Polarization on the Polar Front
2019, Senior, Creative Writing
In her 1989 speech to the United Nations, then-United Kingdom Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher predicted a future of climate disaster. Her projections have not only come to life in the most drastic and frightening of ways, but the environmental issues she foresaw have worsened beyond her initial speculations. As Thatcher said, “It is mankind and his activities which are changing the environment of our planet in damaging and dangerous ways” (Thatcher). More than 30 years after she gave that speech, few topics she discussed have been remedied. Although Thatcher’s speech helped bring these environmental issues to light, they remain relatively unsolved and even unchallenged by citizens and governments alike.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2018, we must limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030 in order to rein in the severe effects of global warming and climate change (United Nations). The most drastic effects of climate change are in the polar regions. In Thatcher’s U.N. speech, she cited a British scientist studying the Antarctic Ocean who had said, “‘in the Polar Regions today, we are seeing… that an environmental or climatic change produced by man may take on a self-sustaining or ‘runway quality’… and may be irreversible’” (Thatcher). The sentiment of that scientist then is similar to those found today: even if fossil fuel emissions come to a lull, the irreparable effects of Arctic ice melting will double global warming in coming decades, according to Peter Fiekowsky, president of the Healthy Climate Alliance, a nonprofit organization that educates others on climate change (Fiekowsky).
These severe observations presented by Thatcher over 30 years ago have more than come to fruition. Fiekowsky wrote that a simulated model of the unpredictable ice sheets suggests that if global warming exceeded two degrees Celsius, the major Antarctic ice sheets would collapse. The pace of the Arctic’s warming is double that of the rest of the world, mainly because the sun’s rays are now being absorbed by oceans, ice, and snow (Fiekowsky). Michael Marshall, ex-BBC Worldwide deputy editor for BBC Earth, said in 30 years, the Arctic Ocean may be entirely devoid of ice (Marshall).
Melting polar ice is also leading to rising sea levels. According to the European Environmental Agency, the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet will contribute to a rise in global sea level of over 39 inches by 2100 (European Environment Agency), and that’s if the warming stops at 1.5 degrees Celsius. If ocean levels rose by 11 feet, New York, Shanghai, and Mumbai would be all submerged by seawater (McCarthy).
Climate change will have dire consequences on weather patterns, with the most profound effects being in the Arctic and Northern Hemisphere. The changing Arctic is having global repercussions, with melting permafrost releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and weather patterns in middle latitudes shifting as a result of Arctic warming (Serreze). Cold blasts are reaching the northern regions, causing extreme global crises such as heat, floods, and droughts (Fiekowsky).
Another climate change dilemma is permafrost, which is the subsurface layer of ice that remains frozen year-round (Lantuit). Permafrost, which has been frozen for centuries and contains two times the amount of carbon that is in the atmosphere (Fiekowsky), is now melting and releasing carbon dioxide at levels that will cause almost a one degree Celsius rise in global temperature alone by 2100 (Abraham). Furthermore, melting permafrost is awakening diseases that went extinct decades ago. In 2016, a Siberian village suffered one death and dozens of hospitalizations after exposure to anthrax. According to Birgitta Evengard, a professor at the Department of Clinical Microbiology at Umea University, the cause was permafrost melting in the Arctic circle, where temperatures are warming three times faster than elsewhere. Viruses that were once buried under meters of ice and snow are becoming unearthed due to melting permafrost. According to Evengard, smallpox, the 1918 Spanish flu, and the Black Plague are likely to resurface as well (Doucleff).
According to Nathan Young and Aline Coutinho, authors of numerous research papers on environmental sociology and climate change politics, in order to slow down global warming to tolerable levels, countries will need to prioritize the erasing of ignorance-building strategies (Young, Coutinho). Yet some countries, such as the United States, are dragging their feet. Therefore, one of the most efficient tactics to battle ignorance in climate change issues is to confront negligence and ignorance on the governmental level. Governments globally are often brimming with willfully ignorant messages. In 2013, two renowned professors at the University of Ottawa found that both Canadian and Australian political parties used ignorance-building strategies to lessen the public demand for international climate change action (Young, Coutinho). Ignorance in the American government is especially commonplace. In 2018, the former Florida Governor Rick Scott banned government employees from uttering “global warming” and “climate change,” stifling American voices and building up a culture of denial and ignorance regarding climate change (Vogel). Scott Pruitt, the previous head of the Environmental Protection Agency, refused to even discuss climate change, even after Hurricane Florence, caused primarily by climate changes, decimated American lives. While speaking on the topic of climate change and global warming, President Donald Trump said, “I don’t know that it’s manmade,” although 97% of climate scientists believe that climate change over the past 100 years is extremely likely to have been caused by humans, according to NASA (Pinillos).
According to Newsday, an American daily newspaper, cuts to national environmental agencies are being made and ignorance runs rampant among top ranking-rings of government (Vogel). The 2020 Trump administration’s proposed budget overview has predominantly ignored the topic of climate change and aims to cut funding to the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent, almost three billion dollars. Many more exploratory agencies and experiments to help lessen the devastating impacts of climate change would also be discontinued (Mooney).
The climate change issue is spurred on by governmental ignorance, which leads to the denial of obvious environmental changes occurring in front of our very eyes (Akpan). Even in the face of environmental anomalies and climate devastation, governments have arrayed their forces against even acknowledging the existence of global warming as the primary cause of severe weather pattern changes. Governments withhold or even publicly denounce proven information and instigate ignorance among the populace (Young, Aline). For example, researchers from Lund University found American, Australian, and European governments have heavily publicized recycling as a method to reduce our carbon footprint, although eating a plant-based diet is four times more effective than recycling. This misleading and ignorant information is due to governments that focus on alterations that make only small ripples of change, whereas lifestyle adjustments that would make a difference, such as eating a plant-based diet, are unpublicized and therefore relatively unknown (Institute of Physics).
At the core of the problem is the ignorance that humans have towards their own contributions to the crisis. Many psychological barriers exist in the fight to end global ignorance and its effects on climate change. The New Statesman found that 32 percent of the population know little to nothing about the dangers of climate change. Furthermore, opinion polls from the BBC found when participants heard of the drastic climate change issue, they expressed relief that it didn’t involve them (Akpan). This reflects the inherent human tendency summarized by New Statesman columnist Mark Lynas, who wrote “[The] greater the threat, the more people are inclined [to] ignore it (Rogers).” This proves how individual ignorance is not just due to an absence of information, but a lack of desire for action. To combat this individual ignorance, education on one’s effects on climate change is necessary to change minds and attitudes.
Each individual possesses the power to mitigate the effects of climate change. Once one surpasses the initial, inherent tendency to ignore the issue, there are many opportunities to make a difference. For example, according to a study conducted at Lund University and published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal, Environmental Research Letters, following a plant-based diet as well reducing car and air travel are some of the most influential steps individuals can take to reduce their carbon footprint (Institute of Physics). Individual changes can also aid in Arctic issues. Dirk Notz, a published researcher studying Arctic ice in Hamburg, Germany, found that each American citizen is responsible for the melting of an average of 512 square feet of polar ice due to their carbon emissions annually (Folger). As people learn of the impact they can have, they might be more motivated to change their attitudes towards climate change, therefore causing a shift in societal views and action.
Current greenhouse gas emissions are projected to raise global temperatures by four degrees Celsius without intervention (Gramling). Carbon dioxide emissions must drop by 55 percent by 2030 to reach the 1.5 degree Celsius warming limit, which would entail unprecedented and near impossible lengths to be reached rapidly (United Nations). Greenpeace International climate policy advisor Kaisa Kosonen said that “better energy efficiency in the future can lead to results you didn’t know even existed.” The 1.5 degree warming limit is attainable but will require ambitious and focused efforts to change how governments and citizens interact with their world (Gramling). There is indeed hope that global warming can be slowed down to 1.5 degrees by 2030, and the vast amount of damage the planet has already endured at the hands of ignorance can be halted. The solution is closer than one might believe.
Abraham, John. “Methane Release from Melting Permafrost Could Trigger Dangerous Global Warming | John Abraham.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 13 Oct. 2015, www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2015/oct/13/methane-release-from-melting-permafrost-could-trigger-dangerous-global-warming.
Akpan, Nsikan. “How Your Brain Stops You from Taking Climate Change Seriously.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 5 Jan. 2019, www.pbs.org/newshour/science/how-your-brain-stops-you-from-taking-climate-change-seriously.
“Climate Change.” United Nations, United Nations, www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/climate-change/index.html.
Doucleff, Michaeleen. “Anthrax Outbreak in Russia Thought to Be Result of Thawing Permafrost.” NPR, NPR, 4 Aug. 2016, www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2016/08/03/488400947/anthrax-outbreak-in-russia-thought-to- be-result-of-thawing-permafrost.
Fiekowsky, Peter. “Restoring Arctic Ice Is the Key to Curbing Climate Change-So Why Are We Ignoring It?” Pacific Standard, 6 Mar. 2019, psmag.com/ideas/we-already-have-effective-ways-of-restoring-arctic-ice.
Folger, Tim. “Arctic Ice Isn’t Doomed Yet-Here’s How to Save It.” National Geographic, National Geographic Society, 8 Feb. 2017, news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/02/arctic-sea-ice-tipping-point-climate-science.
Gramling, Carolyn. “Limiting Global Warming to 1.5 Degrees versus 2 Has Big Benefits, the IPCC Says.” Science News, 23 Oct. 2018, www.sciencenews.org/article/global-warming-limit-degrees-ipcc-climate-change.
“Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets.” European Environment Agency, 20 Dec. 2016, www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/indicators/greenland-ice-sheet-3/assessment.
Institute of Physics. “The Most Effective Individual Steps to Tackle Climate Change Aren’t Being Discussed.” Phys.org, Phys.org, 11 July 2017, phys.org/news/2017-07-effective-individual-tackle-climate-discussed.html.
Lantuit, Hugues. “What Is Permafrost?” International Permafrost Association, 29 Mar. 2016, ipa.arcticportal.org/publications/occasional-publications/what-is-permafrost.
Marshall, Michael. “A Simple Guide to All the Scary and Depressing Climate Change News At the Moment.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 29 Nov. 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/michaelmarshalleurope/2018/11/29/a-simple-guide-to-all-the-scary-and-depressing-climate-change-news-at-the-moment/#58973486776a.
McCarthy, Joe. “6 Things That Could Happen If Sea Levels Rise by 11 Feet This Century.” Global Citizen, 21 Nov. 2017, www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/6-things-happen-sea-level-rise/.
Mooney, Chris. “The Energy 202: Trump’s Budget Seeks Cuts to Climate Research and Renewable Energy Programs.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 12 Mar. 2019, www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/paloma/the-energy-202/2019/03/12/the-energy-202-trump-s-budget-seeks-cuts-to-climate-research-and-renewable-energy-programs/5c869eca1b326b2d177d604d/?utm_term=.5175307a0f11.
Pinillos, N. Ángel. “Knowledge, Ignorance and Climate Change.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 26 Nov. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/11/26/opinion/skepticism-philosophy-climate-change.html.
Rogers, Lois. “Climate Change Why We Don’t Believe It.” New Statesman, vol. 136, no. 4841, Apr. 2007, pp. 28–30. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=24788589&site=ehost-live.
Serreze, Mark. “Melting Arctic Sends a Message: Climate Change Is Here in a Big Way.” The Conversation, 12 Nov. 2018, theconversation.com/melting-arctic-sends-a-message-climate-change-is-here-in-a-big-way-95573.
Thatcher, Margaret. “Speech to United Nations General Assembly.” United Nations General Assembly, 8 November, 1989, United Nations Building, New York.
Vogel, Mike. “Opinion: A Sea of Ignorance during Hurricane Season.” Newsday, Newsday, 29 Sept. 2018, www.newsday.com/opinion/commentary/a-sea-of-ignorance-during-hurricane-season-1.21299447.
Young, Nathan, and Aline, Coutinho. “Government, Anti-Reflexivity, and the Construction of Public Ignorance about Climate Change: Australia and Canada Compared.” Global Environmental Politics, vol. 13, no. 2, May 2013, pp. 89–108. EBSCOhost.
Living opposite New York City has given me a bird’s eye view of the climate damage just a stone’s throw away. Daily, I see the effects of climate change and global warming, and I am just one of billions of people who are affected by our warming world. In my submitted work, I discussed an issue that is of paramount importance, arguably the most impactful subject in the climate change debate: that of the polar regions. Polar ice is melting and causing sea levels to rise, endangering coastal cities all over the world. Weather anomalies, disease, and animal endangerment are more polar issues that we face. The impacts of climate change are ones we all have felt the effects of, and they cannot be avoided. Through exploring the topic of climate change in polar regions, I learned that governments and individuals often shirk their responsibilities, building up a culture of ignorance. Climate change affects every single person on this Earth; therefore, every single person must confront the ignorance ingrained in our society and take action to limit global warming and its devastating effects. I want all those who read my submitted work to know that you DO have the power to make change in the effort to combat climate change, and every little bit helps.