Finding heart in a melting Arctic

Feature Story - 20 September, 2012
Greenpeace ship the Arctic Sunrise and her crew are right now in the Arctic to bear witness to a record taking place. This is not a record to celebrate but one that sounds a warning bell. This week the Arctic sea ice reached the lowest level on record, affecting the health of our entire planet.
The crew of the Greenpeace ship MY Arctic Sunrise construct a 'heart' with the flags of the 193 country members of the United Nations on an ice floe north of the Arctic Circle. The 'heart' of flags is suspended by wires a few centimetres from the ice surface and symbolizes an   emotional appeal for united global action to protect the Arctic. Greenpeace International is hosting an event in New York on the eve of the UN General Assembly which will present the latest science on changes in the Polar regions and then discuss an appropriate response from the international community.Scientists from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) release preliminary figures suggesting that Arctic sea ice has reached the lowest recorded extent since records began in 1979. The data indicates that on September 16th Arctic ice extent covered 3.41 m km2 - a drop of at least 45% since records began.© Daniel Beltrá / Greenpeace

The global climate is warming and the Arctic ice is melting. This year’s record low extent follows a long-term decline. The 6 lowest extents on record have all occurred in the last 6 years. If current trends continue, the Arctic Ocean is likely to see ice-free summers within the next decade.

Why is this important?

The Arctic is one of our planet’s vital organs. If the world’s forests are the lungs of the Earth, the Arctic is its heart. The Arctic ice keeps our atmosphere cool by reflecting the rays of the sun back into space, which regulates our weather systems. In the same way that our hearts pump blood through our arteries, the Arctic is one of the pumps that make the ocean currents circulate around the planet. No sea ice means a loss of these essential Arctic currents.

The heart is a vital organ and it is also an international symbol of love and hope.

That is why on this Arctic expedition, Greenpeace has taken the flag of every country in the United Nations and suspended them together in the shape of a heart above a melting ice floe. In this solemn moment the international community needs to find the courage and concern to stand together and take action to protect this essential place.

Can Australia find heart?

The science is clear: if we are to stop global warming we must dramatically reduce our use of fossil fuels.

Australia has committed to join the rest of the world in  keeping global warming under the critical threshold of 2°C. Research released by Greenpeace this week shows that expansion of our coal export industry is completely incompatible with this goal. The International Energy Agency has said that to meet the 2°C goal, global demand for coal must begin falling in around four years, yet Australia has begun the process of approving up to nine mega mines in the untapped Galilee Basin, five of which would be bigger than any existing coal mine in Australia.

The report finds if these mines go ahead, the emissions from burning the coal would be over 700 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. These nine mines would emit more carbon pollution than the entire UK or Canadian industry.

In addition to their contribution to global warming, these mines will also exact a terrible cost on farms, water supplies, coastal communities and on our Great Barrier Reef.

The Arctic and the Great Barrier Reef are two of the most fragile and ecologically important places on the planet. We have a responsibility to protect them both.