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My job has allowed me to visit the Arctic twice. The first was north of Hudson Bay in Canada and the second to Shishmaref, a barrier island in the Chukchi Sea, between Alaska and Russia. The Arctic is an extraordinary place. It is wild and wild, and in some places, completely unmanaged. (Being in a tin motorboat in a river three feet from a swimming polar bear is something I’ll never forget, especially that moment when he rolled onto his back and, quite casually, sniffed the air loudly, as if to say, “Go ahead, lunchmeat, fall out of the boat.) It’s still all that. It is broken, maybe irretrievably. From the Washington Post:
In research presented this week at the world’s biggest earth science conference, Pettit showed that the Thwaites ice shelf could collapse In the next three-five yearsThe result could be a flood of ice that could significantly raise sea levels. Aerial survey data shows that Arctic tundra has been subject to warmer conditions, which have allowed beavers invading the area and flooding it with their dams. Large commercial ships are increasingly entering formerly frozen areas, causing havoc for wildlife and creating a lot of trash. Many Alaska Native communities have seen the effects of climate change compound the hardships caused by the coronavirus epidemic, resulting in food shortages for people who have lived off the land for thousands of year.
“The very character of these places is changing,” said Twila Moon, a glaciologist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center and co-editor of the Arctic Report Card, an annual assessment of the state of the top of the world. “We are seeing conditions unlike those ever seen before.”
The danger posed by sea-rise is evident, and the report explains it in detail. But there is something almost sacrilegious about destroying these places just because we don’t give enough of a damn to protect them from ourselves. Without its wild places, what planet is there other than a strip-mall with beachfront properties, which you may one day be able find in Tennessee?
This year’s edition of the report card, which was presented at the American Geophysical Union annual meeting Tuesday, describes a landscape that is transforming so fast scientists struggle to keep up. The warmest period on record was between October 2020 and December 2020. This summer saw the 2nd-lowest amount of old, thick sea ice thickness since 1985 when tracking began. Separately, the World Meteorological Organization confirmed a new temperature record for the Arctic: 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the Siberian town of Verkhoyansk on June 20, 2020…
…The consequences for people living in the Arctic can be dire. Greenland and other countries have seen meltwater from shrinking glaciers cause flooding and deluge rivers. Instabile cliffs can collapse into the ocean and cause deadly tsunamis, as a result of melting glaciers. As the permafrost below them thaws, roads buckle and water systems fail, and buildings cave in.
This is what has been going on for years at Shishmaref. It has lost half its body to the ocean, which doesn’t freeze as deep or early as it used to. The permafrost is gone, so the Native people can’t bury their seal meat in the ground—what they call the “Eskimo freezer”—during the winter anymore. These are people who love where they’ve lived for generations, and who have accepted the fact that they’re all going to have to move very soon. Their world has changed already. They know what’s coming.
Charles P Pierce is the author and editor of four books, including Idiot America. He has been a working journalist since 1976.
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