Polluters profit as Arctic ice, permafrost melt Monday, July 7, 2008
By: Jane Cutter
Untrammeled capitalist development behind the environmental crisis
The latest scientific research indicates that there could be no ice at the North Pole this summer, while the Siberian permafrost—soil that is below freezing temperatures year round—may start melting three times faster.
The Siberian permafrost and Arctic ice are rapidly melting due to global warming.
More than a century of untrammeled capitalist industrial development has resulted in today’s climate change crisis. Scientists link their observations of the melting ice to global warming. The scientific consensus on global warming is that it has been caused by greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, which are emitted by fossil fuel-based power plants, automobiles and other sources.
The situation in the Arctic is reaching a critical point. Observations of the Arctic Sea show that ice is melting at a higher rate, reaching an all-time record last summer. The melting now extends 1,000 miles inland into areas that previously have been frozen all year long. As the area of sea ice decreases, less sunlight is reflected and more heat is absorbed. Scientists predict the rate of melting will triple in the Arctic area.
"Our study suggests that, if sea ice continues to contract rapidly over the next several years, Arctic land warming and permafrost thaw are likely to accelerate," said Dr. David Lawrence of the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.
Lawrence and researchers at the National Snow and Ice Data Center studied "taliks"—patches of unfrozen ground sitting above a layer of permanently frozen soil and below a layer of seasonally frozen soil.
"Taliks form when the downwelling summer heating wave extends deeper than the corresponding winter cooling wave, thereby preventing the talik from refreezing in winter and permitting heat to accumulate at depth as soil ice melts," the scientists wrote in a study to be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
According to Lawrence, about a quarter of the northern hemisphere’s land contains permafrost. Soil in the Arctic region is thought to hold about 30 per cent of all carbon stored in soil. "An important, unresolved question is how the delicate balance of life in the Arctic will respond to such a rapid warming," he said. "Will we see, for example, accelerated coastal erosion, or increased methane emissions, or faster shrub encroachment into tundra regions if sea ice continues to retreat rapidly?"
Andrew Slater, a co-author of the study, stated, "The rapid loss of sea ice can trigger widespread changes that would be felt across the region."
The melting permafrost will endanger roads, oil pipelines and buildings built on top of the frozen ground. Additionally, it puts wildlife at risk and may trigger the release of the greenhouse gases locked in the soil, further exacerbating global warming.
In related research, scientists predict that the ice at the North Pole may completely melt this summer. Professor Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University, one of the first scientists to sail underneath the Arctic sea ice in a submarine, said: "Last year we saw huge areas of the ocean open up, which has never been experienced before. People are expecting this to continue this year and it is likely to extend over the North Pole. It is quite likely that the North Pole will be exposed this summer—it’s not happened before."
These studies indicate that global warming is at a tipping point. It is not the case that temperatures are simply going up at a steady rate each year; instead, the quantitative change of rising temperatures appear poised to transition to a phase of qualitatively different, accelerated climate change.
Global warming and the melting of the Arctic ice impact not only Arctic habitats but also people all over the world, with poor and oppressed peoples experiencing the worst effects. It is well understood in the scientific community that greenhouse gases are the result of capitalist development; today we are experiencing the consequences of gases emitted long ago by industrial capitalist nations.
The only solution to the crisis of global warming is a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions; however, the United States—the nation with the highest rate of carbon emissions—has resisted any kind of mandatory reduction plan in order to protect the profits of the polluters. Only a people’s movement, independent of capitalist politicians beholden to corporate interests, can bring the necessary changes to prevent ever more catastrophic environmental crises.