What We Do to the Arctic, We Do to Ourselves

Earlier this week, extreme weather events read like the script of Hollywood blockbuster “The Day After Tomorrow.”

Police assist people on streets flooded by the Mapocho River in Santiago on April 17. Photo credit: nbcnews.com

Last Sunday, heavy rains battered northern Chile — three years worth of rainfall fell in 12 hours. Four million people in the capital city of Santiago had no drinking water. Landslides wreaked havoc, rivers breached banks and the world’s largest copper mine was shut down.

More than 70 horses at Cypress Stables in Harris County, Texas, were rescued from horrendous flood waters earlier this week. Photo credit: houstonpress.com

The following day, Houston, Texas, received 17 inches of rainfall in 24 hours — or what Salt Lake City, Utah, receives in a year. Two hundred and forty billion gallons of water — the equivalent of 363,363 Olympic swimming pools — destroyed over 1,000 homes, 1,200 people and hundreds of animals were rescued, eight people died, and damage is estimated in excess of $5 billion.

March was the hottest year on record at a staggering 1.28 degrees Celsius or 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit above average. It was the sixth consecutive record-breaking month of heat.

Louis Marquez carries his dog Dallas through floodwaters after rescuing the dog from his flooded apartment Tuesday in Houston. Houston, with more than 2 million people including 90,000 arriving last year alone, is the nation’s fourth-largest city. And Harris County, which includes most of Houston, has seen a 30 percent jump in population since 2000, with an accompanying 25 percent increase in pavement. Photo credit: David J. Phillip/AP

So what’s going on?

A coal-burning power plant in China’s Inner Mongolia region. Globally, burning coal since the 1950s has tripled the amount of mercury toxicity in the oceans to over 80,000 metric tons. Everything that lives in the ocean is contaminated with mercury. Photo credit: abc.net.au

We have burned an immense amount of fossil fuels. The oceans are supercharged with heat. Since 1997, the oceans are holding the equivalent heat of one atomic Hiroshima-style bomb detonating every second for 75 straight years.

Graph & images courtesy of StateOfOurClimate.com

The Arctic is melting at a stunning rate. This year, from January to March, all Arctic permafrost, subarctic wetlands and Greenland are heating up the fastest by 7 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (4 to 11 degrees Celsius). March 24 set an all time low maximum ice cover at 5.6 million square miles. The 13 smallest maximum Arctic ice covers on record have occurred over the past 13 years. We just lost a massive area of 620,000 square miles of sea ice, or, twice the size of the state of Texas.

Polar bears eat ice seals, but the shrinking ice floes have decimated most seal populations so polar bears are now thinner and swimming and walking father in order to survive. Photo credit: Robert Rosing/NatGeo

The polar bears in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska are telling us that what we do to the Arctic, we do to ourselves. Populations have gone form thousands to hundreds in the past decade. From 2004-07, only two out of 80 polar bear cubs survived. One 400-pound female swam the equivalent of  16 consecutive marathons —  about 400 miles in nine days — looking for ice. Her year-old cub drowned, and she lost 88 pounds — 22 percent of her body weight.

The Black Saturday bushfires were a series of fires that ignited or were burning across the Australian state of Victoria on and around Saturday, 7 February 2009. They were Australia’s all-time worst bushfire disasters. The fires occurred during extreme bushfire-weather conditions and resulted in Australia’s highest ever loss of life from bushfires;173 people died and 414 were injured as a result of  these mega fire storms. Photo credit: AP

The Arctic acts like a huge air conditioner for the Northern Hemisphere and we are quickly losing its life-sustaining cooling affect. The concern is that as the Arctic rapidly melts, the incidence of wild weather events are  spiking, like floodsdroughtsheatwavesfire storms, insect  plagues, extreme blizzards and Earth’s ability to grow food. In addition to all this, each year, we are adding  two billion pounds of bee-,  soil- and  water-killing neonicotinoids onto the agricultural fields. Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached a tipping point.

Honeybees are incomparable. They gives us the food we eat, most of the clothes we wear, powerful pain medicines,  44 million pounds of bees wax and 2 billion pounds of honey each year. When honeybees are exposed to neonicotinoid insecticides they loose their minds and shake to death eerily reminiscent of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Photo credit: ntu.edu.sg

Please embrace the new three Rs:

  • Reduce what you consume.
  • Reuse materials like glass mason jars.
  • Refuse petroleum-based plastics.

This Earth Week please take my pledge and lend a helping hand to #SaveNatureNow.

From the Indian Ocean with my friends Chris Lindgren and Georgie & Mike Dicks aboard Sea Shepherd Australia’s rigid inflatable “Bruce the Rib” — recording a shark segment.

Earth Doctor Reese Halter is the author of “The Insatiable Bark Beetle.”

         

 
 

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