Polar Bears International

Arctic sea ice is declining in both extent and thickness due to human-caused climate change, but it's not too late to save it. Photo copyright Robert Thorpe.

7/18/2016 3:36:32 PM

Arctic Sea Ice Day

On Friday, we held our third annual Arctic Sea Ice Day, a day founded by Polar Bears International to draw attention to sea ice loss in the Arctic, why it matters, and how we can help. 

Sea ice matters to polar bears, of course, as the platform they need to catch their seal prey. But it's also a vital part of the Arctic marine ecosystem. The polar bear's food chain begins with tiny organisms living on the underside of the sea ice. These feed fish, which feed seals, which feed polar bears. But Arctic sea ice is disappearing due to human-caused climate change. Since satellite observations began in 1979, the extent of summer sea ice has declined by an area four times the size of Texas.

The laws of physics require the world to warm as long as greenhouse gas concentrations rise, and our research has shown a linear relationship between the sea ice area and global mean temperatures. Simply put, warmer temperatures equal less ice! We can save sea ice only if we halt the rise in greenhouse gas concentrations-gases released by burning fossil fuels. 

But, the need to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations goes far beyond polar bears. If we stay on our current emissions path, average end-of-century summer temperatures over most of the globe will be hotter than the hottest summers ever recorded. The searing heat will reduce food production and water availability. It will amplify global famine and cause refugee problems beyond anything we can now imagine.  

Fortunately, we have a choice. If we choose to limit global temperature rise to around 1.5° Celsius, the target recently established by 195 countries at the Paris climate summit, we can avoid catastrophic future heat and save polar bears over much of their current range.  

Scientists have recently found they can turn captured CO2 into stone, locking it away forever. Such technologies, along with shifting our economy to renewable energy, can get us where we need to be. 

The costs of such valuable new technologies are less than the catastrophic long-term bill we will receive if we stay the present emissions course, but they do come with costs.    

The key to turning the physically possible into the politically plausible is a price on carbon emissions. None of us want the government to unnecessarily meddle with the economy. But, if government did just one thing-establish a fair price for carbon emissions-the free markets of the world could sort out the rest. A price on emissions would eliminate current subsidies on fossil fuels, level the playing field for all energy sources-making renewable energy more competitive, and cover the costs of new technologies like turning CO2 into stone.

There is no time to lose. I ask all of you to sign our petition asking for fair price on carbon and to join me in making a pledge. Pledge to call, write, or visit your elected leaders and push for a fair price on CO2. A carbon price will save polar bears and their vital sea ice habitat. It also will maximize the chance that, as Michael Crowther put it, "our children will face a world they might choose rather than one they are forced to endure."

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