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Climate Change: The Arctic Is Melting

August 27, 2008

Greenland_breakup1You'll have a tough time convincing global warming skeptics, but recent news on the climate change front seems to confirm what many have been saying for a while now: The Arctic is melting. Last week, media outlets around the country reported that the Petermann glacier in northern Greenland lost 29 square kilometers of ice
-- an area about half the size of Manhattan -- between July 10 and July 24. And the Nature blog notes that the massive Jakobshavn glacier in Greenland has lost at least 10 square kilometers since the end of the last melt season.

(Image: Petermann glacier, Greenland; Byrd Polar Research Center)

More bad news: Earlier today, the AP reported that sea ice in the Arctic is at its second lowest level since satellite measurements of the ice began in 1979. The lowest point, 1.65 million square miles, was recorded last September. With three weeks left in the Arctic summer, this year's melt could break that record. As statisticians like to say, any single data point is an outlier; two closely correlated data points are the beginning of a trend.

"We could very well be in that quick slide downward in terms of passing a tipping point," said senior scientist Mark Serreze at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. "It's tipping now. We're seeing it happen now."

Within "five to less than ten years," the Arctic could be free of sea ice in the summer, said NASA ice scientist Jay Zwally. "It also means that climate warming is coming larger and faster than the models are predicting and nobody's really taken into account that change yet."

It can't be said enough: Climate change is real, it's happening now, and it will impact all of us -- especially those lacking the resources to mitigate its worst effects.

What can foundations do in response to what many are calling the greatest challenge of the twenty-first century? We addressed that in part in this post from May. And recently the Funders' Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that exists to strengthen and expand funders’ abilities to support organizations working to improve communities through better development decisions and growth policies, weighed in on the issue with this list of ten things community foundations can do:

1. Provide leadership, partnership, and support for a range of local actions, whether in a proactive or supportive role.

2. Support and disseminate research that will assist local organizations and individuals to understand what measures are appropriate to: a) help prevent greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation); and b) reduce the worst impacts of climate change that are the result of past emissions and to enable communities to recover from those impacts (adaptation).

3. Bring various interested organizations and residents together to discuss and debate global climate change, set shared priorities, and make informed choices, especially with respect to land use and transportation plans.

4. Consider a media awareness campaign that helps local media develop and disseminate information about global climate change and actions to address it.

5. Use investment assets, including program-related investments, loan guarantees, revolving loan pools, and other steps, to leverage funds available for local action.

6. Support other nonprofit organizations, regardless of their individual missions and activities, to discover and deploy their own actions to address climate change.

7. Partner with local governments to develop climate plans for their communities and to assess their effectiveness over time.

8. Develop and support positive local economic strategies and programs that assists low-income communities and individuals to manage the negative economic impacts of climate change and implement positive economic opportunities in response to it.

9. Engage in policy discussions to help guide state and national policy on global climate change.

10. Advise donors, and recruit new donors, to contribute to climate action solutions.

To learn more, visit the Funders' Network Web site.

-- Mitch Nauffts

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