What We Do to the Arctic, We Do to Ourselves

Polar Bears Missing Ice

Earlier this week, extreme weather events read like the script of Hollywood blockbuster “The Day After Tomorrow.”

Last Sunday, heavy rains battered northern Chile — three years worth of rain fell in 12 hours. Four million people in the capital city of Santiago had no drinking water. Landslides wreaked havoc, rivers breached banks and the world’s largest copper mine was shut down.

The following day, Houston, Texas, received 17 inches of rainfall in 24 hours — or what Salt Lake City, Utah, receives in a year. Two hundred and forty billion gallons of water — the equivalent of 363,363 Olympic swimming pools — destroyed over 1,000 homes, 1,200 people and hundreds of animals were rescued, eight people died, and damage is estimated in excess of $5 billion.

March was the hottest year on record at a staggering 1.28 degrees Celsius or 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit above average. It was the sixth consecutive record-breaking month of heat.

So what’s going on?

We have burned an immense amount of fossil fuels. The oceans are supercharged with heat. Since 1997, the oceans are holding the equivalent heat of one atomic Hiroshima-style bomb detonating every second for 75 straight years.

The Arctic is melting at a stunning rate. This year, from January to March, all Arctic permafrost, subarctic wetlands and Greenland are heating up the fastest by seven to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. March 24 set an all time low maximum ice cover at 5.6 million square miles. The 13 smallest maximum Arctic ice covers on record have occurred over the past 13 years. We just lost a massive area of 620,000 square miles of sea ice, or, twice the size of the state of Texas.

The polar bears in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska are telling us that what we do to the Arctic we do to ourselves. Populations have gone form thousands to hundreds in the past decade. From 2004-07, only two out of 80 polar bear cubs survived. One 400-pound female swam the equivalent of 16 consecutive marathons —  about 400 miles in nine days — looking for ice. Her year-old cub drowned, and she lost 88 pounds — 22 percent of her body weight.

The Arctic acts like a huge air conditioner for the Northern Hemisphere and we are quickly losing its life-sustaining cooling affect. The concern is that as the Arctic rapidly melts, the incidence of wild weather events are spiking, like floods, droughts, heatwaves, fire storms, insect plagues, extreme blizzards and Earth’s ability to grow food. In addition to all this, each year, we are adding two billion pounds of bee-, soil– and water-killing neonicotinoids onto the agricultural fields. Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached a tipping point.

Please embrace the new three Rs:

  • Reduce what you consume.
  • Reuse materials like glass mason jars.
  • Refuse petroleum-based plastics.

This Earth Day please take my pledge and lend a helping hand to save nature now.

Earth doctor Reese Halter is the author of “The Insatiable Bark Beetle.”