Why is melting polar ice caps bad?

Anonymous asked this question on 5/8/2000:

Isn't the melting of the polar ice caps a good thing since it produces more water for dry places like in the Middle East? How can we speed up this melting process? Thanks.

JesseGordon gave this response on 5/12/2000:

Some people would say that global warming in general is a good thing, such as saying "I live in Boston and it's too cold in the winter so what's wrong with global warming?"

That's certainly true when it comes to one local area -- the effects of global warming might be positive. Yes, huge chunks of polar ice cap could be floated off to the Middle East, and I suppose the process would be easier if the chunks fell off of their own accord.

But the overall effect is potentially pretty bad. I read an article last week by a government minister in Kiribati, a chain of islands in the South Pacific. They've experienced a loss of much of their beaches already, and predict that a 10-foot rise in sea level would wipe out half their territory. That 10 feet could come entirely from melting ice caps -- some predictions indicate more sea level increase than that.

And it's not just that some localities would get hurt while others benefited. One of the major side effects of global warming is that weather becomes more extreme -- more hot summers, more cold winters, more large hurricanes. That could potentially effect the entire world negatively. Many people say that process has already begun, as evidenced by the recent record-hot summers in the US, and by the number of big hurricanes in recent years.

With regards to my colleague's criticism that this is "junk science," well, our national leaders don't think so, and neither do the national leaders of most countries in the world.

Here's what Al Gore says about it:
Global warming is no longer a distant threat; it's as real, as clear and present an issue, with profound effects on people's lives, as war and peace or recession and poverty--and the effects are only just beginning to be felt.
There are still some scientists--a shrinking but vocal minority, invariable invoked by special interests--who deny or doubt climate change or its relationship to carbon dioxide pollution. The flaw in the argument this time is that if the skeptics are as wrong as it appears, and if we do not act now, the crisis of global warming will inflict enormous, even irreversible damage. And it is preventable if we act now, wisely and boldly.
It is worth remembering that big changes can occur quickly. There will probably be some climate surprises. Melting of the arctic tundra could release huge quantities of methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas, which would greatly amplify climate change. Who can afford to wait?
Source: New foreword to Earth in the Balance, p. xiv-xvi Apr 23, 2000 (see )

George Bush hasn't come out with his policy yet on Global Warming, except that he has said he opposes the Kyoto Treaty. Based on his previous related statements, I suspect he'll say something like, "I want to address global warming via good scientific studies, but not using intrusive federal regulation." I base that estimate of his viewpoint on quotations from .

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