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The Arctic ice we all depend on is disappearing. Fast.
In the last 30 years, we’ve lost as much as three-quarters of the floating sea ice cover at the top of the world. The volume of that sea ice measured by satellites in the summer, when it reaches its smallest, has shrunk so fast that scientists say it’s now in a ‘death spiral’.
For over 800,000 years, ice has been a permanent feature of the Arctic ocean. It’s melting because of our use of dirty fossil fuel energy, and in the near future it could be ice free for the first time since humans walked the Earth. This would be not only devastating for the people, polar bears, narwhals, walruses and other species that live there – but for the rest of us too.
The ice at the top of the world…
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There was good news this month when the European Parliament passed a resolution supporting the creation of an Arctic Sanctuary covering the vast high Arctic around the North Pole, giving official status to an idea that has been pushed for by Green activists and campaigners for several years.
The proposed sanctuary, lying outside of Exclusive Economic Zones, would cover “one of the largest and least exploited areas on Earth: a 2.8 million square kilometer zone of the global commons,” writes Neil Hamilton, the Senior Political Advisor Polar with Greenpeace Norway. “That would be the biggest conservation zone in existence, protecting fish stocks, ice-dependent species, and a huge variety of cold water species.”
Greenpeace has been campaigning for a global Arctic Sanctuary for several years, including gathering some 5 million signatures from around the world, because there has been rising interest from governments and industries to exploit the once inaccessible wilderness for fish and fossil fuels.
The resolution notes that “climate changes in the Arctic will have a major impact on coastal regions globally, including coastal regions in the European Union, and on climate-dependent sectors in Europe such as agriculture and fisheries, energy, reindeer herding, hunting, tourism and transport.”
In addition to supporting an Arctic Sanctuary, the European Parliament’s resolution would ban fisheries in the high Arctic seas “until the establishment of appropriate regulatory mechanisms and protection.” It also calls for “strict precautionary regulatory standards” when it comes to fossil fuel exploration and extraction in the region.
Last December, Gazprom become the first energy company to begin pumping oil out of the Arctic seabed. In response to this the European Parliament expressed “strong concern regarding the rush for oil exploration and drilling in the Arctic without adequate standards being enforced”.
Pic by Greenpeace
An unexpected thing happened on Wednesday. Shell cancelled its plans to drill this summer in the Alaskan Arctic this year after a series of costly accidents.
“Our decision to pause in 2013 will give us time to ensure the readiness of all our equipment and people,” said Marvin E. Odum of Shell.
President Obama ordered a federal inquiry into Shell’s Arctic drilling programme after the oil company suffered numerous setbacks last year in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, including running its drilling rig aground on Sitkalidak Island, and the US Coast Guard has listed 16 safety violations on the rig.
“This is the first thing Shell’s done right in Alaska — calling it quits,” said Phil Radford, Executive Director of Greenpeace USA. “Now the responsible decision is to make Arctic drilling off limits, forever.”
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The National Humane Education Society
In March, member nations will meet at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to discuss, among other topics, protections for polar bears. The global trade in polar bear pelts, claws, skulls, and other body parts must stop. Polar bears are in danger not just from this kind of global trafficking but also global climate change. There are an estimated 22,000 polar bears in 20 different populations worldwide.
Killing wildlife for sport is inherently cruel and uncivilized. Hunters who hunt for the thrill of the kill lose themselves in an ancient belief that humans rule over the animals. We do not. In reality, hunting disrupts migration and hibernation patterns. It decimates animal family units and degrades habitat. Trophy hunting, in particular, is an egregious form of killing as it involves going after big game and mounting all or part of the animal in a trophy…
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Waitrose has suspended plans to expand its partnership with the Arctic oil drillers Shell, after 12 days of intense campaigning by Greenpeace.
The UK supermarket had been considering opening new shops in Shell petrol stations across the country, but Waitrose managing director Mark Price has confirmed that these plans have been put on ice until after 2013. The supermarket has also declared its support for the creation of an Arctic sanctuary, a move that would help protect endangered species, such as the polar bear, Arctic fox and narwal, by making the polar region off limits to oil drillers like Shell.
The announcement was made after nearly 40,000 people signed a Greenpeace petition urging Waitrose to break off the partnership with Shell. Activists also sent emails, posted hundreds of messages on Facebook, and staged demonstrations in Waitrose stores, including the appearance of a life-size polar bear in Islington.
Greenpeace, which has worked with Waitrose to develop its sustainable fishing policies, said it was “shocked” that the retailer, which prides itself on its environmental initiatives, would link itself to Shell. This summer Shell tried, and failed, to drill for oil in the Arctic, after a catalogue of disasters which included breaking the oil spill response equipment during testing.
You can support Greenpeace’s campaign to save the Arctic by visiting http://www.savethearctic.org
Extreme weather has been much in evidence around the globe this year, with superstorm Sandy’s devastating impact on New York being the most recent example. There has also been drought across much of the United States’s grain-growing area, and problems with the Indian monsoon.
In the UK, one of the worst droughts on record gave way to the wettest spring recorded, damaging crops and pushing up prices.
Scientists who have been analysing climate models believe we can expect much more of this in future. A survey by the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research has shown that climate change is likely to be more severe than some models have implied, meaning more extreme weather, sooner than we expected.
The new finding come just weeks ahead of a crucial UN conference in Doha, where ministers will discuss the future of international action on greenhouse gas emissions. There has already been increasing evidence of a warming effect this year – the Arctic’s summer ice sank to its lowest extent and volume yet recorded and experts have predicted that the Arctic seas could be ice-free in winter in the next decade.
The International Energy Agency warned earlier this year that on current emissions trends the world would be in for 6C of warming – a level scientists warn would lead to chaos.
Climate change ‘likely to be more severe than some models predict’ | Environment | guardian.co.uk.
Szenja, one of the polar bears from SeaWorld San Diego’s Wild Arctic exhibit, gets into the spirit of Halloween. Polar bears are the largest land carnivore and have 42 teeth, which they use for catching food. Polar bears swallow most food in large chunks rather than chewing.
Photo: Mike Aguilera/SeaWorld San Diego
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