The ice caps that cover the polar areas of our planet are shrinking. How does this effect climate change? While there are many, many variables that may come from this melting, there are two main areas that should get immediate notice from the public. The melting of the ice caps can cause either or both of these circumstances to develop, which would change the world as we know it today.
First, ice is white. This means that it will reflect more light than it absorbs. You have experienced the opposite of this effect when you walk across the asphalt parking lot of your local mall during the summer. The black asphalt absorbs the energy of the sun, retaining the heat and raising the temperature around the parking lot.
The ice caps do the opposite. Since they are white and reflect the light, and therefore the energy of the sun, they act as a kind of natural thermostat. As the polar ice caps get smaller, less energy is reflected. As more of the suns energy and heat is absorbed by the now open water, more of the ice will melt.
It becomes a downhill slide, which could lead to an increase in the overall temperature of the Earth. Humans are such fragile creatures that a change of just a few degrees in the normal highs and lows can and will impact all facets of society.
The second is more complicated. As sea water freezes, it tends to leave the salt behind. This means that the polar ice caps are made up of immense amounts of fresh water. At first glance it may seem that unlocking all that fresh water would be good for the planet.
After all, we have droughts every year and people starving to death in countries that don't get enough rainfall in a normal year. If you were to ship this water to those areas (which would be so expensive, the idea has not been taken seriously) then it may help.
As it is, the ice caps melt and put fresh water into the ocean. This influx of fresh water into the saline environment can have devastating effects at every level.
The major event would have to do with the ocean currents. One of these is the Gulf Stream. It is essentially a warm water river that moves water from the warmer southern equatorial waters north along the east coast of the USA and then across the Atlantic toward Europe.
What this does is give the majority of Europe a climate that meets with the narrow standards that humans need to thrive. If this current of warm water were to stop bringing the moderate weather as it currently does, London would have a climate that is closer to the middle of Canada or Siberia.
The breadbaskets of Europe that have supported populations since the nomadic hunting tribes became agrarian, would cease to produce the food. At least at the current level of production. On top of the change in the climate, it is possible that millions of people could die of hunger.
How would the ice caps melting cause all of this to happen? Fresh water and sea water have different densities. They freeze at different temperatures. They act in different ways. When the ice caps melt (using the northern hemisphere as an example) the millions of gallons of fresh water can displace the salt water.
This can cause the Gulf Stream to change its course. Even a slight change can lead to a snowball effect. The first minor change is followed by more and more changes.
These changes have happened before. Are humans causing it to happen faster? It is possible. What does make this time around different is the effect that it will have on human civilization.
It isn't a matter of one country or another, it is a global problem. If the ice caps continue to melt we can only make theories about the changes, until they actually happen. At that point it will probably be too late.