In the midst of all the excitement about the presidential campaigns here in the U.S. and the on-going wars, economic market upheaval, and the political unrest in, for example, Tibet last week, it would be easy to overlook some recent news which could very well preponderate all of those concerns. I mean the startling new evidence that the Arctic ice caps are vanishing. Here is an article from the BBC on a report by scientists from a well-respected team that produces cutting-edge research. Their analysis: Arctic summers ice-free ‘by 2013’

Those polar bears have five years to learn how to swim – for the entire summer. The ancestors of whales once lived entirely on land. I’m sure if those bears put their crafty little minds to it, they could go aquatic.

A previous article that was also featured on the BBC gives corroborating evidence that the ice is melting faster than previously imagined.

I don’t really know the implications of all this, except that the water at the North Pole will be warmed more by the sun once it loses its icy shield. What the ramifications of that are is not fully appreciated yet. Still, it’s deeply troubling and makes the political bickering over the Northwest Passage seem like arguing over who gets the best deck chairs on the Titanic.

This brings me to the second part of this entry; What to do about it. The short answer is that I don’t know. Now, before you open your big green mouth to give me an eco-tongue lashing about the 50 things that I can do to save the planet, let me explain. I know that I can take public transportation, uses CFCs, reduce, reuse and recycle to lessen my ecological impact. I’m hip. I’m with it; I read Treehugger. I saw the Gore thing. I am very concerned, though, that none of that will amount to a hill of beans.

Why not? In a word, growth.

Parts of the world are growing at an enormous rate. Together with that growth comes consumption of all sorts of resources and the production of millions upon millions of tons of greenhouse gases. For a concise overview of the crisis, please read Tom Friedman’s piece entitled “Doha and Dalian.” It was that column that really made these ideas concrete in my mind. In short, it says that the modest reductions in CO2 production netted by our eco-friendly endeavors will be overshadowed many fold by the huge suck on resources of growing cities and developing countries. When they reach a certain level of wealth, societies begin consuming massive amounts of resources, essentially becoming like the U.S., before we found our environmental consciousness. The rapid growth of resource-intensive, CO2-spewing cities isn’t just unsustainable, it’s calamitous.

We know the problem. We know the solutions. We know that growing unchecked is exactly the wrong thing.

So, when I say that I don’t know what to do about the melting of Arctic sea ice, it’s not because I am too lazy to sort my plastics or even lobby the government for higher CAFE standards. It’s because the intervals between epochal moments of realization where we look back and say, “How did we fuck up so much, so badly, so quickly?,” are becoming increasingly shorter. This is largely due to factors that are beyond the control of the average citizen. Factors, like technological advancement and economic development, that we wouldn’t necessarily want to slow down if we could.
In five short years there won’t be ice in the Arctic Sea. That same year, a 750m tall skyscraper is projected to be completed in Delhi. That is not the worst thing in the world, but is meant to represent the resource intensive growth that is already in the works. Five years after 2013, with five summers of an ice-free North Pole and five more years of construction, growth and consumption in Doha, Dalian and Delhi, will it really matter that I recycled my toothbrush?

If you have a way to save the world or to replace growth that kills us all with growth that maybe doesn’t, please leave a comment in the comments section.