Faces of the missing from the Oakland warehouse fire (L-R) Nex Iuguolo, Chelsea Faith, Ara Jo, Micah Danemayer
Everyone has been anxiously searching for answers about the cause of the horrifying fire that broke out on Friday, December 2, in an artist warehouse set to host the “Golden Donna 2016 Silk West Coast Tour.” As confirmed so far, the fire has claimed the lives of 30 people.
In between the need for locals to alert loved ones about their safety, health and well-being in light of what’s happened, there is a growing mainstream narrative that looks to pin the blame for this tragedy on the culture of the artists who inhabit the building.
Outlets such as CNN and DailyNews are making it a point to emphasize that residents were living in this warehouse illegally and making commercial use of it without a permit.
While mainstream media is intent on painting a portrait of irresponsible artists/ravers who should’ve never opted to reside inside the warehouse in the first place, no one is asking the larger question of why these artists are forced to work and make a living in these specific circumstances.
Even some critics on social media have managed to find fault with the culture of tenants of this artist collective — which, in so many, they describe as pathological — blaming them for the incident:
Nowhere in their narrow-minded criticisms is a consideration of the shrinking opportunities to legally secure residential and commercial property in the city of Oakland. Breaching this issue of the ongoing property crisis in Oakland would point the finger toward systemic forces that exceed the so-called excesses and personal flaws of individual behavior.
Oakland has been ravaged by this property crisis — including gentrification — for years now. Artist collectives have been among the hardest hit by this issue. For example, the tenants of the artist collective known as the LoBot, which set up shop in industrial buildings within the lower income community of the Lower Bottoms, had its lights cut off in July, after thirteen years in operation.
As East Bay Express documents it, “The underground artist studio and venue’s landlord had discontinued its lease, and the newly doubled monthly rent was too high.”
In a curious fashion, mainstream reporters have queried aloud in their coverage about why the tenants of these warehouses do not seek permits that would allow them to legally stay in these buildings and hire the necessary services that would get the interior structures up to code. Looking closely at the problem, the answer is pretty simple: they can’t afford it. And while the responsibility of staying up to code rested upon Ghost Ship’s owner Derick Ion, the artists living and working in the space had little to no choice but to choose between stable housing and their own safety.
According to the SFGate, the LoBot is symptomatic of a bigger concern: Oakland rests among the 4 cities with the highest rental market in the entire country:
“One bedrooms increased 19 percent in the past year to $2,190,” writes SFGate “while two bedrooms increased 13.3 percent to reach $2,550.”
In its lamentation of the Oakland housing crisis, The Guardian portrays a similar dismal predicament that is citywide in scope, writing, “For many, the only way they can stay in Oakland is to sleep in their cars or on the streets.”
But, you won’t find economic considerations of this caliber in mainstream reports, for capitalism is far more comfortable and content with catering to the lie of atomistic individualism over deadly malfunctions in the infrastructure of the system and blaming the human disasters that are consequential to these systemic calamities on the psychological shortcomings of people viewed as willingly isolated from one another to their own detriment.
For anyone interested in helping with this tragedy, you can donate to this YouCare campaign.
British scientist Prof. Stephen Hawking gives his ‘The Origin of the Universe’ lecture to a packed hall December 14, 2006 at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. Hawking suffers from ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or Lou Gehrigs disease), which has rendered him quadriplegic, and is able to speak only via a computerized voice synthesizer which is operated by batting his eyelids.David Silverman/Getty Images
Artificial intelligence and increasing automation is going to decimate middle class jobs, worsening inequality and risking significant political upheaval, Stephen Hawking has warned.
In a column in The Guardian, the world-famous physicist wrote that“the automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining.”
He adds his voice to a growing chorus of experts concerned about the effects that technology will have on workforce in the coming years and decades. The fear is that while artificial intelligence will bring radical increases in efficiency in industry, for ordinary people this will translate into unemployment and uncertainty, as their human jobs are replaced by machines.
Technology has already gutted many traditional manufacturing and working class jobs — but now it may be poised to wreak similar havoc with the middle classes.
Automation will, “in turn will accelerate the already widening economic inequality around the world,” Hawking wrote. “The internet and the platforms that it makes possible allow very small groups of individuals to make enormous profits while employing very few people. This is inevitable, it is progress, but it is also socially destructive.”
He frames this economic anxiety as a reason for the rise in right-wing, populist politics in the West: “We are living in a world of widening, not diminishing, financial inequality, in which many people can see not just their standard of living, but their ability to earn a living at all, disappearing. It is no wonder then that they are searching for a new deal, which Trump and Brexit might have appeared to represent.”
Combined with other issues — overpopulation, climate change, disease — we are, Hawking warns ominously, at “the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity.” Humanity must come together if we are to overcome these challenges, he says.
Stephen Hawking has previously expressed concerns about artificial intelligence for a different reason — that it might overtake and replace humans. “The development of artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” he said in late 2014. “It would take off on its own, and redesign itself at an ever increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”
Then, six years later, Huxley turned all of this upside down. He headed West, to Hollywood, the newest of the New World, where he took a stab at writing screenplays (with not much luck) and started experimenting with mysticism and psychedelics — first mescaline in 1953, then LSD in 1955. This put Huxley at the forefront of the counterculture’s experimentation with psychedelic drugs, something he documented in his 1954 book, The Doors of Perception.
Huxley’s experimentation continued right through his death in November 1963. When cancer brought him to his death bed, he asked his wife to inject him with “LSD, 100 µg, intramuscular.” He died later that day, just hours after Kennedy’s assassination. Three years later, LSD was officially banned in California.
By way of footnote, it’s worth mentioning that the American medical establishment is now giving hallucinogens a second look, conducting controlled studies of how psilocybin and other psychedelics can help treat patients dealing with cancer, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, drug/alcohol addiction and end-of-life anxiety. The New York Times has more on this story.
For a look at the history of LSD, we recommend the 2002 film Hofmann’s Potion(2002) by Canadian filmmaker Connie Littlefield. You can watch it here, or find it listed in our collection of Free Movies Online.
The onetime insurgent candidate is now in a position to reshape the Democratic Party and take on Donald Trump.
It feels like a bomb went off in Washington. In less than a year, the leaders of both major parties have been crushed, fundamentally reshaping a political culture that for generations had seemed unalterable. The new order has belligerent outsider Donald Trump heading to the White House, ostensibly backed in Congress by a tamed and repentant majority of establishment Republicans. Hillary Clinton’s devastating loss, meanwhile, has left the minority Democrats in disarray. A pitched battle for the soul of the opposition party has already been enjoined behind the scenes.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who won overwhelming youth support and 13 million votes during primary season, now sits on one side of that battle, in a position of enormous influence. The party has named him “outreach chair,” and Minnesota congressman and Sanders political ally Keith Ellison is the favorite to be named head of the Democratic National Committee. This is a huge change from earlier this year, when the Sanders campaign was completely on the outs with the DNC, but many see Sanders’ brand of politics as the Democrats’ best shot at returning to prominence.
Sanders’ rise is a remarkable story, obscured by the catastrophe of Trump’s win. When I first visited with Sanders for Rolling Stone, 11 years ago, for a tour of the ins and outs of congressional procedure, he was a little-known Independent in the House from a tiny agrarian state, an eccentric toiler pushing arcane and unsexy amendments through Congress, usually on behalf of the working poor: expanded access to heating oil in the winter, more regional community health centers, prohibitions against regressive “cash-balance pension plans,” etc.
His colleagues gently described Sanders as a hardworking quack, the root of his quackery apparently being that he was too earnest and never off-message, even in private. He had fans among Republicans (some called him an “honest liberal”) and many detractors among Democrats, who often grew weary of his lectures about the perils of over-reliance on donations from big business and Wall Street.
In other words, Sanders was a political loner, making his recent journey to the top of the Democratic Party even more remarkable. He has been put in this position not by internal patronage but by voters who are using him to demand that Democrats change their priorities.
At his Washington office a week after the election, I sat down with Sanders and his wife, Jane, just after the release of his new book, Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In. When he offered to get me a copy, I told him I’d already read the e-book, at which he frowned. “Does that have the pictures?” he asked. He was relieved when I told him it did, including black-and-whites from his youth in Brooklyn.
Sanders’ experiences growing up in the hardscrabble Flatbush neighborhood still seem central to the way he looks at the world. All the adults in his neighborhood voted Democratic. The loss of the support of those kinds of people still eats at Sanders, like a childhood wrong not yet corrected. Thus the opportunity he has now to push the Democrats back in that direction is something he doesn’t take lightly. He’s spent his whole life getting to this point.
The senator and his staffers were obviously sorting through a variety of emotions, and it was hard not to wonder what might have been. But Sanders admonished himself once or twice not to look back. “It’s not worth speculating about,” he said.
Instead, Sanders laid out the dilemma facing the Democratic Party. The Democrats must find their way back to a connection with ordinary people, and this will require a complete change in the way they do business. He’s convinced that the huge expenditure of time and mental effort the Democrats put in to raise more than $1 billion for the Clinton campaign in the past year ended up having enormous invisible costs. “Our future is not raising money from wealthy people, but mobilizing millions of working people and young people and people of color,” he says.
On other issues, he was more careful. The senator’s sweet spot as a politician has always been talking about the problems of the working poor: the economic struggles, the anomalous-across-the-industrialized-world story of a decline in life expectancy among rural Americans. But those same voters just lost any sympathy many Democrats might have had by electing the race-baiting lunatic Trump. Exactly how much courting of such a population is permissible? Is trying to recapture voters who’ve made a racist choice in itself racist?
Sanders believes it is a mistake to dismiss the Trump movement as a monolithic expression of racism and xenophobia. Trump’s populist appeals, sincere or not, carried the day, and Democrats need to answer them. Trump pledged not to cut Medicare or Social Security, promised to support re-importation of prescription drugs from other countries, and said he’d reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act. Sanders insists he and his staff are going to try to hold him to all of these promises. How they’ll manage that is only a guess, but as ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, Sanders could easily force the Republicans into votes on all of these issues by introducing amendments during the budget resolution process, which begins in January. “Were those 100 percent lies that [Trump] was telling people in order to gain support?” he asks. “We’ll find out soon enough.”
Sanders seems anxious to communicate a sense of urgency to young people. No more being content with think-tank-generated 14-point plans that become 87-point plans in bipartisan negotiation, and end up scheduled to take effect in 2040. People want change right now. To survive Trump and turn the tide, Sanders says, he needs help. “You don’t have to run for president,” he says. “Just get people involved.”
After the election, you called the anger Trump connected with “justified.” When did you first recognize that sense of discontent and alienation was big enough to have the impact it did this past year? I’ve seen it for years. I’ve seen a media, which has basically ignored the declining middle class, that doesn’t talk about poverty at all, and has no sense of what is going on in the minds of millions of ordinary Americans. They live in a bubble, talk about their world, worry about who’s going to be running 18 years from now for office. Meanwhile, people can’t feed their kids. That’s something I knew.
Talking about those issues, seeing that they resonated, that did not surprise me. How quickly they resonated did surprise me. How weak the Democratic establishment was, and how removed they were from the needs of ordinary people, that also surprised me.
President Obama talked after the election about winning Iowa by going into counties even if the demographics didn’t “dictate” success there. This seemed to be a criticism that the party had decided to ignore big parts of the country. I talked about that in the book. That’s exactly what we did. We had 101 rallies in that small state. That’s grassroots democracy. You speak to three-quarters of the people who end up voting for you. In New Hampshire, we had just a zillion meetings – far more people came out to our meetings. If you had the time to do that around the country, the world becomes different. The assessment has got to be that not only did we lose the White House to the least-popular candidate in perhaps the history of America, certainly in modern history, but we’ve lost the Senate, we’ve lost the House, we’ve lost two-thirds of the governors’ chairs in this country. We’ve lost 900 seats in state legislatures throughout the country in the last eight years. Maybe it might be time to reassess?
Is there any way to read that except as a massive repudiation of Democrats? No. I can’t see how any objective person can. It speaks to what I just mentioned; we cannot spend our entire life – I didn’t, but others do – raising money from wealthy people, listening to their needs. We’ve got to be out in union halls, we’ve got to be out in veterans’ halls, and we’ve got to be talking to working people, and we’ve got to stand up and fight for them.
This is how screwed up we are now. When you have a Republican Party that wants to give huge tax breaks to billionaires, when many of their members want to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, when they don’t believe in climate change, when they’ve been fierce advocates of unfettered free trade – I’m talking about pre-Trump – why would any working person, when they want to cut programs for working people, support them?
I think we know the answer. We know what the Karl Roves of the world have been successful in doing. They’re playing off working-class people against the gay community, or African-Americans, or Latinos. But that only works when you have not laid the foundation by making it clear to those workers that you are on their side on economic issues.
Look, you may not be pro-choice. But if you know that your congressman is fighting for you and delivering the goods in terms of education, health care and jobs, what you’ll say is, “I disagree with him on that, but I’m going to vote for him.” We’ve seen this in Vermont. We have seen the conservative parts of the state where there are many people who have disagreed with me. But they vote for me, because they know I’m fighting for their rights.
In your book, there are a lot of moments where you say things like, “Look at products like the iPhone. These are American inventions, but they’re not made in America anymore.” Some people will say, “This is nationalism. Why shouldn’t liberal-minded people care about raising the standard of living for poor people in China, in India?” I heard them. We ran into that big-time from corporate liberals. Two things here. I would say there are very few people in the United States Congress who have a more progressive outlook than I do in terms of global politics and international politics. I am deeply concerned about poverty in countries around the world, and I believe that the United States and other major countries have got to work to address those issues. But you do not have to sacrifice the American middle class in order to do that. I find it ironic that the billionaire class says, “We’re worried about the poor people in Vietnam, and that’s why we’re sending your job to Vietnam.” That’s the billionaire class talking.
Clearly we know what that is about. And you have some “liberals” who echo that point of view. I would like to see the United States government and the rest of the industrialized world work harder, with sensible policy to improve the standard of living, to help people create jobs, and sustainable jobs, not wipe out agricultural sectors. In Mexico, for example, NAFTA devastated, as you know, family farms when people could not grow corn to compete with American corn manufacturers.
How you create a sustainable global economy that protects the poorest people in the world is a very important issue for me. But you surely do not have to do that by wiping out the middle class of this country. I think we have a right in this country to hold corporate America accountable for gaining the benefits of being an American corporation, while at the same time turning their backs on the American working class and the consumers who helped create their profits and their wealth.
What about the criticism you got a lot last year, including from former President Clinton, that this idea that we can do anything about these globalist trends is unrealistic, that all we can do is “harness the energy” of the change? Donald Trump has rewritten the rules of politics. Let’s give the guy credit where credit is due. No one thought . . . he started off as a joke, right?
Seth Masket, a political science professor at the University of Denver, published a piece for Pacific Standard arguing that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was smart to organize an unprecedented blockade of any hearings for Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, because the choice likely helped give Donald Trump the presidential election.
“McConnell’s move made the Supreme Court seat an issue for the presidential election,” Masket wrote. “It motivated conservatives to stay on board with the Republican presidential nominee no matter who it was.”
A lot of conservatives, especially evangelical Christians, had their doubts about a glib, insincere libertine like Trump, especially someone who had a history of donating to Democratic politicians and no record of Republican loyalty. But that empty seat on the Supreme Court, Masket argued, tipped the scales.
“The balance of the Court, particularly on such issues as abortion, was in play,” he wrote. “Abandon the nominee, and Hillary Clinton gets to pick the next one, two, or three justices. Stand by the nominee, no matter how repellent, and you get to.”
My inclination is to agree with Masket. One of the most interesting things that I found, talking to attendees at both the Republican and Democratic conventions over the summer, was that Republicans often spoke about the Supreme Court and Democrats almost never did. The tendency to cite control of the court was particularly pronounced among Trump-skeptical Republicans I spoke with. Very few of them talked about the economy but the court came up over and over again. The opposite was true when I spoke with Democratic voters.
Trump understood that as long as he promised an anti-choice, anti-labor, anti-environmentalist philosophy when appointing judges, the Republican voter base would squelch its concerns about putting such a thoroughly unqualified man in charge of the nuclear codes and fall in line. Over the summer Trump took the highly unusual step of releasing a short list of judges he would consider, heavily advertising that the list was basically handed to him by the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation, two far-right think tanks.
The move was brilliant precisely because Trump clearly doesn’t give two hoots about the Supreme Court or the judiciary in general, despite the fact that he’s been involved in a mind-boggling 3,500 lawsuits over the course of his career and had 75 ongoing when he was elected to office. Letting the Federalist Society pick judges for him clears up his schedule to focus on issues that really matter to him, such as the weight of Miss Universe pageant winners and demanding that black Broadway actors apologize for talking back to powerful white men like Vice President-elect Mike Pence.
For the pastweek anda half, I’ve beencovering what it means for Trump to have the power to fill the Supreme Court seat that was left open after the death of former justice Antonin Scalia in March — and the even more dire possibility that he’ll be able to replace one of the aging liberals on the court in the next four years. (Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 83 years old and Stephen Breyer is 78; Anthony Kennedy, the most moderate of the court’s conservative justices, is 80.)
It’s difficult to deny the conclusion that, in the end, Republican voters are more organized and focused on the long game than Democratic voters, and that ability to focus will pay off. Trump will likely be out in four years — possibly less, if the quickly mounting scandals result in enough legal troubles — but the damage he’s likely to do with his court appointments will last years and in some cases generations.
Using the courts to dismantle the right of workers to unionize, for instance, will pay off dividends for Republicans long after Trump leaves the White House in the inevitable cloud of shame and disgrace. Unions can organize and educate voters and represent the only real hope that Democrats have of convincing some of those longed-for white working-class voters to stop voting racial resentments and begin voting their economic self-interest. Republicans get this, which is why they have focused heavily on creative litigation aimed at destroying unions, and now they are on the cusp of dealing some wounding blows.
It’s the same story with conservative lawyers’ chipping away at campaign-finance laws. Trump will do plenty of damage to both parties, but the free flow of money in politics means that the Republicans will be able to rebuild more easily than the Democrats, who have a much less wealthy donor base. Just as important, elevating the power and voice of the wealthy over everyone else will help Republicans continue to capture more state legislatures and congressional seats, reinforcing the horrific situation we have now, whereby a Republican minority is ruling over a Democratic majority.
This year’s election postmortems were tedious before they even began, of course, but please indulge me for a moment: The media’s unwillingness to cover the court issues, especially McConnell’s unprecedented and unconstitutional holdup of Obama’s court appointee, was a major act of malfeasance. Yes, it’s hard to keep a story in the news when there aren’t new developments to cover. But McConnell’s corrupt and anti-democratic behavior was a far more serious story than Hillary Clinton’s email management. It should have been extensively covered, and it was not.
This problem is made all the more serious when you consider the divergent media consumption of conservative Americans and everyone else. Most Americans, moderate or liberal, get their news through the mainstream media. Most conservatives turn to conservative media, like Fox News. Conservative media is better about covering the court issues and keeping them at the forefront of voter minds, and the result was that Republican voters had their votes moved on this issue. For more Democratic-leaning voters, it completely fell out of mind.
The result is that Republican voters treated this election as if it were an urgent one, and millions of voters who turned out for Obama in the previous two presidential cycles couldn’t be bothered to cast ballots this time around. Perhaps if they had really understood that this election would determine the direction of the federal courts for a generation, they would have reconsidered their decision to stay home rather than vote for Hillary Clinton.
Amanda Marcotte is a politics writer for Salon. She’s on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte
I’m a millennial computer scientist who also writes books and runs a blog. Demographically speaking I should be a heavy social media user, but that is not the case. I’ve never had a social media account.
At the moment, this makes me an outlier, but I think many more people should follow my lead and quit these services. There are many issues with social media, from its corrosion of civic life to its cultural shallowness, but the argument I want to make here is more pragmatic: You should quit social media because it can hurt your career.
This claim, of course, runs counter to our current understanding of social media’s role in the professional sphere. We’ve been told that it’s important to tend to your so-called social media brand, as this provides you access to opportunities you might otherwise miss and supports the diverse contact network you need to get ahead. Many people in my generation fear that without a social media presence, they would be invisible to the job market.
In a recent New York magazine essay, Andrew Sullivan recalled when he started to feel obligated to update his blog every half-hour or so. It seemed as if everyone with a Facebook account and a smartphone now felt pressured to run their own high-stress, one-person media operation, and “the once-unimaginable pace of the professional blogger was now the default for everyone,” he wrote.
I think this behavior is misguided. In a capitalist economy, the market rewards things that are rare and valuable. Social media use is decidedly not rare or valuable. Any 16-year-old with a smartphone can invent a hashtag or repost a viral article. The idea that if you engage in enough of this low-value activity, it will somehow add up to something of high value in your career is the same dubious alchemy that forms the core of most snake oil and flimflam in business.
Professional success is hard, but it’s not complicated. The foundation to achievement and fulfillment, almost without exception, requires that you hone a useful craft and then apply it to things that people care about. This is a philosophy perhaps best summarized by the advice Steve Martin used to give aspiring entertainers: “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” If you do that, the rest will work itself out, regardless of the size of your Instagram following.
A common response to my social media skepticism is the idea that using these services “can’t hurt.” In addition to honing skills and producing things that are valuable, my critics note, why not also expose yourself to the opportunities and connections that social media can generate? I have two objections to this line of thinking.
First, interesting opportunities and useful connections are not as scarce as social media proponents claim. In my own professional life, for example, as I improved my standing as an academic and a writer, I began receiving more interesting opportunities than I could handle. I currently have filters on my website aimed at reducing, not increasing, the number of offers and introductions I receive.
My research on successful professionals underscores that this experience is common: As you become more valuable to the marketplace, good things will find you. To be clear, I’m not arguing that new opportunities and connections are unimportant. I’m instead arguing that you don’t need social media’s help to attract them.
My second objection concerns the idea that social media is harmless. Consider that the ability to concentrate without distraction on hard tasks is becoming increasingly valuable in an increasingly complicated economy. Social media weakens this skill because it’s engineered to be addictive. The more you use social media in the way it’s designed to be used — persistently throughout your waking hours — the more your brain learns to crave a quick hit of stimulus at the slightest hint of boredom.
Once this Pavlovian connection is solidified, it becomes hard to give difficult tasks the unbroken concentration they require, and your brain simply won’t tolerate such a long period without a fix. Indeed, part of my own rejection of social media comes from this fear that these services will diminish my ability to concentrate — the skill on which I make my living.
The idea of purposefully introducing into my life a service designed to fragment my attention is as scary to me as the idea of smoking would be to an endurance athlete, and it should be to you if you’re serious about creating things that matter.
Perhaps more important, however, than my specific objections to the idea that social media is a harmless lift to your career, is my general unease with the mind-set this belief fosters. A dedication to cultivating your social media brand is a fundamentally passive approach to professional advancement. It diverts your time and attention away from producing work that matters and toward convincing the world that you matter. The latter activity is seductive, especially for many members of my generation who were raised on this message, but it can be disastrously counterproductive.
Most social media is best described as a collection of somewhat trivial entertainment services that are currently having a good run. These networks are fun, but you’re deluding yourself if you think that Twitter messages, posts and likes are a productive use of your time.
If you’re serious about making an impact in the world, power down your smartphone, close your browser tabs, roll up your sleeves and get to work.
Cal Newport is an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University and the author of “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” (Grand Central).
Never since satellite monitoring began in the late 1970s has such little ice covered the polar seas this time of year. In both the Arctic and the Antarctic, the extent of sea ice is tracking at the lowest levels on record.
The onset of polar night in the Arctic, in which the sun never rises above the horizon, typically triggers rapid ice growth as consistently bitter cold temperatures chill the warmer seas. However over the past two months, temperatures in the high Arctic have remained unusually warm. Temperatures last week rose to a startling 20 degrees Celsius (38 degrees Fahrenheit) above the historical average.
This extraordinary warmth is in part attributable to shrinking ice cover and may well drive further losses. And it is not just high air temperatures. Mark Serreze of the National Snow and Ice Data Center explained to the Washington Post, “There are some areas in the Arctic Ocean that are as much as 25 degrees Fahrenheit (14 degrees Celsius) above average now,” he said. “It’s pretty crazy.”
While it is too early to say whether this season’s winter ice maximum will set a new low, the long-term trends are unmistakable. The decline of ice, particularly in the Arctic, is recognized by climate scientists as an alarming indicator of a warming planet. The amount of ocean area covered by at least 15 percent ice reached a minimum in 2012, with the subsequent years all well below the long-term average.
It is not only the extent of the ice that concerns scientists, but its shrinking thickness and age. According to NASA, a comparison between September 2014 and September 1984 shows a decline of older ice, four years old or more, by a staggering 94 percent. Virtually all of the older, thicker ice has melted away or thinned, leaving the region more vulnerable to additional melting during relatively warm weather.
Sea ice extent this year compared to long term average
This vulnerability is not merely a theoretical possibility. At the end of 2015, for example, a storm and warm spell triggered the loss of ice over an area the size of Florida at a time when the ice pack would normally be growing, according to a recent analysis by NASA’s Goddard Institute. The “extremely warm” temperatures were 10 degrees Celsius above normal, half the magnitude of the current warm spell.
The current extraordinarily high temperature abnormalities in the Arctic are matched by equally cold deviations spanning almost the entirety of the vast region of Siberia. This month, nearly 140 low temperature records were set in Russia, from the Finland border to the Sea of Japan. Schools in central Russia shuttered as temperatures plunged to negative 36 Celsius (negative 33 Fahrenheit).
2016 daily mean Arctic Temperater (red) compared to long term mean (green)
The record heat in the Arctic and cold over the continents are linked. Jennifer Francis, a climatologist at Rutgers University, told the Post, “The Arctic warmth is the result of a combination of record-low sea-ice extent for this time of year, probably very thin ice, and plenty of warm/moist air from lower latitudes being driven northward by a very wavy jet stream.”
An increasing amount of research has tied changes in atmospheric circulation patterns to the loss of Arctic sea ice. The wintertime Arctic polar vortex, a circulating zone of low pressure extending several miles up in the atmosphere, has weakened over the past few decades, together with retreating sea ice. This weakened and perhaps shifting vortex allows colder weather, normally confined to the polar region, to escape farther south. The current weather patterns appear to be a prime example of this phenomenon.
Vast changes are afoot not only in the northern latitudes but in the Antarctic as well. In recent years, up through 2014, the region had seen growth in winter sea ice extending into the Southern Ocean. While these gains were far outweighed by the losses in the Arctic, this year has brought a stark reversal. Now, for the first time, sea ice extents near both poles are on course for record lows.