Manchester chef Jules Bagnoli reports from an inspiring gathering of foodies in Denmark.
When Nobel award winning Professor Jason Box bounced onto MAD3‘s woodland stage, freshly mown by the teeth of the previous speaker, forager Roland Rittman, the mainly chef crowd confidently had no idea what to expect next. Eyes narrowed at slide after slide of stark scarred ice images, melt rate graphs and magnified water molecules charted up to a 21 metre sea level rise in coming centuries – and the effect on a food industry in turn up to 40% responsible for climate change was not lost.
For those who hadn’t yet found their dark foam cushions and were already shifting on the circus plank seats, comfort shrank further at the sight of 80 square kilometres of the Jakobshavn glacier crumbling on screen. Where the world’s fastest glacier is going – seaward, and at 180 foot a year – the rest of the Greenland’s ancient ice is following, and soon.
Rather than kicking his heels writing research bids, Box launched Dark Snow, the first DIY, crowd-funded climate change expedition to get him back to Greenland for the 24th time in 20 years to ‘answer the ‘burning question’ – how much does wildfire and industrial soot darken the ice, increasing melt?’. As Rolling Stone magazine puts it, “There’s no place on earth that’s changing faster – and no place where change matters more than Greenland.” The Arctic is melting at a record pace, much faster than heat alone would predict. Box has radically linked the accelerating Greenland 2012 melt directly to last years unprecedented wildfires in a ‘unified theory’ of glaciology.
The melt has increased annual sea level rises from 0.4mm to 0.8mm from 2000-6 and 2006-12. Doing the compound maths, accelerating melt rates leave the seas 7 metres higher by the end of this century. And that top end 2 metre is laughably conservative, says Box.
While 9 times smaller than the Arctic, this little cousin with its 3.5km ice plate alone could raise sea levels one metre if returned to rock. And with the last decade the warmest in 600 years, this is on the cards. Some relevant facts here. First, the ‘hockey stick’ Copenhagen Diagnosis of 2009 places warming well past the 2% ‘guardrail’ with up to 8% change projected. Second, ‘global-warming godfather’ James Hansen records the highest temperature increases the higher up the globe you go – maybe 7.5% by 2099 , as luck would not have it, on our Arctic ‘roof’. Third, as ice melts it’s sharp reflective edges round off, absorbing not reflecting heat. Four, air-borne wildfire and power station soot, sometimes funnelled due North by changing gulf stream pattern, has darkened snow by up to 7% in 7 years – the negative feedback Albedo effect. And as Hansen had suggested in 2003 that even a 2% dirt-related drop in reflectivity has the same impact as twice as much C02 in the atmosphere, we may be looking at more dangers than warming alone.
Noting the relatively recent birth of sustainability in 1987 as a source of hope, Professor Box ended paradoxically lightly for the data dumbstruck crowd, noting that if the food movement made changes, then we could rebalance. Especially if we get down on our knees and graze, like Roland.