Iceless Arctic: Global Warming Accelerates While U.S. Backpedals

Two recent studies have shocked the world in regard to global warming.  A phenomenon that was to happen “possibly in our lifetime” has evolved into a threat capable of transforming the world in ten years time.

A recent, extensive study of the northern polar ice caps released by climate expert Professor Peter Wadham, concluded that the Arctic Ocean would be “mostly” ice free in 10 years during the summer months.

This study is a stunning compliment to research done by NASA at the South Pole, which noted that ice sheets have been losing 30 feet a year in thickness since 2003.  The research concluded that the rate of melting is accelerating, creating a “runaway effect.”

As ice sheets melt, less sun is reflected back into outer space, and is instead absorbed into the ocean – known as the Albedo Effect – further accelerating the pace of oceanic warming.

The consequences will be devastating.

The International Institute for Environment and Development has studied the possible effects of rising ocean levels, and concluded that one eighth of the world’s urban population would become “climate refugees,” creating the largest displacement of people in world history.  The most vulnerable countries are China (144 million displaced), India (63 million) and Bangladesh (62 million), while lower on the list are Japan (30 million) and the United States (23 million).

Not only will massive amounts of people become homeless, but the changing climate is expected to create other environmental and social crises internationally.  According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in Africa, “…between 75 million and 250 million people are projected to be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change. … [A]ccess to food, in many African countries and regions is projected to be severely compromised by climate variability and change.”

In Latin America, “Changes in precipitation patterns and the disappearance of glaciers are projected to significantly affect water availability for human consumption, agriculture, and energy generation.”

The EPA also outlines the negative effects of climate change in Europe, North America, Asia, and the rest of the world.  Global warming is truly an international phenomenon requiring the cooperation of the world’s people and resources.

In response to the arctic ice melting, the U.S. and Europe have begun cooperating militarily under the NATO umbrella. They see the melting ice not as social calamity, but as a corporate-profit opportunity.  United Press International (UPI) reported that U.S. Navy Admiral James Savridis remarked that, “…climate change, which is melting ice around the polar cap, is opening trade routes and access to billions of barrels of oil. That, in turn, could lead to competition and friction…” (October 10, 2009).

The friction is between NATO and Russia, which also has corporations eager to exploit the raw materials and trade routes an iceless arctic will offer.  UPI reports, “Russia sent a submarine to the Arctic seafloor in February to symbolically plant a flag and announced in March that it would establish military bases along the northern coastline.”

Melting polar ice caps should inspire the world to unite in cooperation, but the world today is dominated by giant corporations based in different nations, all obsessed with short-term profits. 

Obama has not publicly discussed the arms race in the arctic, and has instead focused on climate change speeches full of idealism, but lacking content.  Like Bush before him, Obama is putting U.S. corporate interests ahead of the interests of everybody else. 

The influence of U.S. corporations has hampered environmental progress for years: under Bill Clinton, the Senate voted unanimously (95-0) against signing the Kyoto Protocol – the inadequate international treaty aimed at lowering greenhouse gasses.  The Senate stated that the treaty “would result in serious harm to the economy [corporations] of the United States.”

Without the participation of the United States and China – the world’s two biggest polluters – the Kyoto Protocol became a pointless exercise.

Now, Obama is posing as an environmental advocate looking to right the wrongs of the past.  In reality, his vision for addressing climate change would be laughable, if the situation were not so dire.

The “Cap and Trade” environmental bill that Obama is encouraging Congress to pass mirrors the insufficient methods of the Kyoto protocol, with added loopholes.  U.S. taxpayers will be expected to pay billions to give corporations “allowances” to pollute; corporations can “trade” their allowances to more-polluting corporations or Wall Street banks eager to profit from these new forms of corporate stock.

Greenpeace, like other environmental organizations, condemned the Cap and Trade bill, saying that the bill “will actually spur a new generation of nuclear and coal-fired power plants to the detriment of real energy solutions."

More evidence of Obama’s fraudulent environmentalism is his attitude towards the upcoming international climate change conference in Copenhagen.   Here, it was hoped that the standards of Kyoto Protocol would be improved while also including all the worst polluting countries in the world.

The Guardian newspaper recently reported that the Obama Administration was working to undermine the Copenhagen conference.  This is being accomplished by the demand for a whole new structure for the treaty, which would destroy the years of planning that created the Kyoto Foundation.  The Guardian reported, “it could take several years to negotiate a replacement framework…” (September 15, 2009), effectively pushing any environmental solutions into the unknown future.

Another way the U.S. is disrupting the Copenhagen process is by demanding that there be no international mechanism to hold nations responsible for fulfilling their treaty obligations. The Guardian reported, “the US is pushing instead for each country to set its own rules and to decide unilaterally how to meet its target.”  This way, any polluting U.S. corporation that disagrees with Copenhagen‘s standards may rely on easily purchased U.S. congressmen to bail them out.

To hold such an obstinate attitude in the face of climate collapse is almost beyond comprehension.  As a famous socialist once pointed out, the corporate elite are “Tobogganing to disaster with its eyes closed.” Their blindness, however, has a practical foundation.  This class of people can see only the profits in front of their faces; they care nothing about the world around them, as they’ve successfully gated themselves off from it.  As the world enters a period of immense turmoil, they’ve sequestered themselves in private paradises.   

Thus, it is doubtful that even the loophole-ridden Cap and Trade bill will be passed or that anything of substance comes out of Copenhagen.  Even if this meager progress were made, it would be mostly symbolic.  Both tactics are completely inadequate to deal with the speed and severity of climate change; “reducing greenhouse gasses” will not do the trick at this point – the structure of our economy itself needs to be drastically changed.

First, big oil and big coal – along with other anti-change/polluting corporations – need their wings clipped.  Having such socially-valuable industries run by private corporations has greatly advanced climate destruction.   Their immense power allows them the freedom to destroy the earth while throwing cash in all directions to have their agendas fulfilled at the expense of everybody else.  They should instead be run as public utilities.

Ultimately, the industrial basis for an alternative energy superstructure needs to be created.  Only by doing this can we seriously address the needs of the planet.  Transforming our giant auto plants – many laying idle – into producers of solar panels, windmills, electricity-producing buoy’s, high-speed trains, electric buses and cars, etc., while massively investing in new research and technology to deal with climate change, is the only realistic way to drastically change direction in the time allotted.

Such a solution, however, is outside the reach of a capitalist economy, whose only motivation is profit.  Drastically changing society’s direction is not in the interest of those who benefit from the current version.  All honest environmentalists will likely agree that such a system needs replacing.  We can no longer allow giant corporations – accountable only to big shareholders – have the final say over all crucial economic and social issues.  The resources of society need to be controlled by society, so we can cooperate effectively to deal with the largest crisis our species has ever faced.      


Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (  He can be reached at Photo from Flickr by dsearls