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Bookends: Examining an Arctic Under the Threat of Extreme Climate Change January 17, 2017

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, News, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Examining an Arctic Under the Threat of Extreme Climate Change

By Dan Davidson

May 4, 2016

future-arctic-copy– 1005 words –


Future Arctic:

Field Notes from a World on the Edge

By Edward Struzik

Island Press

199 pages




During a week when Fort McMurray has been largely burned to the ground, taking a closer look at this book seems appropriate, especially with the way it opens.

“The beginning of what many people thought was the end of the world began on June 2, 1950, when a small wildfire ignited in the boreal forest in northern British Columbia near the Yukon Border and the Chinchaga River.”

As it grew, the smoke became so dense and so widespread that people across the northern hemisphere, still jittery about warnings of atomic Armageddon, believed that the end had come and that bombs had been dropped.

In the end, the fire burned for 222 days and destroyed 3.5 million acres of forest. At the time it was an anomaly, but since then there have been sire seasons in Alaska, the Yukon and NWT to rival it in 2004, 2007 and 2014.

Struzik’s book is about climate change; about seawater intrusions from storms that have flooded arctic freshwater river deltas and have changed the local ecologies; about diminishing ice floes that threaten the existence of the polar bear; about fires that release tones of carbon dioxide into the air, along its deadlier cousin, carbon monoxide; about lakes that are no longer being replenished by annual precipitation or by rapidly retreating glaciers.

These changes are, he maintains, circumpolar in scope and accelerating faster than earlier projections held to be the case.

Chapter 1: “Eight-foot long beavers, scimitar cats, and woolly mammoths: What the Past tells Us About the Future Arctic” is a reminder that change is a constant, and that the world has not always been the way that humanity has experienced it for the last multiple millennia.

“If the past tells us anything about the future Arctic, it’s that climate change happens often, and when it does, it happens relatively quickly and sometimes catastrophically for mammals that lived there.

“With the climate warming up the polar world faster that any other place on Earth, the Arctic is, in some ways, both an accident waiting to happen and an opportunity to be seized.”

If chapter one was an overview of the book’s message, the remaining 10 chapters focus sharply on specific issues outlined at the start. “Oil and Ice” makes no bones about the effects of oil exploration, pipelines, spills and ancillary issues.

The next three chapters enlarge on the effect of changing conditions in the Arctic Ocean, sharply increasing storm seasons, warmer water, changes in the species of fish and mammals that can thrive in these altered conditions. Of special interest are the sections on the polar bear/grizzly bear hybrids that are being found in increasing numbers, and the arrival of Pacific species of fish in areas where they had not been seen traditionally.

Chapter six zeroes in on the polar bear, the stresses the changing landscaper is forcing on them, and how it brings them into increasing conflict with humans. There is some space spent on how the community of Churchill has tried to find solutions that do not involve simply killing the bears, how they have tried to turn a liability into an asset.

Chapter seven moves to the caribou and also spends some time on the reintroduction of wood bison into areas where they once roamed in numbers. Some of this is because efforts have been made to save caribou populations in some areas and the two projects are comparable. Protection of calving grounds has been an essential part of caribou protection projects.

Chapter eight is called Paradise Lost and it relates to the vast numbers of birds of many species, which have traditionally found the Arctic a perfect place to bring their young into the world. Increasing rain, all by itself, seems to be endangering the lives of the hatchlings of several species, However, the decline in the numbers of harp seals, the basic food of the polar bears, has these predators going after birds’ eggs. Then there are the mosquitoes, which are hatching earlier than they used to due to warmer temperatures, and are putting a serious stress on the birds, not to mention the other inhabitants of the region.

Chapter nine comes back to the problem of Arctic oil and mineral exploration, focusing on the history of industrial accidents and oil spills that industry really hasn’t been able to deal with very well and outlining how totally unprepared we would be if something like the Gulf oil spill were to occur in the Arctic Ocean. With the resources fairly readily available in the Gulf, the clean up remains problematic. There is nothing like those resources to deal with a similar problem made worse by sub-zero temperatures

Chapter ten outlines the case for the nations to come up with an Arctic treaty to anticipate some of these problems and try to prevent them before they become real. The chapter concludes with a chilling scenario in which a accident occurs and everything goes wrong, as a result of which, “the Exxon Valdez is no longer the worst oil spill for have occurred in the Arctic.

The final chapter concludes that there needs to be another effort along the lines of the International Polar Year project of 2007-2009 that would bring together the thinking of scientists from variety of nations to chew on these problems. At that time 62 nations devoted “hundreds of millions of dollars to send thousands of scientists to the polar regions to examine a wide range of physical, biological and social research topics.”

One would hope that, now that Canadian scientists are once again allowed to participate in such events without being under the watchful eye of government appointed communications specialists (a practice which smacked far too much of the political commissars that used to trail behind all Soviet officials) progress might be made once again.








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