Afterword: Four weeks on. Saturday 21st September

It’s four weeks since the day of the last tour. I’m back in my routine. Days have been spent with a combination of gardening, campaigning work, catching up with friends and family and preparing for my next show.

I’ve got a commission to do a piece for the York ‘Spark’ festival . The theme is the Tree of Life and I’ve been doing work researching tree of life stories from different cultures. It will be a piece of shadow puppet theatre. Last week I met up with a friend to borrow a bike generator. I’m hoping that it will be lit by bike generation, which gives another dimension to the Gearshift Theatre brand.

On the same day as I met my friend to talk about bike generators- Friday 13th September- the summer sea ice reached its arctic minimum. Every year some of the ice that covers the arctic sea melts. It starts melting in late February or early March and keeps melting until September when it begins to freeze over again. This point in September when more of the arctic sea ice has melted than at any point in the year is called the minimum.

This year’s minimum occurred on Friday 13th September. The arctic sea ice was 5.1 million square kms in size. This is the sixth lowest extent since satellite records began in the late 1970s. It is also well below the average size of the arctic ice sheet at this point since 1980. At the summer minimum each of the last seven years have been the seven smallest areas of ice since records began.

Of course, this is no-where near as bad as last year where only 3.4 million square kms of ice were left at the summer minimum- the greatest loss of sea ice on record. Climate contrarians – including David Rose in the Daily Mail and Hayley Dixon in the Telegraph have leapt on this, describing the recovery of arctic sea ice – a 60% increase since 2012.

Well, it’s true there has been a 60% increase in one year. But that is from a very low base. Many scientists predicted that ice would recover partially from 2012.

There are two factors in determining the extent of arctic sea ice- natural variability (caused by weather patterns and ocean cycles) and human caused global warming. In any given year the weather can act to preserve or melt more ice.
In the Guardian John Abrahams and Dana Nuccitelli have written about the principle in statistics called ‘regression to the mean’. This basically means that if you have a set of data about events and one is more extreme- higher or lower- than the mean, then almost inevitably there will be a reaction against it.

Of course, what is most important is the trend. Let me give you an analogy. Imagine that when I was twenty five I started running half marathons. Imagine that I’ve run one every four months and will continue to run one every four months until I die at the age of 82 in 2054. Imagine that I recorded my times. There would be variability. Before one half marathon I might be ill or really well, I might have trained really well or not at all or trained too much. There would be some where I was under pressure at work or happy where I was happy in my social life or unhappy. The weather conditions would affect my times. But there would be no question about the trend. Slowly but steadily my times would be getting slower as the decades passed.

It is the same with the arctic sea ice. Have a look at the graph on the top of page 1of your hand-out This is what Julienne Stroeve a scientist at the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Boulder said last week:
“It certainly is continuing the long-term decline. We are looking at long-term changes and there are going to be bumps and wiggles along the long-term declining trend, but all the climate models are showing that we are eventually going to lose all of that summer sea ice.”

We’ve lost 40% of sea ice area since 1980. But that doesn’t cover the scale of the decline because to do that you need to take into account the loss of volume. The arctic has lost a great volume of its thickest multi-year ice – in other words the ice that lasts through summer and winter. If you take account of volume, we have lost 75% of the arctic sea ice since 1980.

These measurements go back 34 years which is when satellite measurements of the arctic sea ice began. But do we know nothing of what it was like before? In The Guardian on 19th September, John Abrahams and Dana Nuccitelli refer to different studies where scientists have gone back further, using a vast array of data. Drs Walsh and Chapman of the University of Illinois have estimated sea ice extent going back to 1870.

A study published in the journal Nature in 2011 used a combination of ice core, tree ring and lake sediment data to recontruct arctic conditions going back 1, 450 years.

These studies suggest that this isn’t just the sixth lowest point of ice cover in the past 34 years. It is the sixth lowest in the last few thousand years.

In May of this year officials at the White House were briefed on the danger of an ice free arctic within two years. US Officials are increasingly concerned about the implications for US and international security.
One of those present was marine scientist Prof Carlos Duarte, director of the Oceans Institute at the University of Western Australia. He warned that arctic was warning faster than the conventional climate models suggested. He said:
“The Arctic situation is snowballing: dangerous changes in the Arctic derived from accumulated anthropogenic green house gases lead to more activities conducive to further greenhouse gas emissions. This situation has the momentum of a runaway train.”

Of course, the environmental movement has been marking the summer ice minimum. Last Sunday Greenpeace held its Aurora parade, where a thirty foot polar bear puppet made its way from parliament to the Shell Tower on the South Bank. More recently it continued protests at Gazprom’s drilling rig at in the Russian arctic.

Two days ago Greenpeace activists attempted to board the Prirazlomnaya oil platform in the Pechora sea in Russia’s arctic. They were stopped by the Russian coastguard at gunpoint. Following this, their ship the Arctic Sunrise was stormed by Russian security services wielding rifles, handguns and knives. Thirty people are under arrest and the ship is being towed towards Murmansk. This is an illegal action as the Arctic Sunrise was in international waters.
This morning I’m meeting with others to create a photo message to #FreeTheArctic30. On Friday, we will be holding a vigil to bear witness to the melting of arctic sea ice. By co-incidence, the first section of the new IPCC report about climate impacts will be released. (A lot of the text of this blog has been copied from my preparations for that vigil. We’re releasing a ‘run your own arctic vigil’ pack for others to use).

In the last couple of weeks I’ve felt some gloom returning in my feelings about the arctic and the planet. There has been the Daily Mail’s presentation of the ‘recovery’ of the arctic and there is a co-ordinated campaign to undermine the next IPCC report, whose first stage is released in less than a week’s time. An Australian who described man-made global warming as ‘crap’ has just been elected as Prime Minister. Yesterday, UK-IP held its party conference and its Energy Spokesman, Roger Helmer MEP, who denies that man-made climate change exits, said that anti-fracking “eco-freaks” were trying to kill off “the greatest new economic opportunity for our country in our lifetimes”. Even George Monbiot, committed to ignoring the deniers has written in the last week about the rising tide of climate denial in parliament. The piece opens a description of ‘representatives waging an all-out war on science.”

But let’s end in a positive mood. Here are the final words about my tour. I had a great time- on so many levels. I was able to bring my two great loves – the arts and environmental activism together, I learned a lot about the issues and about storytelling, made new friends and hooked up with old ones. If there’s one word to capture this tour it’s been ‘connections’. All through this blog I’ve written about connections being made, sometime uncanny connections and coincidences. I’m about to post this onto the internet, the great medium for global interconnections and yet, there is no connection as great and as deep as real life, face-to-face connections. That’s why, in an age of film, TV and internet, people go to the theatre or live performance or concerts. That’s why people still meet up to talk, listen, argue and confront.

“I also blame that tool of empowerment, the internet. Of course, it is marvellously useful, allows us to exchange information, find the facts we need, alert each other to the coming dangers and all the rest of it. But it also creates a false impression of action. It allows us to believe that we can change the world without leaving our chairs. We are being heard! Our voices resonate around the world, provoking commentary and debate, inspiring some, enraging others. Something is happening! A movement is building! But by itself, as I know to my cost, writing, reading, debate and dissent change nothing. They are of value only if they inspire action. Action means moving your legs.”
George Monbiot, ‘Heat’ (2006)

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s