Arctic sees worst of global warming
Robert Warner
The Enquirer

The evidence of rapid climatological change kept coming as environmental activist Chad Kister made his case for individual and collective action to screech the brakes on impending disaster.

Here was a picture of a partly dried-up lake bed in the Arctic, where the permafrost had melted and the lake leaked its life-giving water into the mushy ground.

There was a photo of a big sinkhole caused by a block of ice that had melted under the permafrost.

"It's raining in the wintertime in the Arctic now," Kister told about 25 people Thursday night at a meeting of the Brigham Audubon Society at the Binder Park Zoo's Binda Conservation Discovery Center. "It happens every winter." The rain freezes an inch or two thick on the ground, he said, "and caribou are dying by the hundreds" because they can't cope with the conditions.

Statistics rang out in staccato from Kister's memory as the Athens, Ohio-based director of the Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign gave his presentation:

  • Two-thirds of Alaskan polar bears used to make their dens on ice; now two-thirds live on land, and the heavy machinery of the Alaskan oil industry crushing a family of bears in their den isn't unusual, he said.
  • The Yukon River's ambient temperature has warmed 10 degrees in 30 years, allowing a parasite to invade the food chain and threaten salmon as a food source for many species that depend on it.
  • The Portage Glacier, about an hour from Anchorage and Alaska's most popular tourist attraction, is receding at a rate of a half-mile a year.

Kister said it's important for the United States, home of 4 percent of the world's population and producer of 25 percent of greenhouse gas emissions among them carbon dioxide, methane and ozone to be a leader in cleaning up the problem. He said America's role as leading polluter is cited most often by other countries as an excuse not to change their polluting ways.

The highest priority is the reduction, then elimination of burning fossil fuels petroleum products such as gasoline and the worst polluter of all, coal, he said.

Kister called for conservation, energy efficiency efforts and a rapid change to reliance on solar, wind and bio-fuels. And he called for a resurgence in the once-grand American tradition of steel-railed ground transportation railroads, both high-speed routes connecting cities and urban commuter lines that replace stop-and-go scenes on big-city freeways.

During the question-and-answer session that followed Kister's presentation, one of the birders in the group worried aloud that heavier reliance on wind power would cause more bird kills at wind turbine sites along bird migration flyways.

Kister answered the question this way: "If you look at the number of birds killed, about 1 billion birds are killed from human structures annually, mostly from windows; about 80 million birds are killed from house cats, and 40 to 60 thousand from wind generators."

"We do have to be very careful to make sure that we don't site them in bad locations, either for birds or for bats," he said.

After the program, Marcia Wentworth of Battle Creek said she found Kister's words to be reinforcing for her own efforts to conserve energy.

"It reminds me that I need to be aware of everything home and work and attempt to do my part," Wentworth said. "And what was well said tonight was that we need to lead by example. We do it and others are going to catch on."

If you go

Chad Kister will give two more nearby talks on global warming this week:

  • Today: 7 p.m. in Albion College's Norris Hall, Room 101.

  • Friday: 7 p.m. in Kalamazoo College's Olds-Upton Science Hall, Room 103.

  • Both events are free and open to the public.