canoe guide, and environmental educator.

Jim McCarthy

Professor of biological oceanography at Harvard University.

A leader in the international effort to tackle global warming — co-chaired a Working Group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Robert Corell

Chair of the 2004 Arctic Climate Impact Assessment.

Oceanographer and former Assistant Director for Geosciences at the National Science Foundation.

Deborah Williams

President of Alaska Conservation Solutions.

Former executive director of the Alaska Conservation Foundation.

Extra-Credit Reading

Three pieces (first, second, and third) from Andrew Revkin’s dogged reporting in the New York Times.

The 2004 Arctic Climate Impact Assessment that involved all 8 Arctic nations (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Iceland, and the US).

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  • Nikos

    Is it possible for the Arctic region peoples impacted by global warming to sue the governments that refuse to impose curbs on their nations’ carbon emissions? Does the world have any legal system that might allow such litigation? Or do you have to be signed into a treaty system like Kyoto or the Hague’s World Court to be subject to such action?

  • John

    1. when will we know it is too late to reverse the degradation in the arctic? will there simply be a sudden flip and conditions cascade from benign to tragic suddenly? the world doesnt seem to act until there is a crisis…but will any dramatic action in this case be too much too late?

    2. if 30% of drivers suddenly switched to hybrid vehicles in the next 5 years…would that make much of a difference? how do we measure net impacts…and determine which solutions really work in the short term?

  • SputnikLee

    Is this an unalloyed curse? Will not the latitudinal belt of land viable for agriculture shift northward in Canada, Alaska and Russia? The Northern Sea Route could become a better way to ship cargo (it would shave thousands of miles off of the competing sea route from Europe to Asia, through the Suez Canal).


  • bevt

    bev t says: Exxon Mobile is spending upwards of $8 million dollars to fund the right wing skeptics of the American Enterprise Institute and other right wing think tanks. Their goal: To cast dispursion on important research that has been done on global warming, and also, I suspect, to celebrate the new energy extraction possibilities that exist. When will these think tanks and corporations be exposed for the false information that they pander to the likes of Fox News? Isn’t it dangerous to be so political about such earth changing signs?

  • joel

    The only way 30% of drivers could make any difference in anything would be to die and that difference would be insignificant. A significant difference might be achievable if 95% of them died.

    For the short term solutions, the Inuit, Chuckchi, Aleuts, Sami and etc should claim the 60th parallel of latitude, dipping south of the Aleutian Islands by 200 miles or so, a national border of the North Circumpolar Nation, declare the Bering Sea and all waters north of 60 deg. N. a marine sanctuary under N. C. Nation soverienty and not allow any shipping in excess to 200 gross tons nor exploitation of resources without explicit permission of the citizenry of the N.C. Nation. Then the Global Empire will declare them evil enemies, practice a period of genetic cleansing and, POOOFF, no more problem, the Global Empire being then free to slit their own throats as they seem bent on doing.

  • Potter

    Excellent program! This is just the kind of reporting and expert opinion we need to make the point.

    Beneficial? Maybe for awhile in certain ways but the overall picture, trajectory and possibility of this warming snowballing before we have a chance to figure out how to deal, if we can, is not something to celebrate.

    Please again on this….

  • elevine

    That was a great program, although it was also very depressing.

    As to whether we should look for the silver lining: the benefits to northern lattitudes will have to be measured against the costs to people who are living in negatively impacted areas. Aside from the queston of how Canadians and Russians will feel about mass migrations from Indonesia and Africa and southern California, I’m not sure how the people from those places will feel about moving north. I’m also not sure that the vast numbers of people living on the continental edge will be happy about having to pick up whole communities and move inland.

    As for increasngly severe storms, frequent droughts and wildfires, coastal erosion, subsidence of permafrost and tundra, well, what’s a little aggravation when we have a new route for the oil tankers to use

    Great show!


  • John B

    The program was absolutely mind-boggling. As a teacher…I have seen a “flood” of “corporate sponsored” curriculum that debunks climate change enter our schools. From the folks at the “Greening Earth Society” to the American Petroleum Institute teaming up with Project Learning Tree…our kids are being fed a bunch of misinformation.

    Every high school kid and their teachers should listen to this program. Talk of economic benefits of climate change is outrageous. The rate of change seen in Alaska is moving at a pace that many species and ecosystems simply cannot adapt. That is the key….the data on this program highlights the myth of “environment versus economy.” Without a relatively stable, functioning global ecosystem…economic systems will collapse like a house of cards.’

    Thanks so much for this data and program. John F. Borowski (environmental science teacher of 25 years)

  • joel

    It is a little hard to understand why the tone of remarks in this blog is as if something new is under consideration. It seems impossible that people who can go on for month after month doing absolutely nothing but talk, talk, talk about the politics of governments corrupt to the core, while they go on supporting them, are so enraptured with such a waste of time that they are not aware of truly important phenomena such as the irresponsible behavior of this and other “civilized” societies as if their collective heads were stuck in the sand regarding the incredible PHYSICAL and BIOLOGICAL changes that have been occurring ALL OVER THE WORLD for MOST OF THEIR LIVES. That the physical changes occurring in the arctic seems to be only now instigating an enlightenment is astounding. That the name Shishmaref, among hundreds of other places in the arctic alone whose existance has been threatened for decades, is apparently unknown to these same people giving George Bush the megadoses of publicity that he and others like him thrive on instead of ingnoring him publically while making sure their representatives see that he does what they call for, is absolutely disgraceful. And the arctic is only one of dozens of similarly sized areas of this world undergoing comparably sized and similarly significant changes. Wake up people and look around at something worth your notice. Forget the power mongers for a while. Just starve them out. Put your concern where it is a little more deserved.


  • kemole

    This what I know for sure two of my frends in Barrow have had their houses tip over and become uninhabatable becauce the Perma-frost under them has melted and the foundations have gone away. That is the bottom line as far as I can see.


  • A little yellow bird

    Luckily (?) for us, the government is doing something about this (oh no…). There is a massive weather-modification project going on… Check out “Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025” (an air force proposal) . Also see US Senate bill # s517: “To establish the Weather Modification Operations and Research Board” introduced by Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) on 3/3/05 ; and begin to learn about “chemtrails” here: . You may want to go to the photo-sharing site and search photos tagged “chemtrails”–or just turn off the cathode-ray masses-controller and walk and look at the skies for a couple of months. Sweet nightmares! Cheers!

  • A little yellow bird

    D’OH! Forgot another significant weather-mod thingumabob the Feddle Gummint is, uh, helping us with: the HAARP project in Alaska: OK, back to tea.

  • So things are changing. Don’t they always?

    Warmth should mean more evaporation from the oceans, and more fresh water precipitating on land. More warmth and fresh water is a boon to poorer people living in many areas (outside the artificial ecosystems of large cities). Poke around randomly with Google Earth and you will find wast tracts of dry, uninhabited land. Is losing a condo on the beach more important than farmers better able to provide more for their families in marginal areas?

    Be careful with your assumptions – is change a boon or bane?

    We have a short period of direct observations (a hundred years is very, very short in this domain) that track CO2 levels and temperature change. Pretty interesting stuff, and I’d bet there is a good chance they are related.

    On the other hand, we should NOT assume that climate is constant over the age of the Earth. We should assume that climate is always changing. So how was climate changing before human interference?

    In the past the Earth has been both much warmer and much cooler than the present. We should not assume the last century’s weather was “normal” and how things should always be.

    Given that there are vast, poorly understood natural processes that effect climate, I would be more than a little hesitant about coming to any sort of iron-clad conclusion. It seems that the Earth’s climate was warming when human interference was much less. All we need is some natural process that went non-linear, and the human contribution could turn out to be insignificant.

    Add to this the noise from political and economic interests. Much science is getting funded based on the expected results. How distorted are the results?

  • avecfrites

    It doesn’t matter if the world would theoretically be better off if things were warmer. What matters is that sudden change of any type is bad. This is because, over hundreds or thousands of years, people have optimized their manner of living for a set of weather conditions. Any change makes things sub-optimal. People who like a certain type of climate will now have to move to maintain their climate. Business located near desirable weather conditions (shipping companies, ski resorts, farmers, tourism, more than you’d think) would now be located in the wrong place.

    The correct question is not warming versus not-warming. It is stability versus instability. How can one defend increasing weather instability?

    And average temperatures don’t mean much. If summers are hotter and winters are colder, the average might not change. But the extremes are much worse.

    The eco folks who coined the phrase “global warming” cost themselves two decades of progress by choosing the wrong phrase. They should have used something more like “global weather instability” or “extreme weather”.

  • jc

    Sheeeshh, bird…. There goes the neighborhood