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GLENN HUROWITZ, Greenpeace Media Director, 202-552-1828; MELANIE DUCHIN, Greenpeace Global Warming Campaigner (Alaska), 907-227-2700.
Sea Ice at 2nd Lowest Level; Polar Bears in Open Water; Fay Floods FLA; Glacier Melting in Greenland
"These three events add up to a planet in deep trouble," said Greenpeace Global Warming Campaigner Melanie Duchin. "But while states and companies are responding to the climate crisis, the Washington politicians are just spraying offshore oil on the fire."
1. Sea Ice at Second Lowest Level Ever; Polar Bears at Risk of Drowning as Ice Melts
THE CHUKCHI SEA, OFF NORTHWEST ALASKA - On Tuesday, August 26, data maintiained by the International Arctic Research Center and the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) showed that Arctic sea ice has reached its second lowest level since records have been kept after significant melting attributed by scientists to the warming climate. The extent of Arctic sea ice is now 2 million mi2 below the long term average for the day, and within 400,000 mi2 of the all-time record low set in September 2007. With weeks still to go in the 2008 melt season, that gap will narrow even further before the ice reaches its 2008 minimum sometime in September. Scientists project that the Arctic Ocean could be ice free in the summer as early as 2012, further accelerating the pace of global warming: without the white ice to reflect sunlight back into space, the Earth will absorb more heat into the darker ocean, causing a vicious cycle of melting and warming. Temperatures in Alaska (and the rest of the polar region) have risen 3-5 degrees Farenheit since the 1950's.
Meanwhile, the consequences of this warming became brutally clear last week when a contractor for the federal Minerals Management Service spotted nine polar bears swimming in open ocean, between 15 and 65 miles from land or the nearest sea ice. Scientists with the federal U.S. Geological Survey consider the bears at risk for drowning: although polar bears are strong swimmers, they are not equipped to survive long distances in open water and spend most of their lives on sea ice. However, sea ice has been disappearing rapidly as the climate heats up due to global warming. Disappearance of the sea ice could cause the extinction of all polar bears in Alaska by 2050.
Ironically, the aircraft that spotted the polar bears was surveying the Chukchi Sea as part of Bush administration efforts to allow massive oil drilling in the area, even though federal scientists have warned that drilling activities could pose a serious additional threat to polar bear populations in the region Any oil found and consumed will also further endanger polar bears by spewing more global warming gases into the atmosphere.
2. Greenland Glacier Breaking Up, Threatening Sea Level Rise
NORTHERN GREENLAND - A massive piece of the Petermann glacier, the Northern Hemisphere's longest-floating glacier, broke off (pictures of the break up available at http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/08/080822-greenland-photo.html). Major cracks also appeared in the glacier, leading Professor Jason Box of the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University, who discovered the cracks, to predict that a further 60 square miles of glacier could be lost in the near future, contributing to dangerous sea level rise.
3. Fay Dumps 26 Inches of Rain on Florida
FLORIDA - Tropical Storm Fay made landfall four times in Florida, bringing a whopping 26 inches of rainfall to the state. As of Sunday, flood waters were still rising in many parts of Florida, leaving alligators, snakes, and fish swimming in urban areas and people's backyards. 200,000 people lost power and the storm is estimated to have cost more than $12 million. Although tropical storms and hurricanes have always been a part of Florida's weather, the number and intensity of tropical storms in the North Atlantic has increased markedly over the last century, along with sea surface temperatures in the region. Scientists consider it likely that the climate crisis is making extreme weather events more intense and wetter, and possibly more frequent (see additional resources below).
States, Businesses Respond; Feds' False Solution Will Make Problem Worse
This week also brought news of several major actions being taken by state governments, businesses, and others to combat the climate crisis to prevent future disasters. Two California businesses announced they would build the world's largest solar power arrays, 10 times bigger than any now in existence, to meet a state requirement that utilities generate at least 20 percent of their electricity from clean energy sources like solar and wind power.
-Google announced a major investment in geothermal power, which taps the Earth's natural heat to produce electricity.
-Colorado announced that its wind generation capacity has quadrupled in the last 18 months, also in response to a state clean energy requirement (23 other states have similar requirements).
Meanwhile, President Bush and Republicans in Congress have been pushing opening America's coasts to oil drilling while many Democrats have expressed their willingness to accept expanded drilling. In addition to the risk of large oil spills, drilling more oil will worsen the climate crisis by burning more fossil fuels and slowing the transition to a clean energy economy.
"Rather than investing in oil and other fossil fuels that make the problem worse, Washington needs to follow the example of states and turn its resources to further developing the clean energy that can get us out of this crisis," Duchin said.