Green is the New White: Warming in Antarctica
By Liz Podbielski, State Carbon Pricing Network Fellow
When I think of Antarctica I imagine icy, barren land stretching for thousands of miles. I picture massive ice sheets, glacial peaks, and the occasional penguin. Nothing about that screams “green,” right? Very rarely does someone think of Antarctica and imagine green pastures and blossoming plant life. However, in one hundred years, green might be the new normal.
Last week, Current Biology published a University of Exeter study showing that the Antarctic Peninsula is becoming greener as global temperatures rise. Following up on their 2013 study of the southern region of the Peninsula, the Exeter researchers pulled moss bank core samples from three sites along the Antarctic Peninsula, covering a much larger distance of 1,200 km (746 mi). The results of the samples were alarmingly consistent each time.
Increases in precipitation, wind strength, melt season length, and rising temperatures are driving unprecedented ecological changes in the Antarctic region, and as a result biological activity and microbial growth have seen a large increase across the continent over the last fifty years. While plant life only covers 0.3 percent of Antarctica, it is likely to increase significantly as the region warms and more land cover becomes available. In fact, these researchers believe Antarctica’s ecosystem will soon mimic that of the Arctic, which has also seen an increase in plant life and phytoplankton growth over the last few decades.
The rate at which Antarctica is warming far exceeds the global average. If all of Antarctica’s snow and ice cover melted, the planet could see a 160-foot increase in sea level, a 2012-style apocalyptic amount. In fact, if warming is not slowed we could see a 6-foot increase by the end of the century alone, putting coastal communities and businesses across the world in harm’s way.
One method to slow rising temperatures is putting a price on carbon pollution. Carbon pricing is one of the most effective tools we have to limit the amount of harmful pollutants being released into the atmosphere. By incentivizing the transition away from fossil fuels and towards clean, renewable energy, carbon pricing paves the path for a carbon-free economy.
There are currently two carbon pricing bills in the Massachusetts legislature that together have 80 co-sponsors. Both bills would levy a fee on carbon pollution at the point of import into the state, incentivizing alternative energy use and creating a pool of revenue. Senator Michael Barrett’s bill, S.1821, returns 100% of this revenue back to households and businesses. H.1726 by Representative Jennifer Benson reinvests 20% of the revenue into a Green Infrastructure Fund, and returns the remaining 80% to households and businesses.
Massachusetts is a small state, but we have the opportunity to catalyze major change. Other New England states, like Rhode Island and Vermont, have some form of carbon fee legislation currently pending in their legislatures, and multiple other states across the country have joined the movement to put a price on carbon as part of the State Carbon Pricing Network. Rhode Island’s legislation has a trigger clause which requires passage of carbon fee legislation in Massachusetts before their legislation can go into effect, thus another reason why we need to act now. All it takes is one state to lead the charge and soon others will follow.
In order to make Massachusetts the first state in the country with a price on carbon we need your help. If you are interested in talking to your legislators about why you think Massachusetts should lead the way and implement a carbon price, sign up here for Carbon Pricing Lobby Day on June 13th at the Massachusetts State House.
About the author: Liz Podielski is a student at Northeastern University studying marine biology and environmental science. Liz previously worked at Northeastern’s Marine Science Center, where she spent her days shucking and extracting DNA from thousands of oysters, but after attending the Our Ocean One Future Leadership Summit in Washington D.C. this past September she now has additional interests in renewable energies, sustainable fisheries, and climate policy. When she’s not studying, Liz likes to bake, take spin classes, and follow Duke basketball.