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Melting ice, rising seas, hotter planet
11/23/2016 Volume XLIX, No. 46

In November, Arctic sea ice is usually on the rise. But extraordinarily warm temperatures in the polar region are having the opposite reaction.

According to the Washington Post, researchers in the Arctic report that as of last weekend Arctic sea ice was still shrinking, during a season when short daylight hours usually mean bitter cold and ice growth.

Why does this matter? Arctic sea ice acts as the Northern Hemisphere’s air conditioner, keeping vast parts of our planet cool enough for human habitation. The ice reflects light and heat from the sun, rather than absorbing it as a dark ocean would.

Arctic sea ice is one of many climate change topics explored in Before the Flood, a new documentary produced by Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s recommended viewing for anyone who is interested in, or skeptical about, about climate change.

Leonardo and his team traveled the globe for two years to witness climate change firsthand and talk with experts about what can be done to prevent catastrophic consequences.

In Greenland, climatologist Jason Box describes how more than 30 feet of solid ice melted in just the past two decades, contributing to sea level rise. As the ice disappears, he explains, it disrupts global weather patterns, contributing to both flooding and droughts.

Before the Flood also takes viewers to Florida, where the mayor of Miami talks about “sunny day flooding” and a massive pumping project to buy his city another 50 years; to Beijing, China, where millions of people can’t go outside without face masks because of extreme air pollution from burning fossil fuels; to New Delhi, India, where millions of impoverished people without access to energy see coal as a solution despite its risks.

In the South Pacific, low-lying islands are being inundated by rising seas; in Sumatra, rainforests are burned to make way for palm oil plantations, destroying the last remaining places on Earth where elephants, rhinos, tigers and orangutans live together in the wild.

What are the solutions? Leonardo visits the Tesla Gigafactory in Nevada to talk with founder Elon Musk about his vision for a future powered by solar energy. Since the sun doesn’t shine all the time, Musk believes new super-batteries capable of storing enormous amounts of power gathered by solar panels can completely eliminate the world’s reliance on fossil fuels.

In Sweden, Stockholm University professor Johan Rockstrom tells Leonardo of his country’s plan to have “free energy forever” through solar and wind power. Sweden aims to become the world’s first fossil fuel-free country.

Those who question climate change get stern words from NASA Earth Sciences Director Dr. Piers Sellers, a former astronaut. “The facts are crystal clear: The ice is melting. The Earth is warming. The sea level is rising. Those are facts,” he says as he demonstrates NASA’s satellite mapping of Earth’s ocean temperatures.

Sellers, who is dying of pancreatic cancer, tells Leonardo he is confident Earth’s residents will come “out of the fog of confusion” and stop climate change: “We need to be realistic and find a way out of it – and there are ways out of it.”

Takeaways from Before the Flood:

  • Consumers need to change their ways on what they buy, what they eat and how they get power.
  • We need to support leaders who will fight climate change by investing in renewable energy, ending fossil fuel subsidies, and backing a carbon tax.

Before the Flood – which gets its name from a panel in a 500-year-old painting, Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch, depicting the fall of civilization – can be viewed for free online. Go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Ctu7O7cUtE. To check out the trailer first, go to http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/before-the-flood/videos/before-the-flood-trailer/.

To read the Washington Post story about Arctic sea ice, go to https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/11/21/things-are-getting-weird-in-the-polar-regions/?utm_term=.ccae4d194300.

And to learn about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, go to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

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