Greenland’s Oil Exploration Ban
Greenland recently announced it is halting oil and gas exploration in the country. See this Commondreams report. The government, the Naalakkersuisut, of the autonomous Danish dependent territory cited the move as necessary to transition away from fossil fuels to renewable power sources. The price of oil extraction is too high according to the Greenlandic government. The price is based upon economic calculations but includes the impact on climate and the environment. These two latter factors have influenced this decision. No oil has been found but there are thought to be vast reserves off the east and west coasts that may equate to 18 billion barrels of oil off the west coast alone.
The government believes it will be better off focusing on sustainable development and should look at the potential for renewable energy. There should be a focus on future business models, not just the “business as usual” approach that perpetuates business solutions of the past.
Greenland is feeling the climate crisis more than other countries with the destabilising effects on the Greenland ice shelf which is reported to be at the brink of collapse. German and Norwegian researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research note a vicious cycle in which melting gradually reduces the height of glaciers, which exposes them to warmer air at lower altitudes, in turn causing further melting. This cycle is known as “melt-elevation feedback”. The research results suggest in the future there will be substantially enhanced melting of the ice sheet.
Previous model results show that the melting of Greenland Ice Sheet is inevitable beyond a critical global mean temperature that ranges from 0.8 to 3.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. When the threshold is passed the whole ice sheet could melt entirely over hundreds or thousands of years. This would potentially lead to a global sea-level rise of more than 7 meters. Additionally, there would be a collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). The AMOC is responsible for the relative warmth in North America and Europe.
Global Extreme Weather Events
This summer has seen a noticeable increase in extreme weather events that have affected many areas of the world from North America to Europe and China.
North American Wildfires
In the USA a huge wildfire, the Bootleg fire, has burnt an area the size of Los Angeles. The fire is one of the largest recorded in Oregon. By 20 July around 2,000 residents from mostly rural areas had to abandon their homes. At least 160 homes and buildings have been destroyed. The blaze here’s so large that it created its own weather, through the creation of pyrocumulus clouds or fire clouds. These clouds are so intense with heat that they can generate their own weather systems. Further details from this BBC article.
Further fires have been burning in California, also creating their own pyrocumulus cloud storms. The Dixie fire in Butte and Plumas counties combined with another fire, the Fly fire, to produce a huge fire that covers 197,487 acres or around 79,920 hectares (as of 26 July 2021). The fire employed over 97 fire crews involving over 5,400 people.
USA wildfires follow extreme heat in Canada earlier this summer with temperature records being broken. The ‘heat dome’ caused around 777 deaths, which represents around four times the average number of people that died during the same period over recent years (see this Globe & Mail article). The heat dome has been described as a once in a one thousand year event and was a record breaking heat wave in Western Canada and the north western United States. Hundreds of people in British Columbia died prematurely with many deaths amongst the elderly populations.
Germany & European Floods
Whilst the wildfires in the USA burned, parts of Europe experienced extreme weather with intense rainfall causing major flooding that destroyed houses and killed over 160 people in Germany alone. More than 182mm (7.2 inches) of rain fell in 72 hours in some areas between 12 and 15 July. Among the worst-hit parts of Germany, the area of the city of Cologne known as Köln-Stammheim saw more than 153mm of rain on 14 July. This is six times higher than the average heaviest rainfall days for the area during July.
In Belgium where there was flooding near to Liège which had also destroyed buildings. In this area there were at least 31 killed by floods. Belgium held a day of mourning on 20 July for its flood victims. The King and Queen, Philippe and Mathilde paid respects in flood-hit Verviers. There was a minute’s silence and sirens sounded across the country.
A few days later more extreme floods hit the town of Dinant on the River Meuse in the Walloon region of Belgium. A two hour thunderstorm turned the town’s streets in torrents of water which washed cars away and caused much disruption. See this Independent report for further information.
China has also experienced extreme flooding in the Henan province where days of rain led to around a year’s average rainfall in just three days. In Zhengzhou, the regional capital, water flooded the city and flowed into underground railway tunnels. People were trapped on trains in the tunnels as water levels rose. Flood water affected around 200,000 people who needed to be evacuated. Several dams and reservoirs had been breached adding to the challenges.
Dam building may have exacerbated climate change in the area here, which is in part of the Yellow river basin. Watercourses have been disrupted as flood plains have had natural routes changed according to this BBC report.
Globally there is a trend to increasing extreme weather events that are disrupting life and livelihoods as well as destroying or damaging cities, towns and property. Greenland’s stand against fossil fuels and its focus on renewable resources is setting the direction for future development. This development will need to be rapidly accelerated and enhanced to reduce risks from the rise in intense and extreme weather events. Future sustainable business models, not ones that are causing destruction and hardship for thousands of people, are the way forward.