Friday, September 07, 2007


Why can't we do something for the polar bears, anyway?

by Larry Geller

The Arctic ice cap is melting at an alarming rate. You might have read something in the inner pages of your newspaper.

Experts say they are "stunned" by the loss of ice, with an area almost twice as big as the UK disappearing in the last week alone.

So much ice has melted this summer that the Northwest passage across the top of Canada is fully navigable, and observers say the Northeast passage along Russia's Arctic coast could open later this month.  [Guardian, 9/4/2007]

Even President Bush is talking climate change these days. It probably got through to him that there is oil someplace under there. The Russians have planted a titanium flag to claim territory for themselves. They have several ice-free ports along the Northeast Passage and are well-position to grab that oil

I don't know why, but this thought came to me upon reading that the Arctic could be ice-free by 2030. Bush may gain some oil, but the polar bears are doomed. They're drowning right now because they can't swim the increasing distance between ice floes. It's crazy, but I was wondering if somehow we could build some rafts and drop them at intervals in their neighborhood.

It would be the least we could do. We work hard to save the whales, right? Why not do something for polar bears.

There was some discussion on a radio program about "positive feedback" and what it means. The context was that ice reflects heat back into space, and if it melts, even more heat will be absorbed by the water. This will speed up the melting process, etc. But it wasn't clear what the term meant.

Imagine that you're driving a car and want to stop, but you confuse the gas pedal for the brake. You need to stop, so you push harder. The car doesn't stop, of course, it speeds up. So you push harder...  that's positive feedback. And just as there's no way the car will stop, there will be no way to prevent the ice from melting.

Another way to look at it--if they discover oil in the Arctic, Bush will have his foot firmly on the accelerator pedal, you can bet. Melt that ice! Pump that oil!

As the ice melts, the water level will rise worldwide. It's predicted that Waikiki will become the Venice of Hawaii. The real Venice will be gone. So will a number of our neighboring Pacific countries, and hunks of the US Mainland. I suppose the rest can divide up the newfound oil.

I hope articles will move from the inside pages to Page One. Clearly we need to do something about this. Positive feedback means we (and a whole lot of polar bears) are already in a lot of trouble.


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