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Missing Sea Ice, AMEG and Transformational Leadership

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This past June (2012) saw the largest Arctic sea ice loss since the inception of record keeping - 1.18 million square miles or the equivalent area of Alaska, California, Florida and Texas. The Arctic is now warming four times faster than the global mean temperature. According to NOAA, so far 2012 is the hottest year on record.

This is an epic planetary emergency linked to flooding in Europe, Japan and the Philippines, drought in the U.S. and intensifying storms that are now disrupting Earth's protective ozone shield. And at the end of the day, it's directly threatening global food security.

The Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG) is comprised of renowned concerned scientists, engineers and citizens headquartered in London, England. They are alerting the world to rapid retreating Arctic sea ice and its dire consequences including the staggering projection in 2015 of the total and potentially irreversible collapse of the remaining Arctic sea ice volume. Most of the Arctic Ocean will be ice-free for six months of the year by 2020 if sea ice trends continue. AMEG has a plan to cool the Arctic but more about that later.

Of immediate concern is the plight of farmers across both the United States and Great Britain.

As the Arctic sea ice retreats and the Arctic warms, there is a dramatic effect on the weather, due to its disruption of jet streams. As the jet stream loops farther to the north over western United States about two thirds of the nation is currently enveloped in the worst drought in over a half century. Insurers are already expecting to double last year's record $10B in payouts. But vegetable farmers across drought-stricken America don't take insurance to cover them in case of drought or flooding. So this year has been particularly brutal on them. In addition, the extreme summer heat has dissuaded shoppers from visiting Farmer's Markets across the nation; attendance are off by as much as 50 percent.

A warming Arctic has caused the jet stream to meander south of the U.K. and eastern Europe resulting in abnormally cold and wet weather with flooding in many places. It has punished the farmers, badly. The lack of sunshine and waterlogged soil in Britain has decimated homegrown U.K. vegetables. Peas, usually available year round, are being flown in from Guatemala, carrots from South Africa, beans from Kenya, onions from New Zealand and Argentina and Vivaldi potatoes from Israel. And the price of U.K. fruit is set to soar as the worst summer heavy rains in 30 years prevented honeybees from pollinating apples, pears and plums. Moreover, U.K. honey is now in short supply and its price has substantially increased.

Irrespective of whether one lives in the U.K. or the U.S. consumers are facing escalating food costs. Some early estimates are already predicting a rise in the consumer price index of U.S. beef by as much as 5 percent.

It is crystal clear to those of us who have been following global warming for more than two decades that corporate leadership is of paramount importance to address this world issue, especially since there was lackluster political leadership from the recent UN Rio +20 Sustainability Summit.

Humans are exceptional problem solvers and make no mistake innovation is truly our best friend in the 21st century.

Sir Richard Branson is a tremendous example of a transformational leader who subscribes to the dictum: "You don't learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and falling over."

He fully grasps the magnitude of global warming and the challenge to obviate the pending energy crisis. In fact, Virgin is spending 100 percent of all profit from its airlines on developing plant-based jet fuels.

Sir Richard has likened the imminent threat of global warming to both World War I and World War II; it's a third war that our species can not loose. He founded and funded the Carbon War Room: 25 battles (each 1 billion tons of CO2) across 7 theaters.

His global reach has extended into energy efficiency programs, spending $100M in both Sacramento and Miami from a $650M fund he created - retrofitting buildings, installing solar and creating jobs. And there are 10 contenders vying for Virgin's Earth Prize of $25M. Those teams of scientists are working on a decade-long project to demonstrate the most viable solution of reducing greenhouse gases, globally.

Both Greenland and the Arctic are melting at a record-pace. We no longer have a decade to decide upon an action plan. Indecisive inaction is certainly not an option.

Millions of tons of methane (a potent heat trapping gas 72X stronger than CO2) are now being released from thawing sub-Arctic soils and bubbling from deposits melting beneath Arctic sea-beds.

AMEG scientists are proposing pumping seawater spray into the atmosphere from ships or islands in the North Atlantic to create massive white clouds, mimicking the missing white sea ice (which reflects incoming solar radiation) to help cool off our planet.

This is a crucial time in the history of our species. We need transformational leadership that embraces supposedly unachievable challenges and then rises above them - in order to obviate the unintended and unimaginable consequences of an ice-free North Pole.

Earth Dr. Reese Halter is an award-winning broadcaster and distinguished biologist. His latest books are: The Incomparable Honeybee and The Insatiable Bark Beetle.

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