Kristoff has written assessments for dozens of funding committees. The pay was good, it was easy work, and it came with all the perks of a government job: minus the messy decisions. It was always the same. A mad scientist drafting up a long-winded proposal, submitting it in a timely fashion, and then squawking until his or her funding is renewed. Kristoff finds the process entertaining. He edits the proposal drafts for a substantial fee.
Martel isn’t like the other scientists. Kristoff realizes that halfway through his first ice proposal. Martel is a legend among the directors; his funding is always renewed. Kristoff can understand why.
Martel speaks quietly, in a polite and dignified way. He didn’t seem very scientific at all, “When the human population swelled to six hundred million, the ice caps began to melt.” His shoulders are down and his face is relaxed.
“We don’t know why they are melting.” Martel continues. “We only have speculation—nothing definitive. Without a specific cause, how can anyone determine the effects?” Martel pauses and Kristoff sat there waiting. The silence allows Kristoff time to look at the diagram on the plasma screen. Martel’s charts and diagrams are clear and easy to read. He has chronologically documented each major global-warming event for the last two centuries. They play across the screen like a silent motion picture.
Martel ticked them off on his fingers, “The ice has thinned in the Glacier National Park, heat waves sweep from Kansas to New England, the dry conditions spawn fires that consume acres of land each year in California, floods along the Ohio River caused five hundred million dollars in property damage, and we all remember the damages caused by hurricanes Floyd and Katrina.
“Nature is suffering too—the Pacific Salmon are dying because their waters are too warm, polar bears are having fewer cubs, and the coral reefs are bleaching. The sea levels are already rising—the lighthouse in Cape Hatteras had to be relocated. Forts built on the southwest Pacific Ocean are now awash at high tide, Florida farms inland from Biscayne Bay are being infiltrated with salt water. The land has become too toxic for crops and salt water is already nibbling at the farms along the eastern shore of Maryland.”
“The secret to stopping global warming lies across the Baffin and Hudson Bay,” Martel said. “I am asking this committee to extend my research for another season in Greenland. You have heard proposals from different grant commissioners. We are all appealing for extensions, so I understand the difficult choice you’re faced with. Greenland is a place where the ice, snow, and clouds stretch across the horizon. Eighty-one percent of it is covered in ice. The terrain is barren and untouched, so we can learn more about the impact on the ice. If the ice in Greenland is melting—we know it’s not because of direct human contact. It has to be from some outside agent.”
Kristoff looks up and sees a middle-aged woman in a pin-striped suit leaning forward to speak into the microphone.
“Your arguments are compelling,” the chairwoman says. “But we don’t need to waste anymore time or money in Greenland. We prefer to send our teams to Antarctica. It is just as remote. Those glaciologists can extract the sediments from the ice in just two months.”
“Why do you prefer Antarctica?” Martel asks. His voice is too low to be challenging but Kristoff recognizes the tone.
The chairwoman leans toward the microphone. “Antarctica is even more remote than Greenland and we’ve already approved that expedition. Plus we already know why the ice melting: Greenhouse gases.”
Martel shakes his head. He removes his glasses and sits them down on the table right next to his glass of water. He narrows his eyes and speaks directly to her.
“The crews in Antarctica only drill to 4,200 feet. The thickness of the ice on that landmass is a mile thick. Greenland’s glaciers take longer to drill because the terrain is different. Last year this committee approved thirty million dollars to fund a project in Antarctica. What did your glaciologist tell you?” Martel asks.
She leans forward to say something but before she can respond Martel raises his voice, “That was a rhetorical question. I read the report. They told you absolutely nothing. Nothing new anyway. Only that the ice was melting and it wouldn’t raise sea levels because the ice was already in the water. Now, I am asking for a third of their budget to explore an island off America’s eastern coast. If that doesn’t seem important to you let me remind you that if the ice shelves in Greenland melt any real estate you have in New York or Florida will plummet. Because unlike Antarctica when Greenland melts—sea level worldwide will increase twenty feet.”
Martel picks up his glasses, removes a cloth from the hard case, and starts to clean the lenses. “And one other thing: the only reason the teams in Antarctica were able to finish is because they drill day and night for two months straight. I don’t subject my team to that sort of strain. When we are on the ice the safety of my team comes first.”
“But there is some danger involved. Any one you take out on the ice is a liability,” the councilwoman says. “Your report from last season indicated that the native hunters are becoming more and more reluctant to venture out onto the ice. I cannot let you go out there if you don’t have a guide.”
“The Inuits have changed over the years. They used to go dog-sledding on the ice—across the bay in the winter. The trip was about fifty miles. They don’t do that anymore. It’s harder for them to hunt, and even harder to trap. That is why they have agreed to help me. They will take my team on the ice this year because they need to find a way of stopping this. We all need to find a way to stop this.”
She interjects, “You said in your proposal that you don’t think any research team has met the burden of proof on the effects of greenhouse gases? I don’t understand that.”
“Every team that’s worked the ice for the last three decades has reported the same thing. The advent of the Industrial Revolution and greenhouse gases have influenced climate in the natural cycle.” Martel preempts. “I don’t argue that, but I would like to expand upon it. The Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica has retreated and expanded more than sixty times over the last thirteen million years and in rapid swings according to your own studies. Now, that should ring alarm bells to this committee because those swings occurred when the levels of carbon dioxide were thirty percent lower than today. The levels of carbon dioxide, the very key that ties greenhouse gases to global warming, were thirty percent lower so that means it is possible. No, it is probable that something else is impacting the glaciers.
“What if something else is melting the ice?” Martel continues. “What sort of scientific breakthrough would that be? Isn’t that a project worth funding?”
A low murmur sweeps through the room and from the other side of the table another committee member asks a question, “How do you know that the levels were down thirty percent?”
“Because your committee funded that project. Which, by the way, contains the most valuable piece of information any team has brought back from Antarctica. I’m not sure it was worth thirty million dollars.” Martel raises his eyebrow and smiles at the chairwoman. Vivian smiles back.
“And why is that?” she asks.
“It got me to thinking,” Martel replies. “Most of the glaciologists are worried about how a melting ice sheet could destabilize ocean currents, ecosystems, even storm patterns.”
Martel looks at Kristoff and then he pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose with his index finger. “I’m more worried that we may be allowing the truth to melt away with the glaciers. The head researcher from Antarctica said the ice shelves in Antarctica are the early warning system of climate change. I say the glaciers in Greenland should be studied. This committee approves almost a hundred grants a year, half of them fund Antarctica’s research. The ice in Greenland is ninety percent smaller, so we can dig further and the data will be more conclusive.
“If there is something else … causing the ice to melt I will find it. And maybe we can slow down these climate changes. Maybe we can stop them, but if we only gather data from the white continent than we are closing one eye to the problem.” He waits for the chairwoman to respond. She seems satisfied. She lowers her eyes and sits back in her chair. Martel keeps talking. “I saw the last glacier melt at Kilimanjaro. I watched it shrink down to a single sliver of blue ice and then it dissolved into a puddle. Now, that glacier is gone and whatever data was contained in it is also gone, melted away. If the ice sheets in Greenland melt, then the information stored in those particles will dissolve. Don’t you care about that?”