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National Geographic Special Issue on Climate Change

Fresh Hope for Combating Climate Change (Introductory article)

If a climate disaster is to be averted, we’ll have to move forward without relying as much on fossil fuels. It can be done.

Robert Kunzig, National Geographic

01-intro-2048THIS YEAR COULD BE THE TURNING POINT. Laurence Tubiana thinks so. She’s a small, elegant, white-haired woman of 63. At a press briefing in a noisy restaurant near Washington’s Capitol Hill, she apologized for being incapable of raising her voice—which in a diplomat is no doubt an excellent quality. Tubiana is no ordinary diplomat: She’s France’s “climate ambassador,” charged with the greatest cat-herding project in history. For the past year and a half she has been traveling the world, meeting with negotiators from 195 countries, trying to ensure that the global climate confab in Paris this December will be a success—a watershed in the struggle against climate change. “This notion of a turning point—that’s super important,” Tubiana says.

There are at least 20 reasons to fear she will fail. Since 1992, when the world’s nations agreed at Rio de Janeiro to avoid “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system,” they’ve met 20 times without moving the needle on carbon emissions. In that interval we’ve added almost as much carbon to the atmosphere as we did in the previous century. Last year and the past decade were the warmest since temperature records began. Record-breaking heat waves are now five times as likely as they once were. A large part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, scientists reported last year, is doomed to collapse—meaning that in the coming centuries sea level will rise at least four feet and probably much more. We’re already redrawing the map of the planet, especially of the zones where animals, plants, and people can live.

And yet there’s also an unmistakable trace of hope in the air. A lot of it is still just talk. China and the United States, the two largest carbon emitters, have announced a deal to reduce emissions. Six European oil companies say they’d welcome a carbon tax. A giant Norwegian pension fund has pledged to stop investing in coal. And the pope has brought his immense spiritual authority to bear on the problem. Read more…

Animation shows dramatic disappearance of ice from the Arctic

Its hot out. Everywhere. Even at the poles of the earth. We already know that 2014 was thewarmest year on record and also that sea surface temperatures reached a record high. This has meant storms, droughts, raised sea levels and heat waves and other extreme weather events that have been caused by global warming. Among the most dramatic is the fall in sea ice in the Arctic.

Last years State of the Climate report by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that the Arctic had experienced its fourth-warmest year on record and among its lowest minimum sea ice extents. The numbers themselves are easiest to see when charted out.

But there is an even simpler way to understand just how much of the Arctic ice has disappeared over just the last few years, thanks in part to global warming. US President Barack Obama made reference to it earlier this month, when he unveiled his biggest plan to tackle climate change yet. Shrinking ice caps forced National Geographic to make the biggest change in its atlas since the Soviet Union broke apart, Obama said in his speech.

The makers of the magazine and the atlases indeed confirmed Obamas words, and then put out this handy GIF, combining National Geographic Atlases from 1999 through 2014 to show just how Arctic Ice has melted over that time.

The results are clear to ice. To the untrained eye, it looks as if almost half of Arctic sea ice has disappeared over just 15 years. In a post on its website, National Geographic admitted that the maps werent entirely accurate, but nevertheless offered the best possible way to show a dynamic environment in a static format. And indeed, no one is making the claim that Arctic ice isnt disappearing.

The US National Snow & Ice Data Centre finds that this years ice is well below average for this time of the year. The centre also says that, although the numbers are higher than 2012s, one of the worst year on records, satellite imagery suggests the ice has become rather diffuse (low ice concentrations) with many large broken ice floes surrounded by open water. How soon before the race to the north pole becomes less about sledding and more about swimming?

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