By Emily Adrid – 350 Co Intern
Alaskan sea ice, the buffer that keeps Alaska cool in the summer, has officially melted away leaving America’s northernmost state vulnerable to record-breaking heat. This past July was the hottest month on Alaskan record, and while the lower 48 states have been experiencing an average of 1℉ of warming, Alaska is warming 5.4 degrees above average. Currently, the Arctic Sea ice is 150 miles (and counting) from Alaska’s shore. Without sea ice near the coastlines, temperatures on land warm even faster and dry out what little vegetation survives that far north. Melting at this rapid pace has only occurred in recent years, and never before the month of September, according to the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy.
With the warmer temperatures and exposed dry land came an outbreak of wildfires all around the Arctic – something Colorado is all too familiar with. Since June, more than 100 blazes have burned through Siberia, Greenland, Alaska, and Canada with smoke plumes visible from space. According to Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), the Arctic infernos have released 50 megatons of carbon into the atmosphere in June alone… this is equivalent to Sweden’s total annual emissions.
It may seem like Alaskan ice doesn’t affect us in Colorado, but it can give us a glimpse into Colorado’s future. Alaska’s ice and permafrost contain huge amounts of carbon and methane made from organic materials and long-frozen grasses that are released into the atmosphere when the ground thaws. Scientists estimate all of Earth’s permafrost contains twice as much carbon as what is currently in the atmosphere. As the Earth grows warmer, the ice will melt faster and more greenhouse gases will be released into the atmosphere, a dangerous feedback that will speed up the climate crisis. It is a dangerous cycle that will greatly impact Colorado’s snowpack if drastic preventative measures aren’t taken.
Colorado’s identity is embodied by the snow-capped Rockies on a cold, crisp day. If our future looks anything like Alaska today, we are in trouble. For a state that obtains 80% of its annual water supply from snowpack, the current outlook is very concerning. The American West has already experienced a 41% decline in snowpack over the past 40 years and, Colorado’s snow season has decreased by an average of 34 days within this same period. Not only is there less snow, but it is falling later and melting faster, leaving Colorado susceptible to drought and wildfires.
Coloradans should look at Alaska’s summer and use it as motivation to do something and take action. I know it sure does for me. September is all about the youth and our concerns for the future of our planet, this is one example out of the infinite reasons to not only care, but to act.
I will be striking in September because I don’t want to see the Arctic ecosystem burn, I don’t want to see the Rocky Mountains without snow and I want everyone else to feel the same way. I call on everyone who feels a spark of motivation to strike on September 20th with the youth in order to tell the world and our governments this existential climate crisis affects not only the plants, animals and their habitats, but it affects every human on this planet.