Underwater by 2012?

Until a few weeks ago, I did not have global warming high on my list of worldly concerns. I believed it was a legitimate problem, but figured it wouldn’t have that much of an effect on me. I didn’t really care if my grave was covered by land or a few feet of water on top of that land.

But a news item that hit a few weeks ago has me certifiably concerned, and maybe even rounding the bend toward freaked out.

Last year, a couple of top scientists projected that Arctic sea ice was melting so quickly that it could vanish by 2040. Then in December, NASA climate scientist Jay Zwally, after reviewing the latest data, had an update: “At this rate, the Arctic Ocean could be nearly ice-free by 2012.”

Whoa now. I plan on being quite alive in 2012.

Zwally’s scary number was based on data that said:

  • 552 billion tons of ice melted from the Greenland ice sheet this summer, 15 percent more than the annual average summer melt.
  • At the end of last summer, the volume of Arctic sea ice was half what it was only four years ago.
  • The surface area of Artic summer ice in ’07 was nearly 23 percent below the previous record.

One scientist called it a “watershed year.”

No kidding.

No one can really know what this dire prediction portends, or if Mr. Zwally is just another Chicken Little type. But the idea that you could have a swim at the North Pole just five Augusts from now is enough bring a bead of sweat to the brow. (Is it getting hotter in here?) News analysis was very general about what a complete lack of an arctic ice sheet could mean for the global environment.

Scientists cited rising sea levels, worsening floods and drought, more immediate changes in winter weather, and the extinction of plant and animal species. Something tells me it could end up a lot worse than that.

I was surprised as well to see virtually no follow-up in the mainstream media about this alarming development. Maybe Mitt Romney flip-flopped on something or other that day and distracted them.

Some scientists warned that we may have reached the tipping point on global warming. NASA scientist James Hansen, often called the godfather of global warming, said this: “We have not passed a point of no return. We can still roll things back in time — but it is going to require a quick turn in direction.”

Cool. But just how do we go about that? Hey, I drive a Prius, but must be honest and admit that far and way my major motivation for buying it was to save gas money — not our atmosphere. When certain folks congratulated me for my contribution to preserving the environment, I played it off. Not so much anymore.

Am I alone with this news giving me the heebee-jeebies? Certainly there are staunch environmentalists who are way, way ahead of me, but how about rank-and-file folks who kind of go about their business and don’t worry quite so much about preserving the earth for future generations? There are a lot of you out there. Does the idea of no Arctic ice cap in 2012 shake you up? Do you buy that it could happen?

I’m still sleeping at night, and without galoshes, but I’ll be watching this global warming thing a lot more closely from now on.


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Eric Snider

Eric Snider is the dean of Bay area music critics. He started in the early 1980s as one of the founding members of Music magazine, a free bi-monthly. He was the pop music critic for the then-St. Petersburg Times from ‘87-’93. Snider was the music critic, arts editor and senior editor of Weekly Planet/Creative...
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