The planet just had its warmest January through July period on record – and this despite the cooling effects of La Nina in the Pacific, not to mention the snow blizzard in Washington, D.C. last winter.
The Arctic had an extraordinarily warm spring, with temperatures as much as 6 degrees C above average, the warmest on record (adequate temperature records go back to 1948). The ice cover is now the second lowest it has been since ice records began to be kept in 1979. Though the northern Northwast Passage is not completely open, there is still time, for a month of melting still lies ahead in the lower Arctic.
This is the 14th consecutive year of above average Arctic ice melt. Each year the ice starts to melt a little earlier, and then the increased extent of open water absorbs more heat instead of reflecting it back the way ice does. So the melt season then lasts a little longer. The melt season has extended an average of 6.4 days per decade over the past three decades: 20 days longer in just 28 years.
All this spurs on Canadian efforts to develop the Arctic as the irresistible Northwest Passage gets ever closer. This week, Canadian Prime Minister Harper, on his annual summer trip into the Arctic, announced the development of the airport at Churchill in northern Manitoba, on the west coast of Hudson’s Bay – anticipating that it will become the airport hub to serve Canada’s north.
Then Harper announced that Cambridge Bay in Nunavut will become the home of the planned Canadian High Arctic Research Station – and Cambridge Bay is (perhaps you guessed it) the major community nearest to the entry to the Northwest Passage.
And so the drumbeat continues. The Arctic ice cover continues to melt at unexpected rates each summer, changing Arctic ecosystems in the process, with predicted but uncertain impact on global climate and on ocean currents. And the impending opening of the Northwest Passage forces coastal Arctic countries to press their sovereignty concerns with far greater energy and effectiveness than they do in trying to mitigate the catastrophic impacts of global warming.
What is Canada doing to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate global warming? Nothing. The Government will not initiate any stricter regulations than those that exist in the US, and the current US Congress will initiate nothing.
Now, sovereignty issues, and economic issues concerning who owns the Northwest Passage – that’s quite different. All the players are taking initiatives.
Are we really so short sighted? Not for a second.
But our leaders are.