As 2020 begins, news from the Arctic offers scant environmental hope
Wednesday, January 01, 2020
The late 2019 Madrid U.N. Climate Summit didn’t offer much in the way of good news regarding international consensus on climate goals. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has also produced its annual report on the Arctic that does not bode well for the future, as a major climate date, the year 2020, is now here.
There's perhaps no better litmus test for climate health than Arctic ice, which is melting at a pace that not only concerns scientists and climate change activists.
While NOAA is still recovering its reputation from the Alabama map debacle that called attention to the politics of hurricane zone relief and NOAA funding, the 14th annual Arctic Report Card reminds us that if the NOAA sticks to what it's good at, then the vast government agency can be of some use in data collecting.
The word from the report is that the reindeer hooves this past holiday season will have only hit 1.2% of old ice cover that has receded from 33% in 1985. As ice melts, sea temperatures are changing to the tune of 1.7 degrees Celsius warmer than the average temperature from 1982-2010.
Everything in the Arctic is connected, which reminds us of the massive disruption melting ice can have on the entire Arctic ecosystem. If you haven't heard of primary production, you are now: this is the process by which ice algae grows phytoplankton to supply the food chain nutrients.
Melting ice and warming waters disrupt the food chain. The eastern portion of the Bering Sea provides the U.S. with 40% of its fish and shellfish supply, so this will become a greater issue for those concerned with the range of fishing industry livelihoods — especially indigenous subsistence — threatened by these changes.
The Arctic is melting at a much faster rate than human institutions can track or rectify: “Greenland has lost nearly 4 trillion tons of ice since 1992.” This is unhappy news as 2020 begins.
Here’s hoping that this year, which has served as an important goal post year for state-based climate initiatives — with California arriving to emissions reduction goals well ahead of schedule — offers a silver lining on the climate change cloud. One lining is that Congress can pass legislation to save the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) from drilling.
Porcupine caribou migrating to ANWR are not only hitting softer ground this coming Spring, but it’s a ground that could be further compromised by an upcoming lease sale opening the Refuge to drilling. In September, the House passed H.R. 1146, the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act, which is now caught up in the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, awaiting action.
This legislation saves ANWR from its status as a land sacrifice in the 2017 Tax Bill to its pristine state as internationally and tribally significant Gwich’in territory serving as caribou calving grounds and polar bear, moose, musk oxen, migratory bird, wolverine, wolf, walrus and nearby whale habitat. The Arctic animal story is legendary.
Just after the H.R. 1146 passed the House, the Senate introduced S. 2461: Arctic Refuge Protection Act of 2019, which designates the 1,559,538 acres of ANWR’s lease-targeted Coastal Plain as wilderness.
The Senate now has its hands full of responsibility for addressing ANWR’s drilling status. Drilling skepticism is now coming from many sectors — even financial. The Gwich’in Steering Committee successfully pressed Goldman Sachs and Liberty Mutual to divest from some dirty energy projects like Arctic oil and new thermal coal. Meanwhile, JPMorgan Chase, although divested from private prisons, still invests in dirty energy.
Gwich’in subsistence, the iconic Porcupine Caribou, are going to need all the help they can get in the new decade.
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