Don’t put the Arctic on the back burner in Campaign 2012

As of 11:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, the headlines in the newspapers went something like this: “Nicki Endorses Zombies, Starships … and Mitt Romney?”

Looking at this newsfeed, along with the reports of Neil Armstrong’s death, editorials on gun control and coverage of the Republican and Democratic national conventions, it’s no surprise that one news piece was buried in the depths of the media archives this week: As of Aug. 26, the Arctic sea ice extent fell to 4.10 million square kilometers — its lowest level ever.

It’s a frightening concept to wrap your mind around, but get this: According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, the six lowest ice extents have occurred between 2007 and 2012.

There’s been only a mild understanding and moderate coverage of this landmark in global warming as of late. In February, a “NASA study”:http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/thick-melt.html pointed out that the older, thicker ice, which traditionally survives normal seasonal summer melting, has been diminishing at a faster rate than the younger, thinner ice.

“The average thickness of the Arctic sea ice cover is declining because it is rapidly losing its thick component, the multiyear ice,” said NASA senior research scientist Josefino Cosimo. “It would take a persistent cold spell for most multiyear sea ice and other ice types to grow thick enough in the winter to survive the summer melt season and reverse the trend.”

The ice has been a part of the Earth “since the dawn of human civilization,” according to Neven Acropolis, whose “Arctic Sea Ice blog”:http://neven1.typepad.com/blog/ is dedicated to daily monitoring of the ice levels in the Arctic. But the 2007 “report”:http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg2/en/figure-15-3.html released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made obvious the issues at hand: We weren’t questioning whether we’d see the day there was no ice in the Arctic, rather when we would see it.

“It was generally thought that the Arctic could become ice-free somewhere near the end of this century. But changes in the Arctic have progressed at such a speed that most experts now think 2030 might see an ice-free Arctic for the first time. Some say it could even happen this decade,” wrote Acropolis in a piece published on “ThinkProgress.org”:http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/08/26/745571/why-the-arctic-sea-ice-death-spiral-matters/?mobile=nc.

This is in the present. These changes are happening so quickly with so much overturn that it must be clear that our way of going about things today cannot remain. As a matter of fact, this is no longer an issue that should be put off to the backburner, especially in the political arena.

It’s off-putting when our candidates for top leadership positions are putting it off — or joking it off. At the Republican National Convention, for instance, Gov. Mitt Romney poked fun at President Barack Obama last Thursday for addressing global warming as part of his platform: “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans … and heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.”

It got cheap laughs and at the cost of undermining an important issue. What he might not understand is that, sure, an ice block hundreds of thousands of miles away might not be a point of contention for his voters within the next four years, but it will have egregious results if left unattended.

“We don’t fully understand exactly what the effect on agriculture will mean yet, but we haven’t been able to predict how fast the ice will be decreasing, which is a problem,” said Don Wuebbles, professor in atmospheric sciences at the University.

Not understanding this climate’s unpredictable swings does not make it a nonissue. And no, the implications of this mess is not just specific to the North Pole.

“News articles referring to the Arctic and its sea ice usually have pictures of polar bears accompanying the text. But although many animals in the Arctic will be impacted negatively by the vanishing of Arctic Sea ice, much more is at stake,” Acropolis said. “After thousands of years in which the sea ice played a vital role in the relatively stable conditions under which modern civilization, agriculture and a 7 billion-strong world population could develop, it increasingly looks as if warming caused by the emission of greenhouse gases is bringing an end to these stable conditions.”

It’s time for the media, our candidates and ourselves to take a greater interest, because what’s a record-breaking low for ice volume at the Arctic might someday translate into a very common-day occurrence for our future.

_Nora is a senior in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected]_