Chasing Ice and the real ‘inconvenient truths’

01 May 2014

I delivered a seminar on Sustainability last night to a forward thinking company, which was followed by a screening of the climate change documentary ‘Chasing Ice’.

The powerful documentary tracks photographer James Balog’s quest to film the extent of glacial retreat by conjoining time lapse photographs taken by nearly 100 cameras located to the side of glaciers in Greenland, Iceland and Alaska over a period of four years. The end result is as stunning as it is shocking – before the viewers’ eyes the stark and indisputable evidence of just how fast our glaciers are carving, retreating and collapsing. It is both a beautiful film and a reality check to a climate change campaign and movement dominated by statistics, computer modeling and uncertain future predictions. Here in the present, the most compelling show on Earth of our warming planet in an unprecedented and unique display.

Coincidentally, up on the Arctic Ocean the last team left on the ice attempting to walk to the North Pole this year, veteran polar explorer Eric Larson and Ryan Waters, are battling to reach the Pole - with every other team forced to abort or relocate by air against a combination of negative drift and thin ice.

No-one has managed to walk to the North Pole from land since 2010, due to weather, ice sheet extent and ice sheet volume – a depth which now averages 1.5 meters compared to 5 meters 100 years ago. When more and more adventurers, explorers and adventure tourists are attempting and achieving ever more feats across our world, it is another telling statistic of exactly what is happening in the Arctic.

Evidence after evidence from the Arctic and everywhere else in the world all point to an overwhelming conclusion - that our Earth is warming and that climate change is a reality.

So what’s gone wrong? Why has this one issue become such a topic of division amongst those in government, in our industries and on the streets of countries across the world. How has such a critical factor for humankind become such a polarizing topic that, according to polls, there are now as many people who dispute it that believe it – a trend of disbelief that is increasing, rather than decreasing. And a fact that is pounced upon by an increasing number of media outlets, such as the UK’s Daily Mail, who gleefully publish any evidence that points to climate change and it’s proposed solutions being deeply flawed if not complete hype.

The reasons for this doubt are numerous. Firstly are the highly publicized dire predictions from the IPCC, other environmental groups and even ‘Inconvenient Truth’ author Al Gore, that have simply failed to materialize.  Specific warnings that the North Pole would be ‘ice free’ by 2013 or looser predictions that ‘terrible disasters’ were imminent have simply failed to materialize. People don’t like doomsayers at the best of times but have now simply grown wise to anyone daring to make any prediction on our futures.

Secondly, just as in most causes and campaigns that start with good intentions, the climate change movement has been hijacked by the anarchists and troublemakers, the people spoiling for a fight. The public already have an issue with climate change activists they perceive, rightly or wrongly, that want us to all go back to living in tents or caves, but positively detests those who cause disruption or violence on its streets.

Thirdly, an economic recession has caused most people’s concerns to be centered on real time issues such as falling living standards, job uncertainties and struggling to make ends meet than to worry about something ‘years into the future’.

Fourthly, there is a deep mis-trust and even contempt of those in government and the energy companies. A belief that ‘going green’ is simply an excuse for monopolizing energy companies to continue increasing their tariffs for profit or a means of the government to increase taxes out of the working man and woman.

And finally, whilst climate change dominates the media, has spawned a host of ministerial posts and is the subject of vastly expensive summits that have achieved little, there are other issues equally as urgent and important to many people that don’t generate anywhere near the same amount of publicity, funding or, indeed, hype. The public have largely switched off. And who can blame them.

For whilst climate change is - in my, and an overwhelming number of scientists’ view - indisputable, what will happen and what this means to us is indeed highly unpredictable. I had the honor of working with one of Denmark’s top ice scientists, Dr Sebastian Mernild, prior to, during and after our Greenland vertical crossing in 2009 – when we took daily ice samples to monitor precipitation levels over the past year and ice densities for his computer modeling. And my work with him led me to broadly understand the complexities of this highly advanced work.

That is our climate is subject to a large number of variables and the future is indeed only the best possible prediction – usually in ‘low’ and ‘high’ scenarios of what will happen based upon the evidence before us.  It is not set in stone, but Sebastian and thousands of ice scientists are admirably attempting to do their best with the evidence they have before us.

And one can never underestimate the power of nature. The Earth may indeed have a self-regulatory mechanism which may compensate for the vast increase in carbon dioxide in our atmosphere or our increasing temperatures.

But when it comes to dealing with climate change, however, our leaders have sadly got it wrong. For the reason all the COP summits as well as most other attempted initiatives fail is precisely because they are all about climate change. As in virtually every other problem facing our world today, only when ones looks at an issue with a sustainability hat - our economy, society and the environment combined - will we get close to finding lasting solutions.

That means looking at such issues as reform of the UN, our growth based economic system, consumption and sufficiency, exchange rate mechanisms, technology transfer and the ‘white elephant in the room’ - our unsustainable numbers on Earth.

For if global warming is indeed man-made – as the IPCC recently concluded – then that latter issue, the one that is routinely refused to be addressed by world leaders or the majority of environmental or charity bodies, is the major cause above others that needs addressing as a matter of global priority.

Even if that climate change is a natural cycle and the earth has warmed and cooled before – a claim that deniers routinely state – this same issue of our population is the greatest consequence. Because the last time it happened there were probably a few thousand nomads forced to move to higher land. Today there are already hundreds of thousands of economic migrants attempting to leave, by whatever means, hardship, drought and poverty of their homelands in the third world for the rich countries of Europe, the US or Australia – a flow that these countries are struggling to cope with even now.

If our Earth warms by just a few degrees – and/or sea levels rise significantly - that flow could be hundreds of millions. And it doesn’t really matter a dime whether it’s been caused by man or a natural warming cycle. Where they will go and who pays for this is the real problem.  Or, to put it more starkly, if we don’t address our unsustainable population voluntarily, then the Earth will do it for us as it always has, and very efficiently too – by drought, famine or disease. Either way, these are the real ‘inconvenient truths’………..

Adrian Hayes, 1 May 2014

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