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Nov 24, 2008

Never mind the financial markets: it’s the Arctic meltdown that should terrify us.

By Alan Stoga

While everyone has been stressing over the financial meltdown, we probably show have been more worried about another meltdown.
The total amount of Arctic ice lost during this year’s melt season set a new record, and minimum ice coverage reached the second-lowest recorded level. The melting of the permafrost accelerated, a process that releases long-frozen carbon into the atmosphere. And Arctic temperatures have remained well above normal.
Two new studies add to the gloom.
First, the Global Carbon Project announced that the pace of climate change is increasing at a rate exceeding the “worst case scenario” global scientists had forecast.
Second, a group of leading climate scientists recently concluded that global warming is no longer a 50- or 100-year problem. They say that even another decade of business-as-usual will produce climate catastrophe.
In other words, the defining issue of Barack Obama’s presidency is not likely to be the economy, the wars in the Middle East, the need to fix the country’s health care system, or any of the other domestic policy challenges facing him.
It’s going to be climate change.
After all, economic cycles ebb and flow. The Great Depression gave way to a great expansion, and even that long, ideological conflict—the Cold War—eventually ended.
Climate change is different. When the Greenland ice sheet melts, it stays melted for a long time. Seas rise, storms intensify, coral reefs collapse, glacier-based water sources disappear, deserts grow and agricultural patterns shift. All of this can be reversed only slowly—if at all.
President-elect Obama clearly understands the urgency of action. Since his election, he has talked about confronting global warming in almost the same pressing terms he has used to talk about the global economic crisis.
But if he is really serious about taking radical action, he should consider a controversial solution: weaning the nation off of coal.
That’s right: coal, not oil.
Believe it or not, our oil problem will eventually take care of itself as planetary deposits run down and prices go back up. But we have lots of coal, and lots of people who think coal is the solution.
However, burning more coal means pumping more emissions into the atmosphere. “Clean coal” advocates think this can be solved by sequestering carbon underground, but they have been unable to engineer large-scale solutions. And time is running out.
Beginning to move away from coal would recognize that America’s energy problem is not dependence on oil, but dependence on hydrocarbons. Of course, it would require an even bigger increase in energy efficiency and larger investments in renewable energy sources, but we should do both of those anyway.
Obama was elected to do dramatic things. What could be more dramatic than saying good-bye to King Coal?

FLYP presents an interactive infographic in which you can find out how climate change will affect the temperatures in different cities across the U.S.


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