Melting ice and glaciers.

“Now, over half of us live in an urban environment. My home, too, is here in the city of London. The ingenuity with which we continue to reshape the surface of our planet is very striking. It’s also very sobering, and reminds me of just how easy it is for us to lose our connection with the natural world. Yet it’s on this connection that the future of both humanity and the natural world will depend. And surely, it is our responsibility to do everything within our power to create a planet that provides a home not just for us, but for all life on Earth.” Sir David Attenborough.

I came upon this quote recently while I was researching the changes in society that have occurred over the last several decades and have been contributing to climate change. As the years have gone by and urban expansion continues, sadly it seems like we have become more like bystanders to nature. Many of us have forgotten or may even be unaware that we are inextricably linked to it, especially children who grow up in areas where there is little exposure to the countryside. Often without realizing it, this disconnect that so many of us have with nature, makes it harder for us to comprehend on a personal level, what we need to do to help our planet now that it’s in trouble. Unfortunately, this distance can create a view that the earth is separate to us even though we are very much a part of it. Understanding and remembering our true place and role in nature is key to helping with this crisis of climate change. Without this realization, it will impede us all from working together to help slow it down before it finally starts having a bigger impact on our lives. As a friend of mine said recently, “miraculous and incredible changes are possible as relates to climate change”. This is something I also believe. We all just need the extra reminder or education sometimes to realize the profound impact our actions are having on the natural world and the part we have to play in nursing the Earth, our source of life, back to health.

The situation we find ourselves in, with melting glaciers and ice around the world, in places like Antarctica, is an example of one of the many impacts of our actions and is also a reminder I admit that I needed. Whenever I used to think about Antarctica, I would conjure up images of a mysterious ice-covered land, that was stunningly picturesque but I had no plans to ever go there because it was too far away and much too cold. This separation meant I didn’t think about it that much. It also made it harder for me to remember the vital functions it has and appreciate all that it has to offer. I admit that I had not realized the extent of just how important the polar regions are to the rest of the world and the important cooling function they have for the whole planet. I had not been aware that the Antarctic ice deflects some of the sun’s rays away from the Earth, keeping temperatures livable for all of us. Nor did I realize their influence on weather patterns and how Antarctic continental ice sheets provide hugely valuable information going back over almost a million years about our planet’s climate. Now that I have learnt more about this fascinating continent and other polar regions as well as their purpose, I realize the critical importance of protecting them. If we don’t, we are failing to protect ourselves.

How global warming in the polar regions affects the whole planet?

Sadly, the rising temperatures of our planet, caused by human-produced greenhouse emissions being pumped in to the atmosphere, are causing the ice-sheets and glaciers in Antarctica and other polar regions to melt. If the Greenland ice sheet, which is a major predictor of future sea level rise melts entirely, global sea levels could eventually rise by up to 20 feet. But, even on a small-scale, melting ice caps will raise global sea levels and contribute to flooding around the world. These rising levels will have dreadful implications for densely populated low-lying areas, including many island nations in the Pacific Ocean. But, the issue of melting ice goes even further. In addition, it will affect our climate on a global scale and create a ripple effect that will exacerbate extreme weather events such as hurricanes. These hurricanes will not only affect people who live in coastal areas but people that live far off shore. With 40% of the world’s population living within 60 miles of the ocean, it could affect roughly 2.4 billion people. Coastal cities such as New York and Miami are already at significant risk for potentially frequent tidal flooding. London and many other cities also face potential threat. The effects on the polar regions from global warming are by no means a localized phenomenon.

Changes in weather patterns may also cause significant damage to crops, which will affect global food production. This could lead to a hike in prices and create a negative impact on those that are most vulnerable. The more the ice, glaciers and snow continue to melt, they will lead to a decline in drinking water and will contribute to saltwater intrusion – when the ocean waters move in, leading to the contamination of the soil and our drinking water supply. There is also the issue of thawing permafrost in the polar regions. Permafrost is permanently frozen ground that contains methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. When it melts, methane is released in to the atmosphere becoming a contributor to global warming and in addition, to the rapid thawing of even more permafrost. With the polar regions being home to a rich diversity of wildlife and species, both on the land and in the sea, it means a large number of species will be affected by the melting permafrost, as well as warming temperatures, and disappearing ice. Many of these intelligent animals that depend on the ice for survival, such as polar bears, penguins, walruses and seals are already suffering from the negative impacts and will be forced to adapt or perish.

The way we talk about the natural world often draws a line between us and nature making it difficult to see ourselves as a part of it. I confess that it’s something I didn’t always pay too much attention to when I was growing up. But, I realize now that if we continue to make this separation and treat nature as the other, not only will we find it harder to understand and empathize with the trouble it’s in, we will also be creating huge problems for ourselves. In order to protect the health of humanity, it’s crucial that we protect the health of our planet because we are deeply connected. I admit that up until recently, I had thought of Antarctica like the “other”. Even though it is largely isolated in comparison to other continents and is very far away, the vital role it plays in the global oceanic and climatic systems, means that whatever happens there, affects all of us. How then can we be separate from it?

While the polar regions may not be on your bucket list or anywhere near where you live, it’s important that we don’t forget the critical role they play in our lives and remember that we too have a role to play for them, in helping to restore their eco-system and support the vulnerable species they home. By helping each other to understand that everything is connected and that our collective actions have an impact not just on where we live but globally too, it will be a step in the right direction. By looking after these regions, we are looking after ourselves. No individual person is to blame for this crisis of climate change. The majority of us grew up doing things we had no idea was contributing to the warming of our planet. But now that we do know and have the guidance around how certain actions can contribute to CO2 emissions in the atmosphere, we can start implementing the advice we have received and take ownership of our personal contribution. We can slow this crisis down by working to reduce our carbon footprint, but we need to do it collectively. We have and always will be dependent on the Earth, our Mother Earth. Now, more than ever, she depends on us.