The Arctic Ocean, the world’s smallest, shallowest yet most crucial ocean faces the severe impacts of climate change. Today, the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet causing the arctic sea ice to melt at unprecedented rates. Studies show that the arctic sea ice is melting at a rate of 14,000 tonnes per second!.
Does this mean anything for the panet?
The Arctic Ocean plays a critical role in the planet’s entire ecosystem. For millennia, the Arctic Ocean has been covered by ice that has helped keep our planet cool by regulating the global weather patterns. In simple terms, it’s the planet’s air conditioning system.
As more arctic sea ice melts, the planet’s average albedo decreases meaning more sun rays penetrate to the earth’s surface. This increases the global temperatures and as a result, more ice melts and destabilizes the entire global climate system consequently leading to extreme weather patterns. This in turn compromises the food and water supplies upon which all lives everywhere depend. Floods and droughts are on the rise, hitting hardest vulnerable areas in the global south. A water and hunger crisis is what we’re looking at if the planet continues heating up.
Loss of polar ice is contributing to sea level rise and this puts small island pacific nations and island cities at risk. Studies have shown that at least 275 million people live in cities that are vulnerable to rising sea levels. If we don’t act now, sea level rise will redraw the map of the world and displace billions of people globally.
More melting of polar ice exposes the arctic ocean to increased industrial activity such as oil and gas exploration, military activity and commercial fishing using large vessels that destroy the seabed. Commercial shipping companies are now also looking for new routes in the arctic ocean and in the process breaking up ice and spilling dirty oil that not only turns the ice dark – such that it cannot reflect more sun rays – but also puts other marine life in danger. While these commercial human activities may benefit a handful of corporations economically, it poses major challenges to the environment and the collective good of humanity.
Moreover, the arctic ecosystem is home to thousands of species that cannot be found in any other part of the world. Marine mammal species such as whales, seals and polar bears that are endemic to the arctic are adversely affected and are consequently threatened with extinction.
Is there anything we can do?
All is not lost! We can definitely do something to protect the arctic and by extension protect all life forms and the planet. Various conservation groups and individuals are teaming up to ensure the Arctic Ocean is protected and the polar ice doesn’t melt any further at the alarming rate at which it’s melting. What we need is a declaration of the entire Arctic Ocean as a marine Peace Park safe from all forms of human exploitation.
Parvati.org a Canadian based all-volunteer organization has taken the initiative to come up with a campaign dubbed MAPS, the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary that aims at protecting the fragile Arctic Ocean ecosystem that has for thousands of years been a peace park by its very nature. It has come up with the MAPS Treaty, which is an addendum to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that seeks to declare the entire Arctic Ocean north of the Arctic circle a Marine protected area. This treaty has been mailed to all the UN member states and comes into law when signed by 99 UN member states which represents the majority.
What we will gain by ensuring MAPS is achieved
Once it comes into place, MAPS will safeguard the remaining sea ice from damage by human exploitation and help keep the planet cool. It will help prevent natural disasters such as forest fires, floods and droughts. MAPS will not only compel a global shift away from fossil fuels to sustainable energy, it will also unite world leaders in the commitment to value long-term collective good over short-term individual gain. It will also declare our global commitment to sustainable energies and our cessation of the use of fossil fuels by saying “no” to offshore Arctic oil and gas drilling.
This is a simple, effective, immediate and most practical solution to a rather complex and serious ecological and humanitarian crisis that befalls us. The choice lies in our hands.