More than 80 people packed the Friends Meeting House in Penrith to hear the internationally acclaimed glaciologist Professor Mike Hambrey talk about the relationship between glaciers and climate change, an event organised by the environment group Penrith Action for Community Transition (PACT).
Referencing his many years of study in the Arctic and Antarctic as well as several other glacial regions throughout the world, the two-times recipient of the Queen’s Polar Medal gave a fascinating presentation, illustrated throughout with breathtaking photos showing how glaciers behave, as well as tables and graphs demonstrating scientific evidence of the effects that man-made global warming is having on these regions, effects which stretch far beyond their immediate locations.
Glaciers are seen to be retreating very much faster than at any time since the last ice-age, a retreat which has accelerated alarmingly within the past fifty years. The associated melting of the polar ice caps will, if continued at the present rate, cause sea levels to rise by one metre and possibly more in the lifetime of many being born today, leading to the destruction of low-lying countries such as Bangladesh and some of the Pacific and Indian Ocean islands, as well as large areas of The Netherlands, not to mention significant parts of coastal Britain. Many of the world’s capital cities, including London, Paris and New York will also be at extreme risk, being at or very close to current sea levels.
However, Professor Hambrey showed that some of these impacts are already being felt. The breaking away of large masses of Antarctic Ice (one recently as large as half the size of Cumbria) is altering the pattern of global Ocean currents, including the Gulf Stream, which in turn affects weather patterns. These changes are directly linked to the increase in erratic and extreme weather events such as Storm Desmond, not just in the UK but around the world.
The talk took place on the eve of the US elections, against the backdrop of Donald Trump’s assertion that the changes we are experiencing are simply a natural phenomenon, and that man-made climate change is a hoax. Professor Hambrey referred to the irrefutable evidence presented by his fellow scientists, based upon the study of sample cores taken from the depths of the polar ice, which record the annual levels of carbon dioxide (the greenhouse gas principally responsible for global warming) stretching back over 800,000 years. These show that the level of CO2 in the atmosphere remained well below 300 parts per million (ppm) throughout all of that time, fluctuating only very gently, but this has now accelerated to over 400 ppm within our lifetime, having crossed that level for the first time in over 20 million years, just last month. Additionally, fifteen of the past sixteen years are known to have been the warmest ever recorded. These rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are a direct consequence of increased human activity (in construction, transport and travel, industry and manufacturing, and the use of fossil fuels and their derivatives), so that the evidence for man-made global warming is now overwhelming, a fact acknowledged by over 95% of the world’s climate scientists and meteorologists.
Those present at the meeting could not know that a few hours later they would awake to the news that the next leader of the free world would be a climate-change denier, who has pledged to withdraw from the Paris Agreement which 193 countries signed in April, to seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, a few days after the event it was announced by the World Meteorological Organisation that 2016 is officially the hottest year on record.
In concluding his talk, Professor Hambrey echoed the need for all of us to redouble our efforts to reduce our carbon footprint by whatever means possible if we are to mitigate, if not prevent altogether, catastrophic climate change.
Anyone interested in exploring these issues further, and how in Eden we can develop local resilience to the challenges they present, is invited to have a look round this website, come along to a talk or meeting, or contact us.