It’s not exactly news that the melting of the Arctic ice caps would be bad for the planet. However, Arctic scientists have issued fresh warnings that the rapid rate at which Arctic ice is melting could cause irreversible, negative impacts around the world. They warn that the current melt rate highlights a very real risk of triggering 19 ‘tipping points’. A ‘tipping point’ can be defined in this context as a period of sudden or overwhelming change that has a profound impact on the climate. Often, these are irreversible.
The Arctic Resilience Report, in which the findings were published, states that the major cause of these negative changes are man-made, with greenhouse gas emissions a pertinent factor. The report was compiled by six acclaimed research universities, the Arctic Council, and four other organisations.
A significant tipping point, outlined in the report, is the rise in vegetation growth on the tundra which displaces ice and snow with plant matter. This has been caused by a higher than usual melting of Arctic ice and snow, allowing for greater than normal growth of plant life. Vegetation is much darker than ice and snow, and thus attracts more heat, meaning that the region is due to heat up ever further, causing further ice melt.
Record temperatures in the Arctic
This unsettling news comes as the Arctic is experiencing its hottest ever climate; the region’s temperatures have been consistently breaking records throughout 2016. During November 2016, the temperature in the region was an alarming 20C above where they should have been for the time of year. Professor Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University, New Jersey, called the temperature findings ‘off the charts’ and ‘scary’.
Scary is certainly the right word. It is commonly agreed among environmental scientists that the Arctic plays a vital role in the cooling of sea and air temperatures, by reflecting the sun’s radiation. If the reflective ice was largely replaced by vegetation, which absorbs the sun’s heat, it would effectively nullify the Arctic’s role in cooling the earth. This could be catastrophic for countries across the globe.
On top of all this, global political developments also threaten to worsen the situation in the Arctic. US President-elect Donald Trump – who has skirted between climate change scepticism and full-blown climate change denial – recently pledged to scrap NASA’s climate change research budget. He also promised to end US involvement in the Paris Agreement while on the campaign trail, but has been sending mixed messages on the issue since his election.
Marcus Carson, one of the lead authors of the Arctic Resilience Report, has called Trump’s pledge to slash environmental research funding as a “huge mistake.” He went on to say “It would be like ripping out the aeroplane’s cockpit instruments while you are in mid-flight.”
More investment is needed
At Proton Motor, we’re strongly of the opinion that companies and governments need to take action immediately to curb the irreversible effects of climate change. Climate change is a very real, very serious problem. We need more investment in clean energy research and infrastructure to reduce risks, not budget cuts inspired by climate change denial at the highest level of government.
In Europe, the picture is more encouraging. The German government recently adopted the ‘climate protection plan 2050,’ which aims to begin replacing fossil fuels with renewables across all sectors, including transport, agriculture, and business. At Proton Motor, we’re very pleased with this development, and our hydrogen fuel cell solutions are perfect to help the government achieve its green aims.
In this period of great uncertainty, it would be reassuring to see other countries following Germany’s example by pledging to invest in clean energy. While the adoption of clean energy cannot undo previous damage to the environment, it can ensure that no further damage is done, and that the environment is given a chance to recover. We hope that governments and corporations will take heed and invest in hydrogen fuel cell systems – or other types of clean energy – in 2017.
Proton Motor is a leading manufacturer of hydrogen fuel cells and fuel cell systems for mobile, maritime and stationary applications.