For years, scientists have watched in concern as the Arctic ice has begun to melt. Activists cite pollution as the cause and their opponents struggle to prove that global warming (and cooling) is a natural phenomenon, but the ice keeps melting. The High North is changing, and the rest of the planet will follow suit. Nothing can be done to stop it.

After the Ice: Life, Death and Geopolitics in the New Arctic attacks the problem from all sides. Alun Anderson ferrets out the reasons the ice melt began, the reasons it will continue and why it cannot be changed, in one moment exposing the economic and political players in the northern drama, and in the next explaining how the whole world will eventually change. All the while, the fate of the animals in the Arctic — and the rest of the world — circulate.

After the Ice is not an easy read. It's not a top 10 list of actions you can take today to save the polar bear, the walrus, the narwhal or any other species doomed by the coming change. In fact, expert after expert insist that what has started cannot be stopped. In the 1980s, writes Anderson, the scientific community worried about the coming of a second ice age. In two decades, evidence to the contrary became so convincing that polar researchers have all but accepted the end of the polar bear's era. This book explores the hows, the whys and the what nows.

Anderson does a thorough job of exploring the issue. He looks at people living on the land, and shows how the changing ice changes their way of life, but also how they've contributed and what the future holds. He examines the ice itself, how it's moving and why the Arctic continues to heat up. Governments vying for resources, companies wanting to explore for profit, and how the animals deal with this change create a complex and intriguing story.

"When you start to see so many different interactions," writes Anderson, "often subtle and unexpected, affecting the Arctic ice, the big question that springs to mind is how many of them have a clear connection to the greenhouse gases that we have been pumping into the atmosphere." While activists rush to show a correlation, Anderson painstakingly investigates this question as well.

The result spans 260-odd pages of reindeer migration and cruise ship routes. It exposes real threats to the Arctic wildlife, such as tanker oil and fuel spills, and explores the necessities of living with the changes in the best way possible. An especially important need exists for ports along ship routes, as many areas aren't equipped to deal with search and rescue (even along cruise routes) or cleanup issues.

Throughout this journey, Anderson sprinkles anecdotes ranging from curious to accusatory. These facts bring the data to life in a way that could only come from years of attention and research on the environment. Through fateful sea voyages and polar bear escapades, readers say goodbye to the old world of the North, and hello to a new Arctic.

MNN homepage photo: Photodynamic/iStockphoto

'After the Ice: Life, Death and Geopolitics in the New Arctic'
Is it time to say goodbye to the polar bear? Author Alun Anderson takes a cold, hard look.