February 23, 2013

What Will The Arctic Resemble in 2050?

I was idly reading this week's edition of The Economist magazine over breakfast this morning. As a one time table tennis player with a penhold grip myself, I'd just finished reading their obituary of Zhang Zedong when I noticed an advertisement on the facing page. It seems that on March 12th The Economist will be hosting "The Arctic Summit" at the Hotel Bristol in Oslo, Norway. According to The Economist the summit will present "A new vista for trade, energy and the environment" to:

More than 150 policymakers, senior business leaders and influential commentators

who will be discussing:

What will the Arctic resemble in 2050?

The first thing that struck me was that for some unfathomable reason there seemed to be no mention of any "scientists" amongst the attendees.  I clicked through to the list of speakers, to discover that in amongst all the great and the good there is in fact a scientist speaking, Stefan Rahmstorf who is "Professor of Physics of the Oceans at Potsdam University". There are also a few scientist/administrators including one from host nation Norway. Jan-Gunnar Winther is "Director of the Norweigan Polar Institute". (Note that for another unfathomable reason The Economist seem to be unable to spell "Norwegian" properly). Then there's Huigen Yang, who is "Director of the Polar Research Institute of China". Last, but not least, there's Rear Admiral Jonathan W. White, who is Director of the United States Navy's "Task Force Climate Change". Perhaps they are all included under the banner of "influential commentators", along with Rajendra Pachauri, who is Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize (along with Al Gore) in 2007?

As is the way with such things, the Arctic Summit actually begins with a "pre-conference gala dinner" the previous evening, in this case aboard the Polar Ship Fram. According to The Economist:

The Fram was the first ship specially built in Norway for polar research. She was used on three important expeditions: with Fridtjof Nansen on a drift over the Arctic Ocean 1893-96, with Otto Sverdrup to the arctic archipelago west of Greenland – now the Nunavut region of Canada – 1898-1902, and with Roald Amundsen to Antarctica for his South Pole expedition 1910-12.

If you are attending the dinner please note there is one slight variation from tradition. The Economist recommends that you turn up wearing a woolly jumper rather than a black tie, since:

There is no central heating in this historic museum due to specific atmospheric requirements.

The good ship Fram has another claim to fame apart from her lack of heating. The Fram Strait between Greenland and Svalbard is named after her, and I feel sure we'll have much to say about the warm waters flowing north and all the ice floating south in that part of the globe over the coming weeks, months and years. The Economist does point out that:

The resource-rich Arctic is changing faster than anywhere on Earth, and its biggest transformation is just ahead. Due to climate change, the polar ice cap is shrinking and floating summer ice is projected to disappear altogether, setting alarm bells ringing for environmentalists, but opening up new perspectives for trade and development.

Whether any of the relevant science gets discussed over the slightly chilly gala dinner in Oslo remains to be seen, but if you can't get there next month and you are interested in the scientific research currently taking place into the shrinking polar ice cap, you may wish to take a good look around the shiny new Arctic Sea Ice Forum instead. We're even discussing technology and policy over there as well, if either of those is of more interest to you. As far as the science goes, the consensus on the forum is that the Arctic will be "ice free" in summer several decades before 2050. Some commentators even go so far as to suggest that this coming summer will qualify.

Here's a video in which a number of eminent scientists explain what the Arctic resembles at the moment, and what they think it will resemble in the not too distant future:

As Dr. Jennifer Francis puts it at the end of the video:

This is something that anybody can see. You don't have to be a scientist. I like to hope that if there is a silver lining in all of this it's helping people to wake up and realize that this is a big problem. It's happening now, it's not happening generations from now, and we really need to start doing something about it.

That brings us full circle back to Zhuang Zedong at long last. According to The Economist once more, his accidental meeting with US table tennis player Glenn Cowan in April 1971 began the era of "Ping-pong diplomacy":

Mr. Zhuang… found a silk scarf  printed with a picture of The Yellow Mountain of Huangshan and presented it to the American. Cowan… handed him the next day a typically Californian T-shirt with a peace emblem and the words "Let it Be".

Shortly thereafter:

America lifted its 20 year trade embargo, and in February 1972 Richard Nixon visited China, the first American president to do so in Communist times.

As we reported recently, in our current ecological/economic nexus China and the United States are currently leading the world in terms of emissions of greenhouse gases, which are still rising fast globally. Despite that the United States has recently decided to impose import tariffs on "Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaic Cells, Whether or Not Assembled into Modules from the People’s Republic of China", and the European Union is considering following in their footsteps. It seems to me that now is a very good time for the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China to get together to indulge in some more "ping-pong" diplomacy, this time to discuss how to reduce their joint contribution to "Anthropogenic Global Warming" long before 2050. As Chairman Mao Zedong put it all those years ago:

A tiny ball had moved the great ball of the Earth.

Will it Be? In Oslo or anywhere else for that matter.

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