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Climate change earns new support

At a conference in Washington this summer, former Congressman Bob Inglis stated two reasons for changing his mind about climate change. A self-described conservative Republican, he recalled how he used to “mock Al Gore” on the issue. As a member of the House Science Committee, he twice visited Antarctica to inform himself on the worth of polar research being done, with government support of about $300 million per year.
In Antarctic ice core samples, Inglis stated, he “saw the compelling evidence” of how humans are changing the atmosphere, through rising carbon levels, since the industrial revolution.
The journal “Science” carried a report on the ice-core evidence in April last year. A 364-meter-long core, drilled from the Antarctic Peninsula and spanning 1,000 years of earth history, shows surface ice now melting 10 times faster each summer than 600 years ago. That being the past millennium’s coldest time, by the start of the 20th century annual ice melt had doubled and, by the end of the century, risen tenfold.
Polar surface ice melting is considered to cause ice shelves and glaciers to collapse and sea levels to rise, threatening island nations and shoreline cities and ecosystems worldwide.
In January last year, the journal also reported evidence of a different biological nature, from the northern Arctic polar region.
The Swalbard (“Cold Coast”) archipelago in the Arctic Ocean is home to polar bears, wild reindeer and Arctic fox, and the coastal waters harbor whales, walrus, seals and other marine mammals.
In the few, short summer weeks, its tundra is breeding ground for millions of migratory seabirds, but with vegetation covering just 10 percent of the islands’ area, only three herbivore animals can make it during the arctic winters.
These — the reindeer, a vole and one bird (rock ptarmigan) — and the Arctic fox which preys on all three — were studied by a team of Norwegian researchers for their winter survival under rapidly warming climate.
The decade-long study shows rainy days, or rain-on-snow events, increasing there. Then, through thaw-and-freeze cycles, the rain spells cause thick, ice-crust layers to encapsulate what sparse food source is left for the overwintering animals.
If there are many such events, mass mortality in calves and old animals can result; at the same time, low fecundity in starving females reduces future offspring success. As the authors report, such winters “generate simultaneous population crashes in all overwintering herbivores [and] none of them seem able to recover during the summer following icing.”
The second reason for change of mind on climate change, Inglis remarked, was his teenage son’s (and entire family’s) request that he do so. To look out for this important “new constituency” of the young, and considering the already astronomically high costs to the economy through climate disruption, he advocates for a free-market, non-regulatory approach to carbon reduction. All funds from a fee on fossil fuels would be returned, as monthly dividends, to American households.
It is a promising new approach, given its lack of support for regulation, that Congress should consider.