Where Republicans generally miss the point
The environment. Republicans are clueless.
Bad news (and good) on Arctic warming
By Andrew C. Revkin The New York Times Saturday, October 30, 2004 NEW YORK
The first thorough assessment of a decades-long Arctic warming trend shows the region is undergoing profound changes, including sharp retreats of glaciers and sea ice, thawing of permafrost, and shifts in ocean and atmospheric conditions that are likely to harm native communities, wildlife and economic activities, while offering some benefits.
The report - conducted and reviewed by 250 scientists and representatives of six organizations representing Arctic native communities - while noting that conditions in the far north have varied naturally in the past, says the current shifts match longstanding scientific projections that the Arctic should be the first place to feel the effect of rising atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases from smokestacks and tail pipes.
It adds that the warming and other changes are likely to accelerate in this century because of the buildup in greenhouse gases.
Prompt efforts to curb such emissions could slow the pace of change sufficiently to allow communities and wildlife to adapt, the report says.
But it also stresses that some further warming and melting is unavoidable, given the century-long buildup of the long-lived gases, mainly carbon dioxide.
"These changes in the Arctic provide an early indication of the environmental and societal significance of global warming," says the executive summary of the report.
The study, called the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, was commissioned four years ago by the eight nations with Arctic territory - Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden, and the United States.
The study was scheduled for release at a conference in Iceland on Nov. 9, but electronic copies of some portions were provided to The New York Times by European participants in the project.
Several participants said that publication had been delayed in part by the Bush administration because of the political contentiousness of global warming.
Officials of the Arctic Council, the international body that commissioned the study, denied that was the case.
"There is no truth to the contention that any of the member states of the Arctic Council pushed the release of the report back into November," said Gunnar Palsson of Iceland, the chairman of the council's eight government representatives.
He said that the countries all agreed to the delay from September to November because of conflicts with another international meeting in Iceland.
The American scientist directing the assessment, Robert Corell, an oceanographer and senior fellow of the American Meteorological Society, said the timing was set during diplomatic talks that did not involve the scientists.
He said he could not yet comment on the specific findings, but noted that the signals from the Arctic have global significance. "The major message is that climate change is here and now in the Arctic," he said on Friday.
"The scientific evidence of the last 25 to 30 years is very dramatic and substantial. The projections of future change indicate that this trend will continue and be substantially greater than the trends we're seeing on a global scale."
The report is a profusely illustrated window on a region in remarkable flux, incorporating reams of scientific data as well as observations by elders from communities around the Arctic Circle.
The potential benefits of the changes include projected growth in marine fish stocks and improved prospects for agriculture and timber harvests in some regions, as well as expanded access to Arctic waters.
There, sea-bed deposits of oil and gas that have until now been cloaked in thick shifting crusts of sea ice could soon be exploitable, and ice-free trade routes over Siberia could significantly cut shipping distances between Europe and Asia in the summer.
But the list of potential harms is far longer. The same retreat of sea ice, it says, "is very likely to have devastating consequences for polar bears, ice-living seals, and local people for whom these animals are a primary food source."
Oil and gas deposits on land are likely to be harder to extract as tundra continues to thaw, limiting the frozen season when drilling convoys can traverse the otherwise spongy ground, the report says.
And it concludes that the consequences of the fast-paced Arctic warming have global reach, in part as sea levels rise in response to the accelerated melting of Greenland's two-mile-high sheets of ice.
There have been continuing disagreements between American officials and other participants over the report's contents and timetable.
Last year, for example, the State Department distributed a document to representatives from the other Arctic countries saying it opposed having the technical experts draw conclusions about policies on greenhouse gases or other related factors until the scientific findings had been reviewed by the eight participating governments.
A copy was provided to The New York Times by a person involved in the project who criticized the delay in considering the implications of the climate shifts.
The document said this was "a fundamental flaw" in the process.
The implications of the findings could not be legitimately considered before the scientific assessment was completed and governments needed to have the right to suggest changes.