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All wars are serious, but this climate war could have the direst consequences

THE ONE WAR THAT THE HUMAN SPECIES CAN’T LOSE  The New Yorker, By Robin Wright, 20 Feb 2020  “……… For almost a half century, I’ve covered wars, revolutions and uprisings on four continents, many for years on end. I’ve always been an outside observer watching as others killed each other. I lamented the loss of human life—and the warring parties’ self-destructive practices—from an emotional distance. In Antarctica, I saw war through a different prism. And I was the enemy. “  “Humans will be but a blip in the span of Earth’s history,” Wayne Ranney, a naturalist and geologist on the expedition, told me. “The only question is how long the blip will be.”

Last week, the temperature in Antarctica hit almost seventy degrees—the hottest in recorded history. It wasn’t a one-day fluke. Famed for its snowscapes, the Earth’s coldest, wildest, windiest, highest, and most mysterious continent has been experiencing a heat wave. A few days earlier, an Antarctic weather station recorded temperatures in the mid-sixties. It was colder in Washington, D.C., where I live.  Images of northern Antarctica captured vast swaths of barren brown terrain devoid of ice and with only small puddle-like patches of snow.

The problem is not whether a new record was set, “it’s the longer-term trend that makes those records more likely to happen more often,” John Nielsen-Gammon, the director of the Texas Center for Climate Studies at Texas A. & M. University, told me this week……

The iceberg that I watched break off from Antarctica was part of a process called calving. It’s normal and a necessary step in nature’s cycle, except that it’s now happening a lot faster and in larger chunks—with existential stakes. The ice in Antarctica is now melting six times faster than it did forty years ago, Eric Rignot, an Earth scientist at the University of California, Irvine, and a co-author of a major study of the continent’s ice health, told me.

This month, an iceberg measuring more than a hundred square miles—the size of the Mediterranean island of Malta, or twice the size of Washington, D.C.—broke off the Pine Island Glacier (lovingly known as pig, for short) in West Antarctica. It then broke up into smaller “pig-lets,” according to the European Space Agency, which tracked them by satellite. The largest piglet was almost forty square miles.

The frozen continent is divided into West Antarctica and East Antarctica. (The South Pole is in East Antarctica.) Most of the melting and much of the big calving has happened in the West and along its eight hundred-mile peninsula. But, in September, an iceberg measuring more than six hundred square miles—or twenty-seven times the size of Manhattan—calved off the Amery Ice Shelf, in East Antarctica. Calving has accelerated in startling style. Two other huge soon-to-be bergs are being tracked as their crevices and cracks become visible from space. One is from pig in the West, the other is forming off the Brunt Ice Shelf in the East……….

“By 2035, the point of no return could be crossed,” Matthew Burrows, a former director at the National Intelligence Council, wrote in a report last year about global risks over the next fifteen years. That’s the point after which stopping the Earth’s temperature from rising by two degrees Celsius—or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit—will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, in turn triggering “a dangerous medley of global disasters.”

And that, in turn, goes back to ice and its role in fostering human civilization. “What’s coming—or is happening—is the end of the earth’s stability,” Glendon told me. “In human terms, that means a return to migration, but in a population of not just a few million, but several billion.”

Before I went to Antarctica, I checked in with Donald Perovich, a geophysicist at Dartmouth who tracks sea ice. We got to talking about wars. “You can argue that in all wars, there are winners and losers. Afterward, societies go on. There’s an opportunity to recover and move forward. If you approach climate change as a war, there are some really severe consequences across the board,” he told me. “This,” he added, “is the one war we can’t lose.” https://www.newyorker.com/news/dispatch/antarcticas-ice-the-one-war-that-the-human-species-cant-lose?source=EDT_NYR_EDIT_NEWSLETTER_0_imagenewsletter_Daily_ZZ&utm_campaign=aud-dev&utm_source=nl&utm_brand=tny&utm_mailing=TNY_Daily_022020&utm_medium=email&bxid=5bea00ac3f92a404693b7a69&cndid=46508601&esrc=&mbid=&utm_term=TNY_Daily

 

 

February 22, 2020 - Posted by | ANTARCTICA, climate change

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