What Are We Willing To Do For A Starving Polar Bear?

Watching this video will make you very sad (backstory here). It should. It is heartbreaking.

But the real question is: what are we collectively willing to do about it, if anything? Is it enough to inspire changes in the choices we make and the way we live. Because how humanity lives (what it values and what it doesn’t) is what is starving this polar bear.

Here is just a partial list of all the things we can do that relate to this polar bear and his fate: have fewer children, eat less or no meat, drive less (and walk, bike, or use public transportation more), stop flying so much, reduce electricity consumption, shower a few times a week instead of every day, stop buying so much stuff, and stop wasting so much food. Vote for politicians who believe climate change is happening and are willing to ask for sacrifices to deal with it. Support leaders who are fighting global inequality. Support the global education of women, and family planning. Put the lives and needs of ALL species, and stewardship and conservation of the natural world, above your personal convenience. In short, simplify your life and radically reduce its environmental footprint. What else?

Yes, it involves doing less of a lot of things marketers and our culture want us to do a lot of. Doing fewer things that we associate with comfort and convenience. To live in a way that is radically different from the way we have been raised and acculturated to live. But it really isn’t that hard. And it feels good, because it feels right, to DO something.

So let’s work our way through the list, and then we can honestly lament the condition of this polar bear. Because our tears won’t do him any good. Only actions.

Phew, Glad We Settled That

Because it would nice to stop arguing about this and focus on solutions:

An international panel of scientists has found with near certainty that human activity is the cause of most of the temperature increases of recent decades, and warns that sea levels could conceivably rise by more than three feet by the end of the century if emissions continue at a runaway pace.

The scientists, whose findings are reported in a draft summary of the next big United Nations climate report, largely dismiss a recent slowdown in the pace of warming, which is often cited by climate change doubters, attributing it most likely to short-term factors.

The report emphasizes that the basic facts about future climate change are more established than ever, justifying the rise in global concern. It also reiterates that the consequences of escalating emissions are likely to be profound.

“It is extremely likely that human influence on climate caused more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010,” the draft report says. “There is high confidence that this has warmed the ocean, melted snow and ice, raised global mean sea level and changed some climate extremes in the second half of the 20th century.”

I suppose there will next be a demand for ABSOLUTE certainty. In the meantime here is a partial glimpse of what we are destroying:

Watching The Arctic Change

NASA is on it, with satellite imagery and video:

The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite captured this view of extensive sea-ice fracturing off the northern coast of Alaska. The event began in late-January and spread west towardBanks Island throughout February and March 2013.

Visualizations of the Arctic often give the impression that the ice cap is a continuous sheet of stationary, floating ice. In fact, it is a collection of smaller pieces that constantly shift, crack, and grind against one another as they are jostled by winds and ocean currents. Especially during the summer—but even during the height of winter—cracks—or leads—open up between pieces of ice.

That was what was happening on the left side of the animation (below) in late January. A high-pressure weather system was parked over the region, producing warmer temperatures and winds that flowed in a southwesterly direction. That fueled the Beaufort Gyre, a wind-driven ocean current that flows clockwise. The gyre was the key force pulling pieces of ice west past Point Barrow, the northern nub of Alaska that protrudes into the Beaufort Sea.

Scientist Ken Dunton is on it, too, and he captures the challenge of change in much more human terms:

The Last Iceberg

A haunting image from photographer Camille Seaman. It’s from one of her powerful galleries depicting ice, the oceans, and polar life.

Screen Shot 2013-03-22 at 10.04.59 AM

As regular readers know, I believe Seeing Is Important. So I find this kind of photojournalism invaluable in terms of documenting change as well as eliciting emotion–which is a prelude to action.

Here, Seaman talks about her work:

Shell: Not Really Ready For Arctic Prime Time

That seemed pretty obvious as Shell suffered one setback after another in the Arctic over the past 6 months. But it’s nice to know the Interior Department noticed, as well:

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar on Thursday released the findings of a Departmental review of Shell’s troubled 2012 Arctic operations, painting a scathing picture of Shell and its inability to oversee and manage key components of its arctic program…

…The assessment found that Shell entered the 2012 drilling season without having finalized key components of its program, including its Arctic Challenger containment system, which put pressure on Shell’s operations and schedule and limited Shell from drilling into oil-bearing zones last summer. Weaknesses in Shell’s management of contractors on whom they relied for many critical aspects of its program – including development of its containment system, emission controls to comply with air permits, and maritime operations – led to many of the problems that the company experienced, the report found.

Well, yeah. Plus, it’s the, um, Arctic.

You might think that Shell’s failures would cause a re-think of the Obama Administration’s “”all-of-the-above” energy strategy, of which Arctic resource exploitation is a prominent component. But you’d be wrong. Apparently, it will take some sort of spill or oil drilling disaster to cause a re-think of the idea that the climate-warmed Arctic is there for the drilling (and mining, and fishing, and…).

Ozymandias Award: Shell Oil Kulluck

Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.

[Backstory is here].

Seeing Is Important: The Meaning Of (Melting) Ice

Back to one of my favorite themes, because last night I saw the documentary “Chasing Ice.”

It’s about the quest of photographer James Balog to capture–through time-lapse photographs taken by remotely positioned cameras–what is happening to the earth’s great glaciers.

You may know that they are melting and shrinking. But knowing something and seeing something are two different things. And seeing Balog’s time-lapse sequences–which convey both the majesty of what we are losing and the relentless, rapid rate at which the loss is occurring–drives home the reality in a way that provokes truly powerful emotions.

Balog is one of a number of photographers who are focused on the Arctic. It is there, perhaps more than anywhere else on earth, that you can see the dramatic impact of climate change, both on the natural world and on animal life. And the fact that it is a true wilderness, mostly unspoiled by a direct human presence, makes its degradation all the more poignant. That, plus the fact that human culture is having such an outsized impact on the atmosphere that it is destroying an entire ecosystem REMOTELY.

Another photographer whose work is documenting this phenomenon in a compelling way is Florian Schulz. Outside Online recently published a series of Schulz’s photos, called Into The Arctic. Here are a few (full set is here):

Schulz has also taken to film to try to convey the experience and meaning of the Arctic.

Welcome To The Arctic from Florian Schulz on Vimeo.

It’s impossible not to see all this and not feel anger and despair at the lack of wisdom and caring involved. But it also makes me want to channel those feelings into a desire to change everything. More on that soon…

Photo Of The Week: Polar Bear Pathos

This is an extraordinary image (thanks to Trina for sharing): Polar bear confronts an icebreaker. And depending on your feelings about the collision between man and his technology and the natural world, it is profoundly sad.

Naturally, it cries out for a caption contest. Let me know what your caption would be. I’m going with:

“Will you just stop already!?” 

Or maybe: “Back it up, Dude.”

(click image for full size)

Arctic Ice Extent At Record Low In January

It felt pretty cold down here at latitude 37 degrees, which gave the climate deniers on Capitol Hill plenty of grist for superficial cracks about global warming. But perhaps they should take a look at the top of the world, where January saw the lowest ever recorded extent of Arctic sea ice.

From NASA:

This image shows the average Arctic sea ice concentration for January 2011, based on observations from the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for EOS (AMSR-E) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite. Blue indicates open water; white indicates high sea ice concentrations; and turquoise indicates loosely packed sea ice. The yellow line shows the average sea ice extent for January from 1979 through 2000.

NSIDC reported that ice extent was unusually low in Hudson Bay, Hudson Strait, and Davis Strait in the early winter. Normally frozen over by late November, these areas did not completely freeze until mid-January 2011. The Labrador Sea was also unusually ice-free.

The shrinking of the polar ice cap is a fascinating story, with untold implications for species, the environment, and human culture and economies. I’m hoping to do some reporting on it very soon.

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