Center for American Progress Action

The Arctic Is On The Brink: Here’s Why You Should Care

The Arctic Is On The Brink: Here’s Why You Should Care

The Arctic is melting and it will affect everyone, not just polar bears

The Arctic Is Melting And It Will Affect Everyone, Not Just Polar Bears

The Arctic is melting fast and that’s bad for everyone, not just the polar bears. As part of his continued push for climate action, President Obama will visit Alaska next week to draw attention to the Arctic and the effect of climate change on the region. On Monday in Anchorage, the president and Secretary of State Kerry will host GLACIER, a climate change conference where world leaders will discuss strategies to address rapid regional warming and advance ideas for strengthening Arctic community resilience.

The overall goal of the visit is to highlight the fact that the effects of Arctic warming–accelerated by climate change–will extend far beyond the region itself. Our colleagues at CAP created this explainer video, which illustrates (literally) why you should care that the Arctic is melting. Here are a few of the key points:

  • The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. This rapid warming is causing glaciers, sea ice, and Greenland’s massive ice shelf to melt. Runoff from all this melting is causing sea levels to rise, maybe even faster than we originally predicted. Sea levels have already risen 8 inches and could rise another 4 feet by the end of the century.
  • Communities across the globe are at risk of costly or devastating flooding. In the United States, 123 million people, the majority in the lower 48 states, are at risk of sea level rise from Arctic melting. For people who live in the Arctic the situation is even grimmer as the sea ice that provides a buffer for coastal communities from severe storms is melting away. More than 30 Alaska Native villages are experiencing flooding and erosion and are literally at risk of sliding into rising waters.
  • Wildfires in the region could lead to more carbon emissions. This summer, record wildfires have burned over 5 million acres in Alaska. These fires can thaw pre-historic permafrost, which is responsible for storing carbon. As a result, thawing permafrost could increase the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere, accelerating global climate change even further.

But there is action that can be taken to avoid the worst effects of Arctic warming:

  • Secure a strong global climate deal in Paris. At the December United Nations climate change conference in Paris, over 190 countries will work to reach a global climate deal to avoid catastrophic warming. Only time can tell how strong an international pact to reduce greenhouse gas emissions may be. A solid and ambitious agreement will not only slow overall climate change, but will also protect the fastest warming region on Earth: the Arctic.
  • Cut black carbon and methane pollution. Black carbon, or soot, from eight Arctic nations is responsible for one-third of the recent Arctic warming. That means the remaining two-thirds of Arctic warming due to black carbon emissions comes from the rest of the world, highlighting the need for global action to cut black carbon, which comes from the burning of fossil fuels. Methane, which also comes from fossil fuel combustion, is a greenhouse gas even more potent than carbon dioxide. Committing to cut short-lived climate pollutants like black carbon and methane is one of the fastest ways world leaders can slow melting in the Arctic. After all, continued sea ice melt is encouraging increased oil and gas development… and more climate change culprits.

Still not convinced Arctic warming matters? Watch the video.

BOTTOM LINE: Melting ice caps and rising seas may sound like far-off problems that will have an isolated impact. But the fact that the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet is bad news for everyone, not just the region’s people and wildlife.

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