Thin Ice: Sustainability Leaders Needed!

Recent dramatic events in the Arctic and Antarctica are supporting scientists who suggest that the pace of climate change is accelerating. The Arctic ice cap is thinner than ever, with ice older than two years comprising less than 10 percent of the ice cover in measurements from the end of February. The amount of thick sea ice hit a record wintertime low of 378,000 square miles, which is down by 43 percent over the last year. As old ice is the thickest, and slowest-to-melt, it plays a vital role in regulating temperature on Earth.
“That thick ice really traps ocean heat; it keeps the planet in its current state of balance,” says Waleed Abdalati, director of the Center for the Study of Earth from Space at the University of Colorado and NASA’s former chief ice scientist. “When we start to diminish that, the state of balance is likely to change, tip one way or another.”
While 2008 was a comparatively cool year worldwide, and 2009 and 2010 predicted to be much warmer, the concern is that arctic sea ice will retreat dramatically — exceeding record losses that occurred over the last two years. Sea ice is important because it reflects sunlight back into space, and helps turn down the Earth’s thermostat. As the ice melts, the dark ocean waters will absorb unprecedented amounts of energy, which will accelerate the thawing of the permafrost, potentially releasing billions of tons of methane ‚Äï a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than CO2 — into the atmosphere. Warming begets warming.

In similar news, the map of Antarctica will need to be redrawn, as the thin bridge holding back the Wilkins ice shelf from the sea snapped earlier this month. The Connecticut-sized ice shelf is expected to disintegrate; just today Reuters is reporting a massive calving of ice that is quickly turning Charcot Island into a true island. Although this single event won’t affect sea levels, it demonstrates that Antarctica is melting three or four generations ahead of schedule. The disintegrating Wilkins Shelf also threatens to speed the flow of continental glaciers to the ocean, and that will affect sea level.
So what does all this mean for today’s business leaders? In a nutshell, it’s time for progressive companies to lead by example and invest in clean technologies and energy efficiency right now. For one thing, both the media and industry need to have some notable success stories that will encourage other companies that became more competitive through clean technology investments.
All it takes is one industry leader to go out on a limb to cut emissions, perhaps by purchasing in three or four hybrid trucks, or by installing a biomass co-generation unit to cut electricity costs. Almost invariably – as repeated stories on Triple Pundit indicate – these trials prove so successful that the same company releases new plans to speed up their emissions-cutting timetable faster than expected. This happens again and again, with the same companies eagerly pursuing new ways to cut their emissions just because it makes good business sense — and all this before cap-and-trade comes into play in the U.S.

Richard is a writer and editor based in Halifax, Nova Scotia who specializes in clean technology and climate change. He's the founder of One Blue Marble, a climate change activism blog and web site.

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