Arctic ice could be thinnest ever amid fears climate is 'low priority'

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AS ANOTHER report reveals the vanishing state of the Arctic ice, scientists have raised fears that the message about the urgent need to act on climate change is not getting through fast enough.

The director of WWF Scotland has said only nuclear war or an asteroid hitting Earth should be considered more of a crisis than climate change.

New data has revealed this summer could have seen the lowest Arctic ice cover on record.

Dr Richard Dixon admitted that, with concerns over house prices and the credit crunch, for some people it might not seem like the biggest priority.

But he said despite more immediate worries, it must be at the top of the list.

"Humans beings are genetically programmed to deal with the immediate crisis in front of them.

"If you don't know where your next crust of bread is coming from, you might not be concerned about what happens to the planet in 50 years' time."

But he said it must be seen as the biggest priority, and urged governments to act.

"If you don't tackle climate change, the global economy will fall apart," he said.

"If you don't tackle climate change the natural resources we rely on from timber to fish stocks will also be severely disrupted.

"Apart from all-out nuclear war or an asteroid hitting the planet, there isn't anything bigger than climate change."

The continuing loss of older, thicker ice means the cover has become dramatically thinner this year. The area of ice that is at least five years old has already decreased by 56 per cent between 1985 and 2007.

Dr Martin Sommerkorn, a senior climate change adviser at WWF International's Arctic Programme, said: "If you take reduced ice thickness into account, there is probably less ice overall in the Arctic this year than in any other year since monitoring began."

With less ice to reflect the sun's heat, more of it is absorbed by the water, adding to global warming.

This is also the first year that the Northwest Passage, over the top of North America, and the Northeast Passage, over the top of Russia, are both free of ice.

There are already signs that species including polar bears are suffering as climate change erodes the ice on which they rely.

Duncan McLaren, the chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, thinks the public are not put off concerns about climate change by other worries, but by the enormity of the problem. "They are put off by the absolute magnitude of what it might mean," he said.

He said, as a result, both the public and governments look for excuses not to take action.

"What we get continually is people saying they want to do something but they say if they do it on their own it won't make a difference. The public is looking to the government and business to make the solutions easy to adopt."

Last week, a coalition of environment groups accused the main political parties of failing to prepare for the challenges of climate change, by switching focus instead to the economy.