Sir David Attenborough, one of the greatest authorities on what is happening to our planet and the catastrophic effect of our huge numbers on its life, gave a stark warning on April 19th 2020 on Andrew Marr's Sunday morning Show. He said that we are facing a last chance to avoid the damage to the planet caused by climate change. Failing to reduce emissions would push the world through a "one-way door", with irreversible consequences for life on Earth caused by the melting of Arctic ice and other results of rising temperatures. In his TV presentations, he has shown us the effects of our failure to protect the great equatorial rain forests of the Amazon and Indonesia, and the effect of the warming ocean on the whitening coral of the Great Barrier Reef. He has shown us in horrifying detail the huge accumulation of our plastic waste in the oceans of the planet. He suggested on this programme that the very density of our population has contributed to the spread of coronavirus. He suggested that people should see the world and their time in it as precious. "The world is not a bowl of fruit in which we can just take what we wish. We are part of it and if we destroy it we destroy ourselves."
Here is a brief summary of the recently published book by Peter Wadhams - A Farewell to Ice: a Report from the Arctic which I consider to be one of the most authoritative and authentic analyses of what we are faced with as the Arctic Ice thins and disappears. Because he has spent his entire scientific life from the age of 21 working on the science of sea ice and the polar oceans, measuring and studying the ice there, his voice carries great weight and his warnings of the catastrophe towards which we are unwittingly heading radically challenges the position of the climate change deniers and the IPCC report 2013 which have not grasped the significance of the nature and acceleration of what is happening in this region.
from the Introduction page 2:
"Today a ship entering the Arctic from the Bering Strait in summer finds an ocean of open water in front of her. In September 2012 sea ice covered only 3.4 million square kilometres of the Arctic Ocean's surface, down from 8 million km2 in the 1970's... It is difficult to overstate what this means in terms of planetary change. Our planet has actually changed colour. Today, from space, the top of the world in the northern summer looks blue instead of white. We have created an ocean where there was once an ice sheet."
These are some of the facts he presents:
Effects of thinning Arctic Ice
"the average ice thickness in the Arctic dropped 43% between 1976 and 1999."
"In the past most of the ice in the Arctic was several years old, what is called multi-year ice. It had a rugged and magnificent topography, with huge pressure ridges which blocked the paths of explorers and which had keels reaching down 50 metres or more into the ocean. During the last decade a changing current system has driven most of this ice out of the Arctic, and it has been replaced by first-year ice which grows during a single winter season, reaching a maximum thickness of only 1.5 metres and has only a few shallow ridges to break up the very flat ice surface. Ice which grows to this lesser thickness during a single winter can melt away completely during a single summer because of warmer air and sea temperatures. It will not be long before the summer melt outstrips the winter growth everywhere in the Arctic, and when that happens the entire remaining summer ice cover will collapse. We will have entered what the US climatologist Mark Serreze called 'The Arctic Death Spiral'." pp. 3-4
"The consequences of a collapse of Arctic summer ice will be dramatic. Two huge effects will be unleashed:
1. the albedo – the fraction of incoming solar radiation which is reflected straight back into space – drops from 0.6 to 0.1, which will further accelerate warming of the Arctic and of the whole planet.
2. "Removal of the ice cover will take away a vital air-conditioning system for the Arctic... When the overlying ice is gone, the surface water can warm up by several degrees in summer, and over the shallow continental shelves wind-induced mixing extends this heat down to the seabed. This then thaws the surface layer of the offshore permafrost, frozen seabed sediments which have lain there undisturbed since the last Ice Age. The thawing offshore permafrost will trigger the release of huge plumes of methane from the distintegration of methane hydrates trapped in the sediment. Methane has a greenhouse warming effect twenty-three times greater per molecule than carbon dioxide."
"An annual Russian-US expedition to the East Siberian Sea has already been observed methane plumes welling up from the seabed, while other expeditions have seen methane plumes in the Laprev and Kara seas. If this release causes general atmospheric levels of the gas to rise, it will give a further immediate boost to global warming."
" I have written this book to explain these dramatic changes, and how and why the loss of Arctic ice is a threat to us all, not just an interesting change happening in a remote part of the world... What do these changes mean to me as I prepare to say a personal farewell to this magical landscape? Overwhelmingly I feel that this is a spiritual impoverishment of the Earth as well as a practical catastrophe for mankind. Our own greed and stupidity are taking away the beautiful world of Arctic Ocean sea ice, which once protected us from the impacts of climatic extremes."
Wadhams predicts that the summer ice will disappear completely by 2020 instead of lasting until 2050-80 as other models (IPCC 2013) have predicted. p. 88
Arctic Methane: a Catastrophe in the Making Chapter Nine
"The risk of an Arctic seabed methane pulse is one of the greatest immediate risks facing the human race." p. 128
The effect on weather patterns Chapter Ten
All this will have an impact on weather patterns, the jet stream, ocean currents and climate in general. These different influences will negatively affect food production and increase water scarcity.
"The snowline and methane feedbacks cannot occur in the Antarctic – because of the lack of shallow shelves and the inflexible area of terrestrial snow cover. The Arctic amplification and greater Arctic feedbacks mean that, whatever the interactions between Antarctic sea-ice and temperate oceans, it will always be the case over the next few decades that the Arctic will be determining the fate of global warming more than the Antarctic. In this sense the Arctic is a driver and the Antarctic can be thought of as a passive trailer in the global warming road race to oblivion" p. 170
"On an international scale, the overwhelmingly important need is to undertake a colossal scientific and technical research programme on geoengineering and on carbon dioxide removal."
"Most important of all is the need to find a way to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This is the only thing that we can really do to save the world, so we had better do it while we still have the technical capacity and the civilization to sustain it... The only [technique] that can really save us is the direct removal of CO2 from the atmosphere through some device which sucks ordinary air in at one end and emits it again at the other minus its CO2, and does so at a less than impossible price.
It is the most important problem the world faces. If we solve it, our human civilization can continue, and we can devote our energies to all our other myriad challenges, from overpopulation to water and food shortages, disease and war. If we don't solve it, we are finished." pp. 205-6
Wadhams is not against nuclear energy but says the water-cooled type that the UK is unfortunately engaged in buying for Hinkley Point is out-dated and dangerous. It is the same type used at Chernobyl and Fukushima. He recommends the pebble bed reactor, developed by the Germans and now being built in China. The other type of reactor is the thorium one which is cheaper than uranium and its products, unlike those of uranium reactors, have no military use. pp. 204-5