And in other news, the Arctic is melting. Twice as fast as any other region on the planet. According to a recent projection released by the US government, the global temperature is supposed to rise seven degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial standard by the end of the century. This is despite the 2015 Paris Agreement, wherein the parties concerned, the biggest and the most powerful countries of the world, signed a pledge to keep global temperature regulated to two degrees above the pre-industrial standard, which was reduced to 1.5 degrees after the conclusions of the Emission Gap Report in 2017. The threat to the planet doesn’t stop at these numbers themselves — the number of deniers of climate change has been on the rise, and with The United States of America, the biggest and the most powerful nation in the world withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, the battle for the Earth has become more and more difficult. What makes it all the more amazing is the insistence upon impermanence in the face of the finality of time exhibited by our species; should another race of beings come to the Earth years after we made it inhospitable, they will find nothing but a waste of civilization that tried to weigh its own little aspirations against the greater good of the planet itself. This steady stream of reports are piling themselves up in the dusted, spider-web infested corners of offices, and the governments keep acting as if nothing has happened — the USA has put the biggest natural gas project in the history of the country (an 825-mile pipeline from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Anchorage, which will cost $45 billion dollars), disturbing the whole ecosystem of a region, and increase the world’s reliance upon fossil fuel, for this fuel will then be sent to China for consumption.

 

To make matters worse, a study that recently came out in the journal Nature has shown some alarming developments in the Arctic — due to the earth heating up, the vegetation over there has, over time, reached unprecedented rates of growth, and is now, threatening the existence of a whole biome. The shrubs, plants and lichens that grow over permafrost (Ice that is frozen all year round in the Arctic and Antarctic Circles) are now taller than ever. According to an exhaustive survey of the flora of Greenland conducted by Yale University, the Arctic is going through a certain ‘Age of the Shrubs’; earlier, Greenland was dominated by the grasses, but in the last quarter of a century, shrubs have grown almost fourfold[1], and have started to dominate the landscape over grasses.

 

The Arctic, one must understand, is fundamentally unlike every other biome that exists on the face of this planet. Once one advances past 66-and-a-half degrees North, the best possible advice would be to throw everything they know about nature out of the window. Out in the cold, there are no rules — under adverse conditions, one must do whatever one can to survive. It’s a law of nature, and probably the one law that overrules all others; it also happens to be the only law of nature that happens to work in the Arctic.

 

In a world that constantly faces threats due to indiscriminate deforestation all around, the fact that the plants are growing at this breakneck pace in the Arctic is an alarming development. The most urgent of these threats is the darkening of the surface. As the surface gets darker, it starts absorbing more and more heat, causing the permafrost to melt at a rate even faster than it is today. The permafrost composes 100% of the Arctic subsoil, and if it melts away, it will go down swinging: it will take down a whole biome with it. The tundra depends upon the permafrost not thawing, which obviously is defeating the purpose of permafrost. Furthermore, the plants, as they get taller every generation, make it harder for the topsoil to freeze as hard as it does in the colder months. If the topsoil doesn’t freeze hard in the winter, the subsoil will thaw out relatively easily once spring arrives, which will make the plants grow taller more easily, and more importantly, it will release the Carbon Dioxide that is stored underground into the atmosphere. According to current numbers, 50% of the world’s underground Carbon stocks are in trapped in the frozen subsoil of the Arctic, and if it starts melting, we might end up accelerating the process of the eventual decay of the planet even further, something I didn’t know was possible.

 

The cyclical seasonal clocks of the Arctic have also started to show disturbances due to all of this, for a lot of species that inhabit the circle are dependent upon the plants. Spring has started to arrive earlier in the region, which puts a lot of species at risk: the birds, both migratory and indigenous, have adapted to a breeding pattern that was more suited to what the botanical clock used to be. The young hatchlings of these require a lot of protein in their diet, and the plants that reach their nutritional peaks in the spring are important sources of that protein. If the hatchlings don’t get that protein in their initial stages of development, I’m sure we all know how to spell the word ‘trouble’. Even the insects that manage to survive in this ruthless, white, cold hell have to now adapt to the changing cycles of the spring, or they might not be able to pollinate other plants, which would be a serious threat to plants which depend upon artificial pollination for procreation. Even the littlest of changes to one species can reverberate throughout the whole ecosystem.

 

Surviving in the ruthless cold does not only require physical strength, it also requires mental toughness of an almost hyperbolic degree. You cannot slip up, for the moment you do slip up; the cold will snatch you and drag you down into the deep abyss with itself. Ask Ziegler and Baldwin, who set out to find the North Pole, and instead found their graves at the bottom of the cold, unforgiving sea. For the study that was published in Nature, 180 scientists chose 117 sites for the collection of 56,048 samples of vegetation. This means hundreds of people cheated death at every step and crawled around in the Arctic for every single day of over 30 seasons, covering more than 10 square kilometers everyday, and noted the development of every single chosen plant, from the first budding to their very deaths. This is a very basic testament to the spirit of those who have decided to study the Earth and use that knowledge to save it, and the greatest threat they face are people who have a keyboard and an internet connection — and surprisingly, they’re losing. We need to remember, that if we are the cause, we can be the solution as well. The only species capable of undoing the damage homo sapiens sapiens have caused to their own planet is themselves. It is time that we as a people take some action, both on micro and macro levels. We might do as much as we can for the environment, but the fact remains, if we don’t decide to choose representatives who actually care about the environment, and if we don’t decide to actually let go of a few privileges ourselves, nothing can be done. And the time to act is now, more than ever. We’ve needed and we’ve used the Earth for millennia on end now; just this once, mother Earth needs us.  It’s about damn time.

 

 

[1] According to the study, conducted by Yale University in 2016, the shrubs of 25 years ago used to be knee-high; now, they tend to reach the shoulders of the researchers.

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