environment reports

October 02, 2012

Arctic Ice Melt, Psychopathic Capitalism And The Corporate Media

By David Cromwell and David Edwards

Last month, climate scientists announced that Arctic sea ice had shrunk to its smallest surface area since satellite observations began in 1979. An ice-free summer in the Arctic, once projected to be more than a century away, now looks possible just a few decades from now. Some scientists say it may happen within the next few years.

The loss is hugely significant because Arctic sea ice reflects most solar energy into space, helping to keep the Earth at a moderate temperature. But when the ice melts it reveals dark waters below, which absorb more than 90 per cent of the solar energy that hits them, leading to faster warming both locally and globally.

Peter Wadhams, professor of ocean physics at Cambridge University, warnsthat the Arctic may be ice-free in summer as soon as 2015. Such a massive loss would have a warming effect roughly equivalent to all human activity to date. In other words, a summer ice-free Arctic could double the rate of warming of the planet as a whole. No wonder that leading NASA climate scientist James Hansen says bluntly: ‘We are in a planetary emergency.’

In a comprehensive blog piece on the Scientific American website, Ramez Naam points out that:

‘The reality of changes to the Arctic has far outstripped most predictions. Only a few years ago, in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, the bulk of models showed the Arctic ice cap surviving in summer until well past 2100. Now it’s not clear that the ice will survive in summer past 2020. The level of sea ice we saw this September, in 2012, wasn’t expected by the mean of IPCC models until 2065. The melting Arctic has outpaced the predictions of almost everyone – everyone except the few who were called alarmists.’

As well as global warming from carbon dioxide (CO2), there is the additional risk of warming from methane (CH4) being released into the atmosphere. Huge quantities of methane are locked up in land permafrost. But even vaster quantities exist as methane hydrates frozen below the shallow waters of the Arctic Ocean’s continental shelves. Naam warns:

'If even 10% of the northern permafrost’s buried carbon were released as methane, it would have a heating effect over the next decade equivalent to ten times all human greenhouse emissions to date, and over the next century equivalent to roughly four times all human greenhouse emissions to date.'

On a sane planet, action would have been taken long before now to limit the risk. But, as Greenpeace International head Kumi Naidoo notes, fossil fuel industries have been working hard to corrupt the political process:

‘Why our governments don't take action? Because they have been captured by the same interests of the energy industry.’

As we noted in an alert last year, a Greenpeace study titled Who's Holding Us Back? reported:

'The corporations most responsible for contributing to climate change emissions and profiting from those activities are campaigning to increase their access to international negotiations and, at the same time, working to defeat progressive legislation on climate change and energy around the world.'

Greenpeace added:

‘These polluting corporations often exert their influence behind the scenes, employing a variety of techniques, including using trade associations and think tanks as front groups; confusing the public through climate denial or advertising campaigns; making corporate political donations; as well as making use of the "revolving door" between public servants and carbon-intensive corporations.’

Drilling To Oblivion

Around the same time that a record low in Arctic sea ice was being recorded, a new report from the UK’s House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee urged a halt to all oil and gas drilling in the Arctic, at least 'until new safeguards are put in place.' Committee chair Joan Walley MP said:

'The shocking speed at which the Arctic sea ice is melting should be a wake-up call to the world that we need to phase out fossil fuels fast. Instead we are witnessing a reckless gold rush in this pristine wilderness as big companies and governments make a grab for the world’s last untapped oil and gas reserves.'

Caroline Lewis, member of the committee, warned that ‘the race to carve up the Arctic is accelerating faster than our regulatory or technical capacity to manage it.’ The race for corporate profits is now on, with Shell already committed to a ‘multi-year exploration program’ in the Arctic.

The receding Arctic ice is a 'business opportunity' for those wishing to exploit newly available shipping routes. Cargo that now goes via the Panama Canal or the Suez Canal will, in many cases, have a shorter Arctic route, ensuring ‘efficiency savings’ for big business.

Companies are also licking their lips at the prospect at getting their hands onvast deposits of minerals as Greenland’s ice cap recedes.

‘For me, I wouldn’t mind if the whole ice cap disappears,’ said Ole Christiansen, the chief executive of NunamMinerals, Greenland’s largest homegrown mining company, with his eyes on a proposed gold mining site up the fjord from Nuuk, Greenland’s capital. ‘As it melts, we’re seeing new places with very attractive geology.’

A good example of the psychopathic mind-set at the heart of corporatecapitalism. Science writer Peter Gleick responded incredulously on Twitter: '25 foot sea rise?' For that is indeed the catastrophic scale of global sea level risethat would occur with the melting of the Greenland ice sheet.


EDITOR COMMENTS: On the above subject, in the Irish Times , I read only that the Dept. is to look for extra carbon taxes or levys from us all in Ireland, and that bio-fuel production should be increased. Can anyone following me read this without a scream of rage at our Government's utter stupidity?

What is certainly obvious for a start is that food production world-wide is now threatened catastrophically.Not only by using terrain that must be used for food production, but also the stockMarket agents are speculating on food prices driving them up irrespective of production.

Secondly, that our important cities in Ireland are under threat of flood that will be serious, totally destructive and possibly kill hundreds of people. To look for carbon tax money is so utterly ludicrous it beggar's belief. Methane release from the Arctic is already being detected and may accelerate in the near future. The beginning of the winter Arctic freeze date has passed, everyday we may look at that region with despair if the freeze delays or is not very strong, infact we need a paralytic freeze to lower itself all over the polar worlds, Arctic and AntArctic.

We need to think about barriers, tidal barriers right now. A study of the Thames barriers might be fruitful if introduced to students for their creative input. The business corporations complain that insufficient market orienation is not induced in University studies - Well, Survival techniques and food storage techniques are of urgent and crucial importance at this time.

Another thought - to make tidal barriers we will need steel and in some cases barriers in smaller cases than our cities might use wood? Why are we selling our forests?

Thames Barrier Information Centre

The Thames Barrier Information Centre allows tourists to learn about this vital piece of engineering which protects London from catastrophic flooding. The Thames Barrier Information Centre is one of the most popular London attractions with meteorology, geography and engineering enthusiasts, as well as those visitors that have a fascination with London’s history.   

The Thames Barrier is located at a point in The Thames between south-east London on the south bank and London’s East End on the north bank. The barrier was built in 1982 and is operated by the Environment Agency.  

The Thames Barrier is one of the largest movable flood barriers in the world. The Environment Agency runs and maintains the Thames Barrier as well as the capital’s other flood defences.

The barrier spans 520 metres across the River Thames near Woolwich, and it protects 125 square kilometres of central London from flooding caused by tidal surges.

It became operational in 1982 and has 10 steel gates that can be raised into position across the River Thames. When raised, the main gates stand as high as a five-storey building and as wide as the opening of Tower Bridge. Each main gate weighs 3,300 tonnes.

Design and construction

A simple diagram showing how the gates work

The concept of the rotating gates was devised by (Reginald) Charles Draper. In the 1950s, from his parents house in Pellatt Grove, Wood Green, London, he constructed a working model. The novel rotating cylinders were based on a small household appliance — a brass gas tap which could be found in most post war houses in the UK. The barrier was designed by Rendel, Palmer and Tritton for the Greater London Council and tested at the Hydraulics Research Station, Wallingford. The site at New Charlton was chosen because of the relative straightness of the banks, and because the underlying river chalk was strong enough to support the barrier. Work began at the barrier site in 1974 and construction, which had been undertaken by aCostain/Hollandsche Beton Maatschappij/Tarmac Construction consortium,[3] was largely complete by 1982. The gates of the barrier were made by Cleveland Bridge UK Ltd[4] at Dent's Wharf on the River Tees.[5] In addition to the barrier itself the flood defences for 11 miles down river were raised and strengthened. The barrier was officially opened on 8 May 1984 byQueen Elizabeth II. Total construction cost was around 534 million (1.3 billion at 2001 prices) with an additional 100 million for river defences.

Built across a 520-metre (570 yd) wide stretch of the river, the barrier divides the river into four 61-metre (200 ft) and two about 30 metre (100 ft) navigable spans. There are also four smaller non-navigable channels between nine concrete piers and two abutments. The flood gates across the openings are circular segments in cross section, and they operate by rotating, raised to allow "underspill" to allow operators to control upstream levels and a complete 180 degree rotation for maintenance. All the gates are hollow and made of steel up to 40 millimetres (1.6 in) thick. The gates fill with water when submerged and empty as they emerge from the river. The four large central gates are 20.1 metres (66 ft) high and weigh 3,700 tonnes.[6] Four radial gates by the riverbanks, also about 30 metres (100 ft) wide, can be lowered. These gate openings, unlike the main six, are non-navigable.

north bank of the river during normal operation looking across to The barrier from Silvertown on the New Charlton.


The barrier was originally designed to protect London against a big flood level, with a return period of one thousand years up to the year 2030, after which the protection would decrease, whilst remaining within acceptable limits.[13]

This defence level included long-term changes in sea and land levels as understood at that time (c. 1970). Despite global warming and a consequently greater predicted rate of sea level rise recent analysis extended the working life of the barrier until around 2060–2070. From 1982 until 19 March 2007, the barrier was raised one-hundred times to prevent flooding. It is also raised monthly for testing.[14]

Released in 2005, a study by four respected academics contained a proposal to supersede the Thames Barrier by a more ambitious 16 km (10 mi) long barrier across the Thames Estuary from Sheerness in Kent to Southend in Essex.[15]

In November 2011 a new Thames Barrier, further downsteam at Lower Hope between East Tilbury in Essex and Cliffe in Kent, was proposed as part of the Thames Hub integrated infrastructure development. The barrier would incorporatehydropower turbines to generate renewable energy and include road and rail tunnels, providing connections from Essex to a major new hub airport on the Isle of Grain.[16]