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Ice, Ice, Maybe

Alongside the summer pursuits of outdoor projects, backyard barbecues and a really good book to read while sitting by a stream, lake or ocean–I have wondered about the fragility and tenuous nature of life.

I know it appears strange to sink into a melancholy of morbid thinking while the sun blasts away through the blue heavens with an unashamed invitation for everything to flourish and grow, but I can’t help it.

What I really can’t stop thinking about is the North Pole–predicted by many scientists to have a 50-50 chance of melting out by the end of this summer. That’s right–in two short months, the Arctic could be an “ice free” zone.

Already the spin machines are churning out rhetoric faster than snow cones are sold at a July picnic. “It’s symbolic,” says one observer, because “this is where Santa Claus lives.” Some see the benefits of resource development and value of opening up sea lanes far more accessible than previously allowed by the Northwest Passage.

William Chapman, of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, calmly points out that the real concern is in the world’s total sea ice and is watching what happens in Antarctica, where ice volume has actually increased over the past few years.

Still, my fears are not so easily relieved. The disappearance of the Arctic forecasts a frightful tipping point. Without it, the world loses the albedo, or reflectivity, that helps bounce some of the sun’s rays back into space. As the Arctic shrinks, more of the sun’s energy is absorbed into open water, thus accelerating the warming (and melting) process.

I’m not a scientist, but it sounds about as smart as a bald man not wearing sunscreen or a ball cap when out on the beach. And that’s why I’m concerned.

Not because I’m bald, nor do I have cancer, but who’s to say? I certainly wouldn’t flout any prudent measures that help maintain my health. Why, then, are so many hesitant to make serious efforts to at least consider the possibility of human-caused global warming?

If you were betting anything–like, let’s say, the long-term survival of the planet–wouldn’t it be a little wise to err on the safe side of the question? Conservation and “thinking green” may be initially costly and inconvenient, but can there be a better gift for the next generation than a world at least as beautiful as we inherited?

God is gracious, giving us little signs–a flashing yellow light, a discoloration of skin, a disappearing continental ice shelf–so when we ask what happened, we might hear, “Why weren’t you worried before?”

Mark Johnson is senior minister at Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky.