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Subhankar Banerjee and Michael E. Mann reveal a mounting body of evidence that disruptions in the Arctic sea ice are impacting not only the Northern Hemisphere but are also connected to what is happening to the water supply in California

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. Political posturing among climate-change deniers in the Republican Party is heating up, leading up to the 2016 presidential elections. The Republicans are all repeating the same position. They’re saying that our climate is changing; yes, we can see that. In fact, the climate is always changing, says Mark Rubio, senator from Florida. But they say that humans have little to do with it. Any effort to link the two is seen as an effort to destroy the economy. The new Republican Senate in January passed a climate-change resolution for the first time in eight years on this topic. They voted 98 to 1 to approve a resolution stating that climate change is real and not a hoax. If that sounds good, it is. But then the Senate rejected a second amendment that stated climate change is real and it is significantly caused by humans. Jeb Bush, who is seen as a frontrunner, according to The New York Times, is on record saying, what I get a little tired of is that on the left, this idea that somehow science has decided all this is so, so you can’t have an opinion. That is according to the Washington Post article by Paul Waldman. Further, Ted Cruz, who recently announced his candidacy for president in the 2016 election, is on record at CNN saying, in the “last 15 years, there has been no recorded warming.” Well, science tells us otherwise. It has recorded 2014 as the warmest year in recorded history. Now joining me to discuss what is really going on here among the Republicans is Michael E. Mann and Subhanker Banerjee. Subhanker Banerjee is coming to us from Port Towsend, Washington. And Subhankar is an environmental and humanities scholar and activist. He founded and is editor of the anthology Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point. We’re also joined by Michael E. Mann, joining us from State College, Pennsylvania. Dr. Michael E. Mann is a distinguished professor and director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University and author of the book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars. Thank you both for joining us. So I’m going to begin with you, Michael, here. Michael, recently we’ve seen some very dramatic reports in terms of the degree at which the ice caps are melting. How do we know that? How do we measure it? How do we know the ice caps are melting to the degree that it is? DR. MICHAEL E. MANN, DIR. OF EARTH SYSTEM SCIENCE CENTER, PENN STATE UNIV.: Yeah. So we have a variety of measurements that we make. We use satellites primarily. We can use those satellites to measure the amount of mass that is actually contained within the ice sheets. So we can detect fairly small changes in how large the Greenland ice sheet and the Antarctic ice sheet are through these satellite measurements. They’re basically measuring the gravity, the disturbance of the gravity field by these very large masses of ice. In addition, we can monitor changes in the ice cover of the Arctic Ocean. We use satellite measurements. We can look at the surface and we can determine if it’s ice or if it’s open water. So we have very accurate assessments, for several decades now, of how much sea ice there is in the Arctic. We know that we are on a trajectory right now where we will see potentially ice-free conditions at the end of the summer in the Arctic Ocean, perhaps in just a matter of a few decades, far in advance of what the climate models had predicted just a few years ago. So here’s an example of where climate change is unfolding, and in a way that’s faster and has a greater magnitude than what the climate models actually have predicted. Well, it turns out that when you change the amount of sea ice in the Arctic, you change the amount of heat that escapes from the Arctic Ocean into that very cold Arctic atmosphere. And more than a decade ago, scientists began to speculate that as we saw a decrease in that sea ice in the Arctic, we would actually see a large enough change in the amount of heat that escapes from the ocean into the atmosphere in the late fall and the early winter that we would actually change the behavior of the jet stream. And not only would we change the behavior of the jet stream, but we would do it in a fairly specific way, in a way that causes the jet stream to swing way northward in the winter over the West Coast of the U.S., so that all of that moisture that normally comes to California in the winter instead goes northward. And it also takes all that warmth much farther the northward. So you get unusually warm winters in Alaska, in western North America, like we’ve seen this year in particular. You see very dry winters in California. California also had its hottest year on record last year. So you’ve got decreased precipitation, you’ve got increased warmth, which means increased evaporation, which means increased loss of water from the soils, and you get a perfect storm of consequences for drought. And that is why California has now experienced what we think is the worst drought in 1,200 years, in at least 1,200 years. There is almost certainly a human fingerprint in that drought. And my colleague Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute in Oakland, California, and I had a commentary a week ago in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences where we explained how there is now mounting evidence that this historic drought that we’re seeing in California had a human fingerprint in it, the fingerprint of human-caused climate change. But it doesn’t stop there. You change the pattern of the jet stream in a way that may, ironically, give us more of those very powerful nor’easters that have pounded the Northeastern U.S. this winter, giving Boston record snow, producing fairly cold conditions in parts of the Northeastern U.S. So, that entire change in the behavior of the northern hemisphere jetstream and the very strange weather that we’re seeing around North America and around much of the rest of the world, climate change is now starting to play a role in that very unusual–in some measure, unprecedented–extreme weather that we’re seeing. PERIES: Michael, what is your take on the recent report we saw in terms of California having one year of water supply left? MANN: That’s right. It was a very distinguished colleague of mine, Jay Famiglietti, from the University of California, Irvine, who published an op-ed in the L.A. Times where he outlined why it is that California may be just one year away from water rationing. And when you think about it, right now California has record low snowpack, the lowest snowpack ever on record. So that means they’re not going to be getting that meltwater in the spring that provides them with some of the fresh water that they need. They haven’t been getting the rainfall they need. And you have certain special interests, like the natural gas industry, through fracking, using up a fair amount of water for energy. And so you have all these factors coming together in a way that could spell a disaster for California. If you ask Californians if climate change is real, not only is it real; it is impacting them in their daily lives now. And that’s true over an increasingly large part of the world. PERIES: And Subhankar, you’re a scholar of the Arctic and you’ve been monitoring and looking at the implications of the melting ice caps for quite a bit, for quite a long time. Tell us what your observations are. SUBHANKAR BANERJEE, EDITOR, ARCTIC VOICES: RESISTANCE AT THE TIPPING POINT: Yeah, absolutely. You know, I mean, I started my work in the Alaskan Arctic in 2001. And just to briefly summarize what Michael just talked about is why it is so significant, because when I started the work, we were beginning to see the impact of climate change on the Arctic ecology and human communities way back then. And I’ll give couple of quick examples. But what we’re seeing now: that what happens in the Arctic is impacting not only the Arctic but really kind of the northern hemisphere at large, and possibly many parts of the globe as well. So that’s why Michael’s comments were that these were all connected, what’s happening in the Arctic, to what’s happening in California, in the Northeast, and so on. Now, back to the–kind of in my earlier–one of the things that with the melting of the Arctic sea ice–and what we–because you mentioned Arctic ice cap, which is the Greenland ice sheet, and then we have the sea ice, which has hit a record winter maximum low. Usually the summer low is more significant, but the winter maximum is also low. Well, all that means is that the Arctic sea ice is on a death spiral. And that’s having significant impact on both the Arctic ecology and the human communities. And it is widely known that the polar bears are suffering. The–40 percent of the polar bear population in the southern Beaufort Sea in Arctic Alaska and Arctic Canada declined between 2001 and 2010. The walrus populations in the Chukchi Sea is really suffering. Six out of the last eight years, tens of thousands of walruses hauled out onto the barrier islands and the tundra because there was no sea ice for them to rest on. And there are many other impacts of the local ecology, the marine ecology. But what is not understood is that what’s happening in the Arctic Ocean is also impacting the land animals. And, in fact, I’ll give you one really kind of a sad example of that. In 2001, I had photographed 13 muskox, these kind of woolie, prehistoric animals from the Pleistocene era, and they’re in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with a newborn calf in April. Today there is no muskox in the refuge. And one of the impact is this icing on the tundra in the winter because of increased precipitation and warmer weather. Instead of snow, you’re getting rain, and that becomes ice. And that then impacts the animals’ access to food sources. And that’s impacted the muskox in part. So climate change kind of took a toll on the Arctic refuge muskox. And then, right now, in the Norwegian Arctic, in the Svalbard Archipelago, in the reporting of this winter lowest record on the winter maximum sea ice extent, the Guardian journalist did a wonderful connection between the open water in the Arctic seas, but ice on the tundra of the Svalbard, which is impacting the same way the reindeer population did, that really struck me, because when it’s ice, they cannot break the ice through their hooves. And then you have the human communities. What’s happening–and I know this from first-hand experience from Arctic Alaska, that many human communities, indigenous communities, are now being forced to relocate. One example is, of course, Kivalina. Because of the reduced sea ice extent, you have more open water, more coastal erosion, combined with storms, as well as melting of the permafrost. These are all connected, happening. But let me just wrap this up by saying that what the melting, this rapid vanishing of the Arctic sea ice has opened up in my mind is perhaps the most significant contradiction of our time. And the contradiction is this. On one hand, the Arctic sea ice is melting rapidly, causing local, regional, as well as global impacts for human communities, as well as animal communities. At the same time, there is an incredible push to industrially exploit the Arctic seas for oil and gas. In fact, right now this month, the Obama administration is poised to give shale the kind of–one of the permits, and this will continue all through April, and Shell might, if they get all the permits from the Obama administration, will likely drill there. So it’s really–I see that as the greatest contradiction of our time. On one hand, the very thing that is destroying us, not only up there but all over, we are further destroying it by sending Shell and other oil companies to drill in the Arctic Ocean. PERIES: I want to thank you, gentlemen, for joining us today. MANN: Thank you. It was a pleasure. BANERJEE: Thanks so much, Sharmini. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Subhankar Banerjee is a photographer, writer, and activist. Over the past decade he has worked tirelessly for the conservation of ecoculturally significant areas of the Arctic, and to raise awareness about indigenous human rights and climate change. He founded, and is editor of the anthology Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point which will be published in paperback on August 20, 2013 (Seven Stories Press). He was recently Director’s Visitor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, Distinguished Visiting Professor at Fordham University in New York, received Distinguished Alumnus Award from the New Mexico State University, and Cultural Freedom Award from Lannan Foundation.

Dr. Michael E. Mann is a Distinguished Professor of Meteorology at Penn State University, with joint appointments in the Department of Geosciences and the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI). He is also director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center (ESSC).