Most of us share a similar feeling when we hear panicked scientists telling us things like ‘the planet was an average 1.1°C hotter than usual last year’. Their panic is often infectious – we find ourselves agreeing that climate change is the defining issue of the 21st century – but we can’t help but feel figures like 1.1°C seem so puny in comparison to the rhetoric.
Unless you have a “science” background or have the time and willpower to do your own research, it’s difficult to imagine the specific effects of climate change when it’s illustrated by these sort of figures. Perhaps that’s why climate change skeptics often brush off these sort of warnings by labelling them one-offs and anomalies.
But when temperatures in northern Alaska are a jaw-dropping 22°C (that’s right, twenty-two degrees Celcius) above normal for this time of year, and the state loses one third of the ice on its West coast in a single week – it really brings home the enormity, unpredictability and urgency of climate change.
Temperatures above freezing – even in the perpetual night of winter
The actual temperature was -1°C, which at first, may not seem to striking. However, it’s currently Arctic winter in northern Alaska. This is when the sun set in October and is not seen again, at all, until March. Without a single sun-ray in 4 months, temperatures in the northern extremities of the planet are teetering at around freezing.
In this perpetual night, some parts of the wider Arctic are experiencing above-freezing temperatures, which could lead to tremendous knock-on effects over the next few years – including the North Pole melting.
Just the beginning?
In Alaska, jobs, communities and ways of life are at risk as a result of these extreme changes. Last year alone, the US government spent $15 billion on weather and climate disasters – money diverted away from infrastructure and public services.
To use a (admittedly shameful) pun, this is just the tip of the iceberg. As a direct result of climate change, Bangladesh is already experiencing more devastating floods year on year, displacing tens of millions of people in the process. Scientists predict a one meter rise in sea levels would render 30 million Bangladeshis ‘climate refugees’.
And what happens then? It’s fantasy to believe that any government is prepared to deal with the fallout of major environmental events. The extent to which developed nations such as the UK decide provide aid and refuge to the tens – potentially hundreds – of millions of victims of climate change will be one of the greatest challenges human civilisation has faced.
Which makes it even more perplexing that, as snow dominates current UK news cycles, we aren’t also asking bigger questions.
This is more than just a temperature anomaly. It is an off-the-scale event. Why is the Arctic meltdown not headline news in every paper? pic.twitter.com/Il10CEhRVM
— GeorgeMonbiot (@GeorgeMonbiot) 26 February 2018