The planet’s last great global ice melt left a benign and balmy climate in which civilisation was cradled: the new great melting heralds a grave threat to civilization
Posted byDamian Carrington
Friday 14 September 2012
Our planet is waving the white flag of surrender. But as the polar flag becomes ever more tattered, with holes scorched by hotter ocean waters, humanity pumps ever more globe-warming gases into the air.
The story of the Arctic ice cap is the story of modern environmentalism. In 1968, as satellites began to document the vast ice field blanketing the north pole, the iconic Earthrise image was beamed back to the ground. It revealed a planet of awesome beauty, deep blue oceans, verdant continents and crowned with at least 8m square kilometres of gleaming ice. The image kickstarted the global green movement.
In 2007, a new record was set for the minimum summer sea ice cover in the Arctic had halved. This furious flag waving attracted attention. That year, the world’s scientists declared the end of any doubt that our addiction to burning fossil fuels was changing the face of the planet. Al Gore expounded his inconvenient truth and the world seemed set to act.
Today, that 2007 record is smashed and the shredded white flag is now flickering rathering than flashing. But the danger is greater than even, even if the alarm signal is frayed.
The last great global ice melt the planet witnessed came 10,000 years ago at the end of a deep ice age. As glaciers retreated, a benign and balmy climate emerged in which the human race has flourished. Our entire civilisation is built on the warm soils left as the ice sheets melted.
This new great melting heralds the polar opposite: the gravest of threats to civilisation. Removing the lid from the pole will release heat equivalent to fast-forwarding human-caused climate change by two decades, say scientists.