I first heard about the forthcoming Arctic Apocalypse when I was floating lazily in the middle of a sultry Indian Ocean. To cut a long story short, I was on a cruise from India to Singapore a few years ago when I decided to go to one of those lectures that the ship lays on when one finally tires of the Martini Bar or yet another dip in the swimming pool. The talk was entitled Tides, Tsunami and Ocean Conveyors, and was delivered by an earnest university don from Australia called Len.
The presentation, I remember, was full of references to pie charts and mathematical calculations. There was one observation, however, that shocked the audience. If the Arctic ice cap finally melts because of climate change, Len told us, it could block the warm ocean conveyor that travels into the north Atlantic from the equator. As a result, northern Europe could be plunged into another Ice Age.
Moreover, it could well happen in our lifetime.
A couple of beers on the sun deck afterwards helped me forget about Len’s disturbing forecast. And I didn’t give it much thought again for quite a while.
Not until, that is, this winter, when a flurry of newspaper reports blew in about the shrinking Arctic Sea ice. Around Christmas, it was being reported that temperatures at the North Pole were 20C higher than normal, causing ice levels to hit record lows. Climate scientists are now predicting that this rapid change will bring more extreme weather events to the planet.
Soaring temperatures in the Arctic, they explain, cause the jet stream to meander more, with big loops bringing warm air to the frozen north and cold air into the warmer south. We have already seen the consequences – for instance, in the savage winter storms that hit parts of North America and northern Europe in 2013-14 – and things are only set to get worse.
Many of our students who study here at OISE Oxford have been affected by unexpected weather patterns. Droughts in Tokyo and Paris, too much rain in Bangkok – many have a story to tell and many are concerned. As a result, climate change is often a hot topic in our classrooms, especially as making predictions about the climate is also a good way to practise your modal verbs!
A matter of concern for many people, then, unless, of course, you happen to be Donald Trump. The new US president claims that climate change is just a hoax invented by the Chinese to undermine American productivity.
No doubt Trump’s intentions will prompt more lively debate in our classrooms in the future – debates in which everyone who studies at OISE Oxford can participate. In the meantime, though, I can’t help thinking back to that prophecy I heard on a cruise liner in the Indian Ocean.
Could northern Europe be heading for a new Ice Age? It’s a chilling thought.
Simon Wilcox is a tutor at OISE with a background in journalism. Holding a Postgraduate Diploma in Broadcast Journalism, Simon has reported for the BBC in England and a major broadcaster in Singapore. He has also worked for newspapers and magazines, and as a website editor for a London-based NGO.