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Global warming: Capitalists skating on thin ice
The National Snow and Ice Data Centre is expected to announce a new low in the extent of the arctic sea ice as the Socialist goes to press. The shrinking of the arctic polar ice sheet has shocked climate scientists around the world and is now only half the area of summer ice in the 1970s.
Climate change has this year already affected the production of food staples through extreme weather, forcing prices higher and threatening a repeat of the 'Arab Spring' throughout the neocolonial world. The loss of arctic ice could be making the situation worse.
Mainstream media reporting of the ice sheet collapse appears to blame ordinary people. 'Human activities' are responsible for 70-95% of the decline, the Guardian reports, citing a recent study. Yet calling the destructive activities of giant energy corporations Shell or ExxonMobil 'human' is a gross injustice to humankind!
David Nussbaum, chief executive of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) UK, says: "We can all take action to cut carbon emissions and move towards a 100% renewable economy" (Guardian, 14 September 2012), forgetting that Prime Minister David Cameron has just appointed climate change sceptic Owen Paterson as environment secretary.
The precipitous drop in the ice sheet extent affects food production due to a newly discovered mechanism. The polar jet stream in the northern hemisphere is weakened by the warmer arctic. Continental-wide deviations in the jet stream allow heatwaves from the south to rise much further north.
"Ultimately this can result in 'blocking' events, such as the conditions that produced the terrible heatwave in western Russia during the summer of 2010", research professor Jennifer Francis told the Guardian (14 September 2012). Equally the arctic weather can spill out over Europe or the USA for weeks or months causing extreme weather events.
Dustbowl conditions are returning to the USA as a result of global warming, accelerated this year by the blocking of the polar jet stream. Great 100 kilometre wide yellow dust clouds rolled over the 1.5 million inhabitants of Pheonix Arizona twice in one week in July, despite vastly improved soil management since the 1930s, as four-fifths of the USA enters some form of drought.
Corn production is down by a quarter, yet ethanol production, fixed by legislation, is now likely to consume 40% of all corn production in the USA this year as a result of the extreme drought afflicting the USA. That's roughly 20% of worldwide corn production.
Meanwhile Shell is attempting to prospect for oil off the Alaskan coast, albeit delayed a year after a final test of its environmental protection equipment failed to meet the standards required to gain a full drilling permit. ExxonMobil is aiming to drill in Russia's arctic waters. Both are undeterred by the fact that western USA and eastern Siberia are burning in the global warming caused by fossil fuel emissions.
More than 17,000 wildfires had burned more than 74 million acres of Russia's Siberian boreal forest by the end of August 2012, NASA reported (13 September 2012), the most severe in a decade, while the year-to-date total acreage burned in the USA is the most on record, exceeding 7.72 million acres, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported (7 September 2012).
These oil companies are not merely the unacceptable face of capitalism - they are its cutting edge, red in tooth and claw. The prospecting in the arctic must stop immediately before a new Deepwater Horizon type disaster happens. The whole energy industry needs to be nationalised under democratic workers' control and management and a new socialist plan of production immediately implemented based on renewable energy.
An ice free arctic in September 2020 seems possible, up to 80 years in advance of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predictions.
The most feared feedback event is wholesale methane gas releases, initially 100 times more powerful than CO2 and now bubbling up from the thawing arctic waters and permafrost, and producing recent spikes in methane readings.
The planet is in uncharted territory. Scientists' models did not predict the current ice loss. The runaway feedback effects of the loss of sea ice are impossible to predict, and were simply omitted for this reason from the reports of the IPCC.
In The Socialist 19 September 2012:
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