It’s official: the Arctic sea ice extent has already reached a record low, with weeks of melting still left this season. As predicted, the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre released data showing that the rapid ice melt has dropped below the previous record set in 2007:
An estimate of the Arctic sea ice extent in August 1938 compared to satellite data on 28 August 2012 from the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (source)
It’s not just about saving polar bears
The sea ice has recently been vanishing at a terrifying rate of 100,000 sq km a day – a record for August – and it’s expected to continue melting until mid- to late September.
This is a problem, and not just for the animals who live there. Arctic sea ice plays a major role in keeping the region cool and thereby helping to control the global climate system. And with more sea ice melting, sea levels will rise globally – imperiling the lives of millions.
“The extraordinary thing is that this is not unexpected news," said Greenpeace executive director Kumi Naidoo, speaking from the Arctic, where he recently occupied a Russian oil platform. "Governments and decision-makers have known for years the effects of global warming yet their short-sighted approach has left people and other species living on the planet facing an increasingly insecure and uncertain future.”
And yet, as the Arctic melts, oil companies are already moving into the ice-free waters to drill beneath the seabed – paving the way for an Arctic oil rush that would have devastating impacts on the surrounding environment and our planet. Shell has just been given the green light to start drilling there despite a deafening global call on the US Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw their permit.
Is it too late?
Countless activists, organisations and pundits have been busy sounding the alarm about the world's impending fate if we carry on with the "business-as-usual" approach.
But the good news is that it’s not all doom and gloom. Last year $280bn was invested in clean, safe energy and the ongoing global surge in these investments could mean that world emissions of greenhouse gases are close to hitting a peak and then reducing.
Clean energy is not only good for the planet: as a leading job creator, it’s good for the struggling world economy. In 2010, there were nearly 8m jobs in the sector, and that figure is set to rise by another 4m over the next three years – overtaking the number of jobs in the fossil fuel industry.
It’s estimated that already nearly 20% of the world’s electricity generation is coming from renewable energy and, given the growth in the sector over the last year, there is hope that we could finally be starting to win the war on climate change. (The International Energy Agency will be releasing a report in November).
But there’s a lot more we need to do if we’re going to stay below a global temperature rise of 2 degrees centigrade. Ending the $1 trillion of fossil fuel subsidies is at the top of the list. For too long, progress on a global solution to climate change has been held back by self-interest and the profits of big oil, coal and gas.
Get inspired to help
Watch these brave activists take on the "big beasts" polluting the Arctic:
... And then join the Avaaz movement to support action on fossil fuels and other campaigns that can close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want: