Take a look at this picture. What do you feel? Not enough, according to Slate meteorologist Eric Holthaus and co. on this week’s episode of the new climate change podcast Warm Regards. The problem is, we’ve been hit over the head one too many times with sob stories about the plight of the Arctic. Polar bears just don’t do it for us anymore. We’re desensitized; we no longer feel.
But no matter what our feelings on it, the Arctic is still in danger—and the Arctic impacts us all. That’s why this week’s episode is dedicated to reacquainting you with the state of our northernmost polar region.
Which is…not great. The Arctic has been long considered the "canary in the coal mine" (a more climate-appropriate comparison might be the "amphibian in the drying-up-pond"): the region most transformed by climate change and yet the one least equipped to recover from it. Today, snow and ice are disappearing at unprecedented rates, leaving behind open water and thus even less protection from warming. The North Pole is a greening world, carpeted in shrubs and “pop-up forests,” according to host Andy Revkin, New York Times climate writer and author of The North Pole Was Here. “We are heading toward a profoundly different Arctic,” Revkin says.
So at what point, exactly, should we start freaking out? Holthaus looks for answers in the HBO show Game of Thrones, arguably an allegory about the threat of climate change in which “winter is coming” but no one seems prepared. He settles on the conclusion that maybe, just maybe, we shouldn't be so worried about the state of the North after all. On a paleo timescale, Arctic plants and animals are some of the toughest ones we've got, having weathered extreme shifts in temperature and landscape in the past. Plus, there is still vast uncertainty about how much carbon and methane loss the permafrost will release as the planet continues to warm.
“The Arctic is potentially more resilient than we give it credit for,” Holthaus says. In other words, there’s still hope—just not, you know, for the polar bears.