Protecting the Arctic from Climate Disruption

-- "A" marks the spot of Cooper Island, Alaska.

While some view summer as the ideal vacation, George Divoky sees those three months as the busiest months of his year. The scientist has traveled to Cooper Island in extreme northern Alaska every year to study sea birds for the past 40 years. In his decades of work in the Arctic Circle, he's seen the effects of climate disruption up close.

"I don’t know what's going to happen next. The island is rapidly eroding, the birds can't find food for their young because the pack ice has melted out far from the island," said Divoky, director of Friends of Cooper Island.

Divoky said the bird he's studying, Black Guillemots, are laying their eggs earlier - which is due directly to an earlier snow melt. On top of that, he's seeing an even bigger direct threat to his life: Polar bears are encroaching on the island to eat the birds' eggs because the pack ice - a polar bear's favorite habitat - is melting.

Black Guillemots are the one of the bird species Dr. George Divoky studies on Cooper Island, Alaska.© George Divoky, Friends of Cooper Island
-- Black guillemots on Cooper Island.

"I have to use a cabin now because the polar bears wrecked my tent. People ask me if I believe in climate change and I say, 'Well I believe in polar bears, and for 30 years I didn't have them in my front yard on my island, but now they're there.' And it's because their preferred habitat is melting."

Yet Divoky knows these realities are hard to convey to the average person who does not live on an island in northern Alaska. Climate disruption's effects are being felt across the Arctic, threatening animals and plant species and affecting the way of life for many Native tribes.

Summer sea ice is now one-half what it was in 1979 to near 2000. "What gets me depressed is how quickly the Arctic is changing and what it means for the world. While the sea ice loss is reported as a change in ice extent, it is important to remember that this is also an ecosystem loss. This is a rather sudden loss of 50% of one of the biggest ecosystems in the world," said Divoky.

"If this was a tropical rainforest, people might be all over it saying 'How could we do this? But because it's the Arctic and since it is so remote and inhospitable, people aren't seeing it."

What people are seeing, though, is how climate disruption is severely affecting the lower 48 of the U.S. Severe droughts, wildfires, Superstorm Sandy - Americans are experience the realities of a warming climate and melting Arctic.

Divoky says U.S. leaders must take action on climate, and so should the average American. "People can and should do everything they can to get off fossil fuels."

You can take action today by joining our 100 Days of Action for Climate and Clean Energy. Find local events, write letters, spread the word - you can do it all on our website to help encourage climate action and clean energy investment.

Whether it's moving beyond coal to clean energy to power our homes and businesses, to stopping oil drilling (which would also have sever effects on the Arctic), action is needed now.

We must ban new drilling - including oil and gas, oil shale, tar sands, and other dirty fuels - on our public lands and outer continental shelf to protect iconic places like the Arctic Refuge and National Parks.

Dirty energy exploitation of our public lands is a no-win situation for special places in America's Arctic. There, destructive drilling would not only ruin the pristine landscape -- it would dredge up more dirty fuel that will only further melt the Arctic when burned into our climate.

The faster we take action on climate disruption now, the less chance Americans will be able to echo what Divoky says about his time in the Arctic: "It's a situation where I don't know what's coming next. Climate change is something I'm living. I'm not just downloading data points from a computer and plotting the effects of change. I am experiencing, as well as observing, the uncertainty that comes with a rapidly changing climate."

Protecting the Arctic from Climate Disruption
Scientist George Divoky explains why Arctic changes due to climate disruption must be taken seriously.

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