A Farewell to Ice is a fascinating book that addresses the issue of the retreat of the Arctic ice and its implications for our planet in a way that is engaging, scientific, and yet easy to follow and understand. Peter Wadhams is not only an experienced Arctic researcher but also an excellent storyteller who manages to shed light on ice’s role in Earth’s past, present, and future, while presenting the problem of sea ice retreat in its true dimensions.
Wadhams uses a historical review of the formation and evolution of ice on Earth to argue that not only is the ice melting rapidly but also that it is imperative for people to take measures to address this problem without further delay. The Arctic is his main focus; the fate of the ice in the region is vital for the world’s climate and consequently for humanity. Each of the fourteen chapters of the book follows a different issue with the same purpose: to persuade the reader that it is essential that we take action at every possible level to address the climate crisis we have put ourselves in.
The book begins with a thorough analysis of the process by which sea ice is formed, a discussion of the importance of summer melt in the Arctic, and an overview of the properties of sea ice. Its retreat is both due to and a cause of climate impacts. Though Wadhams documents his arguments with all kinds of scientific data, he manages to keep the nonscientific reader engaged by using simple examples, such as ice skating over a lake, to explain complex concepts. He also engagingly reflects on his personal experiences, including memories of Arctic expeditions, such as a captivating narrative of an incident in one of his transarctic voyages in a submarine. These elements transmit to the reader almost the whole spectrum of emotions a researcher can feel when working in extreme circumstances in the Arctic.
The book answers such questions as why we have witnessed the effects of human-induced climate change in such an apparent way in the twentieth century and not earlier, and why these human-driven effects are accelerating much faster than ever in the past. Halfway through the book, Wadhams argues that, due to Arctic amplification, Arctic Sea ice is decreasing so rapidly that soon humanity will be left with a mainly open ocean. He then describes the serious consequences ice retreat is having for global processes, including for navigation in the Arctic, and oil and seabed exploitation (as well as population growth, food availability, and broader societal change), looking not only at polar issues but also at the planet as a whole.
A Farewell to Ice is a bold book, and Peter Wadhams is a bold and excellent writer. Not only does he support his views; he also criticizes and contradicts those who deny the seriousness of the situation, mentioning them by name and indicating why they are wrong. He further argues that many scientists, policy makers, and researchers choose to consciously ignore the observational data “in favor of accepting models that have already shown themselves to be wrong” (p. 88). He urges more research not only on reducing carbon emissions but also on removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and he calls on young scientists, policy makers, and citizens to act in any possible way to prevent major disruption to the planet.