To think that the impacts of climate change we are seeing today, tomorrow and for the foreseeable future are manageable simply by cutting emissions and minimizing further damage to the planet – is a misconception and a mistake.
Both of these efforts are of course still crucial, but rather than just reducing the risks, or relieving the fallout of the climate crises we face – we need to reverse them.
This was the core message from Sir David King – Founder of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group (CCAG) and Centre for Climate Repair at Cambridge University – in his speech at the C40 World Mayors Summit last week.
— C40 Cities (@c40cities) October 17, 2022
“We are in a crisis,” he said, “I don’t think any one of us, any society, any city is doing enough.”
Sobering words that we’ve heard all too frequently as of late.
He used his opportunity on the summit stage to zero in on the simple reality of our current climate situation – “there’s a great big step ahead of us now” – and attempted to tie together the extreme weather events seen across the world, linking them all to one critical catalyst that itself is also a victim of human-induced climate change.
“It’s what is happening in the Arctic circle region,” he said, focusing on the High North as the eye of the storm, “what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.”
Now, spiraling into a self-perpetuating loop of destruction, the changes happening in the Arctic are speeding up global warming.
“What is happening in the arctic circle now, is threatening the whole future of the planet,” warned King.
But what is happening in the Arctic?
“The Arctic Circle has gone”
When negotiations were happening in Paris in 2015 to define the parameters of the new 2030 climate roadmap, David King was part of the discussions.
He stressed that back then, 1.5°C was “a very good target,” but the problem is that “it assumed that the whole planet was warming up evenly.”
The reality, is that the Arctic Circle region has been melting exponentially more rapidly than climate scientists previously predicted. New estimations reveal the due to climate change, Arctic is warming four times faster than the rest of the world, now estimated to be 3°C above pre-industrial levels.
Due to this change in polar climate, summer in the Arctic is intensifying – as the temperatures rise, white sea-ice cover melts, and more blue sea is exposed to the sun in its place.
White ice reflects sunlight, blue sea absorbs it. As the sea then warms up, more of the ice melts, and even less light is reflected – and a self-perpetuating warming effect ensues.
The ice that forms over the winter months covers 50% of the Arctic sea, but now melts within just a few days as the polar Summer arrives.
As this exposed blue sea warms rapidly, so does the air above it, a phenomenon which causes unusual shifts in air patterns that disrupt the circular anticlockwise wind – the “jet stream” – essential for maintaining the cold air temperature of the Arctic.
The jet stream keeps the cold air in, and the warm air out, forming the polar vortex.
Confused about the #PolarVortex? Usually a strong jet stream confines Arctic air to the north, stabilized by a big difference in temperature between low and high latitudes. The smaller the difference in temperature, the more the wind belts meander (Via @RemoteLongitude & @NOAA) pic.twitter.com/GEpzwjw1dS
— UN Climate Change (@UNFCCC) February 15, 2021
King goes on to connect the dots between our actions, the climate, the North Pole, and natural disasters. He explains that the Arctic is badly damaged by human-induced climate change, so its systems are dysfunctioning, which in turn is causing a transition in the global weather systems, and ultimately resulting in a sharp escalation in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events around the world.
“You’ve probably heard enough” he sympathized with his C40 crowd, but brought reality firmly back into focus by reminding them “this is just the beginning, it’s only going to get worse from now on.”
“The Arctic Circle has gone,” says King.
As alarming climate reports pile-up, the UN broadcasts urgent wake-up calls to world leaders, and many experience the first-hand wrath of the damage we’ve done to our climate through natural disaster and loss – as King says, “what is happening is already catastrophic for the whole planet.”
He urged his audience to intervene before it’s too late, placing emphasis on the fact that at present, it is in fact not too late:
“We’re going to have to work goddamn hard” but “this is not a hopeless story at all.”
Reduce, Remove, Repair
King reveals that our best shot at achieving a manageable future for humanity is to follow a “3R” critical roadmap for climate recovery – reduce, remove and repair.
The three R’s concept was developed by David King’s panel of 16 experts at the Climate Crisis Advisory Group (CCAG); an agile group launched in 2021 which represents the climate science leaders of the world from 12 different countries.
“CCAG will act to move policymakers, government officials and financial heads to address the key problems at the heart of the crisis,” says the group.
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The CCAG say the three R’s at the core are:
Reduce carbon emissions immediately, rapidly and significantly.
“We’ve already put too much up there, that’s what we have been doing for the last 150 years,” says King, “We won’t have a manageable future if we keep adding to what’s already there.”
Remove excess greenhouse gasses from the air.
“Every further tonne of greenhouse gasses, every further tonne of carbon dioxide you put into the atmosphere will have to be removed,” he says, explaining that to pull it back down is “a very big task.”
Repair the damage we’ve already done to the climate system. As King wryly notes, “the third R is the one that raises the most eyebrows.”
“We’ve already gone too far,” he reveals, explaining that simply stopping now will not be enough, we have to restore.
“Of course yes, that’s a big task,” admits King, but goes on to reveal that his team at Cambridge University’s Center for Climate Repair are at the beginning stages of developing a new technology to reverse the changes we’re seeing in the Arctic and spark repair – by refreezing it.
The current #heatwaves are a warning of the brutal reality of climate change.
Increased temps in the global north speed up the melting of Artic sea ice which causes the sea to heat up even faster, compounding temp increases.
Ice volume has dwindled in recent years pic.twitter.com/2I5bdOdFZL
— Climate Crisis Advisory Group (@ClimateCrisisAG) July 19, 2022
Refreezing the Arctic
The Arctic Circle region will not be able to correct itself and return to a proper functioning state simply by reducing emissions or removing excess gasses – we must proactively repair what’s malfunctioning.
That’s where refreezing the Arctic comes in, so that the sea ice can be maintained right through the summer, and the “relentless self-accelerating pattern of ice-melt, Arctic heating, and polar jet-stream distortion” can be stopped, preventing weather shifts and accelerated global warming.
“The business of refreezing the arctic is frankly to buy time while we reduce emissions and while we pump greenhouse gasses back out of the atmosphere,” said King.
How are they planning to go about this?
Well, there are many sophisticated and complicated ways that scientists across the world are considering – “mirrors-in-space, sooty flakes, or aerosols in the stratosphere” – all centered around finding a way to deflect sunlight away from the Arctic ice.
King and his group are working on a simpler method of radiation protection for the North Pole, by creating more “white cloud cover” over the Arctic Circle region for the entirety of the 3-month sunny polar summer period.
They plan to mimic natural cloud formation over the ocean, which occurs when salty sea-spray is picked up by wind blowing over the surface of the water.
“White cloud very effectively reflects sunlight back into space as snow does,” says King, which if successful should reduce ice-melt and even allow the ice sheets to thicken over time.
King hopes “the blue sea should not be re-exposed” and repair of the Arctic will begin.
The Bonus 4th R
In his speech, King implored the crowd of global leaders not only to listen and applaud his and other activists’ appeals for change, but to “take them on board” and take action on the 3Rs immediately.
“There is no section of our society that can be left out of this struggle to create a manageable future for humanity,” says King “We all need to be pulling together on this.”
He concluded his speech by simply stating that in order to endure the challenges of reducing, removing and repairing – which are all essential in preserving the future – we will also need a bonus fourth R – resilience.
“There is hope, there is a way forward,” he said, “we can do this, I believe scientifically we can manage this, but it is going to require a tremendous effort from all of us.”
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Sea ice in the Arctic Ocean. Featured Photo Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen