"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘The “Deadly Trio”’

“We’re Already There…” Burnin’ And Lootin’: On The Occation Of Impending Ecosystem Collapse

In Uncategorized on July 15, 2015 at 5:25 pm

Oldspeak:

“(That’s why we gonna be)
Burnin’ and a-lootin’ tonight;
(Say we gonna burn and loot)
Burnin’ and a-lootin’ tonight;
(One more thing)
Burnin’ all pollution tonight;
(Oh, yeah, yeah)
Burnin’ all illusion tonight.

Oh, stop them!-Robert Nesta Marley

“As The World Burns, we loot Her endlessly. We can’t help it really. We know no other way. We’re pretty much locked in to this way of being. Many of us are very comfortable ensconced in the Ecocidal Perpetual Death Machine/Heat Engine that is Industrial Civilization. Eagerly consuming our daily rations of hopium laced infotainment through our telescreens and “Victory Gin” whenever possible. Labouring dutifully in our invisible prisons of “busyness|business”, conformity, and compliance. What follows is an unvarnished delineation of the ongoing and intensifying global ecological collapse, most of us are actively and aggressively ignoring. For me the most pertinent part of this piece is what  Dr Alex Rogers has to say:

Climate Change affects are going to be extremely serious, and it’s interesting when you think many people who talk about this in terms of what will happen in the future… our children will see the effects of this… Well, actually we’re seeing very severe impacts from climate change already… We’re already there…Most, if not all, of the five global mass extinctions in Earth’s history carry the fingerprints of the main symptoms of… global warming, ocean acidification and anoxia or lack of oxygen. It is these three factors — ‘the deadly trio’ — which are present in the ocean today. In fact, the [current] situation is unprecedented in the Earth’s history because of the high rate and speed of change.”

In that context, I struggle to comprehend the Hopium of the author. When he writes, right after that quote:

Maybe, in the near future, somebody who has solid political leadership skills will initiate a nationwide infrastructure project connecting major cities via electric-powered trains and construct solar panels and wind turbines along the right of ways, assuming there is enough time

“Why? Why this baseless faith in “The market” of Politics? That market, that political system, has helped bring us to where we stand today. What possible good could come from more of the ecological destruction, pollution, extractive mining for the minerals & materials required to construct this “green” infrastructure, that will in the long run be meaningless in mitigating that which is beyond mitigation? I don’t get it. When will we burn the illusion?” -OSJ

Written By Robert Hunziker @ Dissident Voice:

Climate change/global warming is the main protagonist on the worldwide stage of collapsing ecosystems.

The ecosystem is a combination of living organisms in harmony with nonliving elements like air, water, and mineral soil interacting as one whole. But, what if the living and nonliving elements stop interrelating as “one harmonized whole”? Then, what happens?

As things stand today, the planet’s future is decidedly in the camp of “then, what happens?”

Signals of planetary stress are literally off the charts.  Meanwhile the world continues spinning like always, as people go to work, drive cars, go out to dinner, and watch TV, some read books but not much these days.

Those routines of going to work, out to dinner, and so forth maintain an equilibrium, a daily pattern on the same freeways, the same faces, the same workplaces. By itself, life seems very normal, nothing much to worry about other than making monthly car payments.

Similarly, the natural world experiences its own rhythm, like the everyday cycle of people going to work, on the freeway, to dinner, watching TV. But, radically dissimilar to that everyday cycle that seems so dependable, so routine, the natural world is amiss, chaotic, crumbling apart, bursting at the seams. However, this deep trouble is not noticed, not recognized, not reported in accordance with severe levels of impending calamity. After all, as long as Wall Street goes up, all is well, isn’t it? Yet, all is not well, not by a long shot.

Ecosystem degradation happens in silence, not on freeways, not in theaters, not in malls. There is no ticker tape to watch or CNBC to listen to.

Consider this, what if tire blowouts occurred every day on the commute? What if the television set blacks-out every two minutes? What if faucets unexpectedly turn dry? Those situations could be metaphors for the ecosystem today, anomalous, irregular, variable, faltering!  Thus, climate change is very real, and people are already starting to experience ecosystem collapse.

The São Paulo water crisis, or “hydric collapse” as many are calling it, has left a city of 20 million teetering on the brink.1 Water is shut off in most parts of the city every day at 1:00 P.M. Scientists say this disaster, in large measure, is payback because of massive rain forest degradation, disrupting normal weather patterns.2

A shortage of water leads to various and sundry consequences, as for one example among many: “The financial hub of one of the world’s biggest economies is experiencing a water crisis so bad that experts say it could affect investors globally”.3

All of which may be a blessing in disguise because “affecting investors globally” may be the only way for “ecosystem collapse” to gain attention in today’s neoliberal “only-the-bottom-line-counts” world.

The ecosystem’s collapse knows no boundaries. Three million people will be without water in Taiwan, as the government drastically rations.4 The normal rainy season is now abnormally missing. Scientists say global warming has altered the jet streams and weather patterns. Thankfully, good news, as of July 10th, typhoon Chan-hom heads towards Taiwan for a little temporary relief.

California is haunted by and threatened with full-scale desertification as a powerful high-pressure system known as the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge hovers over the Pacific Ocean, blocking normal wintertime rainfall.5 Scientists (Princeton and Stanford) say climate change is a significant culprit.

Not only that, but with planetary heat; i.e., global warming increasing month-by-month for years on end, California’s main water tower, the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range snow pack runs dry way too quickly.

In fact, worldwide, glacial water towers are rapidly diminishing from too much heat, threatening hydro-power, irrigation, and drinking water as well as commercial rivers in heavily populated areas of Asia and South America, akin to São Paulo.

Chinese scientists report significant glacial loss (up t0 70%) at the headwaters of major commercial rivers, like the Lancang River, the “Danube of the East.”

Based upon the past record of incessant temperature rise over the last few decades, glacial ice/snow will likely remain under heated attack: “March 2015 and first quarter of year warmest on record: Arctic sea ice extent smallest on record for the month of March.”6

Relentlessly, global temperatures continue setting new record highs, year after year. In the United States: “The June contiguous U.S. average temperature was 71.4°F, 2.9°F above the 20th century average, second only to June 1933 in the 121-year period of record,”7

Not only that: “A new study published online in the journal Science finds that the rate of global warming during the last 15 years has been as fast as or faster than that seen during the latter half of the 20th Century. The study refutes the notion that there has been a slowdown or ‘hiatus’ in the rate of global warming in recent years.”8

Increasing levels of heat bring forth new problems. China suffers from major desertification with 27% of the country or 2.6 million sq km affected. Woefully, another 1.7 million sq km, or 65% additional land, is at risk of turning to desert for a grand total of 45% of China at risk of desertification. Proof that land degradation in combination with global warming takes a huge toll even though the government has been fighting back.9 Scientists say global warming accelerates worldwide desertification.

In turn, desertification contributes to global warming, a positive feedback loop (which is really a negative), as “warming is allowing the carbon that has been stored in dry land vegetation and soils to be released to the atmosphere as it dries out and dies.”10

Tipping Points of Irreversible Ecosystem Decay/Destruction/Collapse

A prestigious group of scientists from around the world is warning that population growth, widespread destruction of natural ecosystems, and climate change may be driving Earth toward an irreversible change in the biosphere, a planet-wide tipping point that would have destructive consequences… there will be a reduction in biodiversity and severe impacts on much of what we depend on to sustain our quality of life, including, for example, fisheries, agriculture, forest products and clean water. This could happen within just a few generations.11

As for planet-wide tipping points: “There are 30 self-reinforcing feedback loops that are irreversible.”12 Some are very tipsy, some already tipping.

For example, methane hydrates in the Arctic Ocean, harmlessly contained, so far, under the ice for millennia, are equivalent to 1,000 to 10,000 gigatons of carbon versus 226 gigatons in the atmosphere.13 Today the level is over 300 gigatons (McPherson). Because the Arctic is loosing so much ice cover, a 50-gigaton burp of methane is highly possible at any time, which is equivalent to an additional 1,000 gigatons of carbon.14  The results could be dire.

In the melting permafrost of Siberia:

Methane vents 30 centimeters (one foot) in diameter were lit on fire by scientists in 2010… by the summer of 2011, they were not lighting this on fire anymore because those methane vents were a kilometer (1/2 mile) across… a twenty-six-hundred-fold (2,600) increase in size in a year… it’s almost as if we’ve triggered rapid, unpredictable and non-linear responses. (McPherson).

According to NASA, methane plumes that are kilometers wide have already been monitored in the Arctic.15

The plain fact is that “loss of Arctic ice” equals way too much methane released into the atmosphere. It’s a dastardly closed circuit of ruination prompted by the selection of fossil fuels over renewable energy sources. But, Germany (25% renewables) knows better.  China is aware and active. However, as for the derisory U.S., nobody knows where or how or when it comes into the picture.

The biggest worry amongst some scientists is the rapidity of past ecosystem collapse. According to Paul Beckwith, Laboratory for Paleoclimatology and Climatology, University of Ottawa: “55 million years ago… the temperature rose globally by 5C in 13 years, as shown in sediment samples.”16

Notice that it did not take hundreds (100s) or thousands (1,000s) or millions (1,000,000s) of years to increase 5C. In that particular case, once the tipping point was triggered, it occurred in a geological flash, within only 13 years.

If perchance the Arctic ice entirely melts away during the summer season, which some prominent scientists believe is due fairly soon, it is not out of the question that the release of methane buried under the ice for millennia will self-perpetuate into a global warming frenzy or super cycle, possibly repeating the experience of 55 million years ago. Who knows? Then, the lights go out, no more TV, and who needs Wall Street? According to Dr. Peter Wadhams, Cambridge University, humanity cannot tolerate a 5C increase.

Thirteen (13) years seems like a short time frame to kick into gear the potential of an earth-shattering ecosystem breakdown. All of which begs the question: How deadly might it be and how quickly does 5C turn into disaster?

Nobody really knows for sure that it will even happen, but on the other hand, it happened in the geological record, only recently discovered within the past two years by Rutgers scientists17

The Ocean’s “under the weather”

The ocean is the kingpin of the ecosystem and the single best barometer of the condition/health of the planet’s ecosystem.

Decidedly, problems are found throughout the marine food chain from the base, plankton, showing early signs of reproductive and maturation complications due to too much CO2 emitted by burning fossil fuels, to the largest fish species, the whale shark, which is on the endangered species list.

The ocean is not functioning properly. It’s a festering problem that will not go away. This is due to acidification, and, as long as fossil fuels predominate, it will methodically, and assuredly, over time, kill the ocean, which absorbs 30% of the CO2 from the atmosphere and has been absorbing 80-90% of the planet’s heat (NOAA).

Over 3,300 floating Argo probes strategically stationed in oceans worldwide measure heat content. The results show 90% of planetary heat is stored there (discussed in IPCC report d/d 2007). By way of comparison, the atmosphere stores only about 2% because of its small heat capacity.

The ocean heat build-up is potentially a big problem: Ocean heat, under certain conditions, can whiplash back up into the atmosphere causing rapid acceleration of global warming as Pacific trade winds potentially slacken in years ahead.18

Not only that, but problems stacked upon more problems, the rate of change of ocean pH (measure of acidity) is 10 times faster than 55 million years ago. That period of geologic history was directly linked to a mass extinction event as levels of CO2 mysteriously went off the charts.19

Zooming in on the Future, circa 2050 – Location: Castello Aragonese aka: “The Acid Sea”

Scientists have discovered a real life Petri dish of seawater conditions similar to what will likely occur ocean-wide by the year 2050, assuming fossil fuels continue to emit CO2 at current rates.

This real life Petri dish is located in the Tyrrhenian Sea at Castello Aragonese, which is a tiny island that rises straight up out of the sea like a tower. The island is located 17 miles west of Naples. Tourists like to visit Aragonese Castle (built 474 BC), which is on the island, to see the display of medieval torture devices.

But, the real commotion is offshore, under the water, where Castello Aragonese holds a very special secret, an underwater display that gives scientists a window 50 years into the future.  A quirk of geology is at work whereby volcanic vents on the seafloor surrounding the island are bubbling up large quantities of CO2. In turn, this replicates the level of CO2 scientists expect the ocean to absorb over the course of the next 50 years.

“When you get to the extremely high CO2 almost nothing can tolerate that,” according to Jason-Hall Spencer, PhD, professor of marine biology, School of Marine Science and Engineering, Plymouth University (UK), who studies the seawater around Castello Aragonese.20

The adverse effects of excessive CO2 are found everywhere in the immediate surroundings of the tiny island. Barnacles, one of the toughest of all sea life, are missing around the base of the island where seawater measurements show the heaviest concentration of CO2. And, within the water, limpets, which wander into the area seeking food, show severe shell dissolution. Their shells are almost completely transparent. The underwater sea grass is a vivid green, which is abnormal because tiny organisms usually coat the blades of sea grass and dull the color, but no such organisms exists. Sea urchins, which are commonplace further away from the vents, are nowhere to be seen around the island.

The only life forms found around Castello Aragonese are jellyfish, sea grass, and algae; whereas, an abundance of underwater sea life is found in more distant surrounding waters. Thus, the Castello Aragonese Petri dish is essentially a dead sea except for weeds, explaining why Jane Lubchenco, former head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, refers to ocean acidification, as global warming’s “equally evil twin.”

To that end, a slow motion death march leading to significant ecosystem collapse is churning away in the ocean in real time, and sadly, humans are witnesses to this extinction event, but it does not hit home. It happens in hiding, silent, within a vast expanse of water. Other than a few scientists, who really knows much about it?

Alex Rogers, Scientific Director of IPSO and professor of Conservation Biology at the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford:

Climate Change affects are going to be extremely serious, and it’s interesting when you think many people who talk about this in terms of what will happen in the future… our children will see the effects of this… Well, actually we’re seeing very severe impacts from climate change already… We’re already there.21

And:

Most, if not all, of the five global mass extinctions in Earth’s history carry the fingerprints of the main symptoms of… global warming, ocean acidification and anoxia or lack of oxygen. It is these three factors — ‘the deadly trio’ — which are present in the ocean today. In fact, the [current] situation is unprecedented in the Earth’s history because of the high rate and speed of change.22

The conspicuous issue is, according to Rogers: “The current situation is unprecedented in Earth’s history because of the high rate and speed of change”.

Maybe, in the near future, somebody who has solid political leadership skills will initiate a nationwide infrastructure project connecting major cities via electric-powered trains and construct solar panels and wind turbines along the right of ways, assuming there is enough time.

Postscript: On a quasi-positive, but still melancholic, note:

I don’t think we are going to become extinct. We’re very clever and extremely resourceful – and we will find ways of preserving ourselves, of that I’m sure. But whether our lives will be as rich as they are now is another question.

— Sir David Attenborough, English broadcaster and naturalist, Are We Changing Planet Earth, BBC, 2006

——————————————————————————————————————————————————–

  1. The Guardian, February 2015 [↩]
  2. Dr. Antonio Donato Nobre, National Institute for Research in the Amazon: “The Magic of the Amazon: A River That Flows Invisibly All Around Us,” TED, November, 2010 [↩]
  3. “Worries Grow as Serious Drought Hits São Paulo, Brazil”, CNBC, July 2015 [↩]
  4. BBC, April 2015 [↩]
  5. Weather West, February 2015 [↩]
  6. Global Summary Information – March 2015, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – NOAA. [↩]
  7. State of the Climate, National Centers for Environmental Information, July 2015. [↩]
  8. “Science Publishes New NOAA Analysis: Data Show no Recent Slowdown in Global Warming”, NOAA, June 4, 2015. [↩]
  9. China Times, June 2015 [↩]
  10. Julie Kerr Casper, Ph.D., Earth scientist, Bureau of Land Mgmt., “Changing Ecosystems: Effects of Global Warming,” November 2009. [↩]
  11. UC Berkley, June 2012 [↩]
  12. Guy McPherson, Climate Change and Human Extinction [↩]
  13. Science, March 2010 [↩]
  14. Nature, July 2013 [↩]
  15. NASA, July 2013 [↩]
  16. COP20: Global Arctic Methane Emergency, December 2014 [↩]
  17. Ken Branson, “New Finding Shows Climate Change Can Happen in a Geological Instant”, Rutgers Today, October 6, 2013. [↩]
  18. National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist Kevin Trenberth [↩]
  19. C.L. Dybas, “On a Collision Course: Oceans Plankton and Climate Change”, BioScience, 2006. [↩]
  20. Elizabeth Kolbert, “The Acid Sea”, National Geographic, April, 2011 [↩]
  21. State of the Ocean.org, Video Interview, Dr. Alex Rogers, 2011 [↩]
  22. Rogers, A.D., Laffoley, D. A. “International Earth System Expert Workshop on Ocean Stresses and Impacts”, Summary Report, IPSO Oxford, 2011. [↩]

Robert Hunziker (MA, economic history, DePaul University) is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and appeared in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.

“Extinction Event On Steroids” : 6th Mass Extinction Of Plants & Animals Underway, Rate Of Climate Change Unprecedented In Geologic History

In Uncategorized on March 11, 2014 at 5:13 pm

https://i0.wp.com/blogs.law.columbia.edu/saldf/files/2012/05/Sixth-Mass-Extinction.jpg

Oldspeak: Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from burning fossil fuels; i.e., oil, gas, and coal, have increased, on an annualized basis, by nearly 50% over the past 16 years.  Ipso facto, the world’s climate has turned turbulent.

Perilously, the planet does not divulge extinction events. Rather, extinctions are clandestine, shrouded in mystery, and occur far away from where humans tread. Extinctions start under the water, at the top of the world, and in far away places unpopulated, remote, and hidden from the wandering eye of the human species, unbeknownst until it is too late.

Ergo, stating the obvious, the worst possible outcome for the planet is an extinction event because geologic history shows that 75% to 90% of all life is wiped out…” –Robert Hunziker

When you understand that “63% of all human-generated carbon emissions have been produced in the past 25 years; that is, nearly two-thirds have been emitted since the first warnings were sounded about what was then called “global warming” and the need to stop or scale back. We on Earth now, we who have been adults for at least 25 years, are the ones who have done more than all earlier human beings combined to unbalance the atmosphere of the planet, and thus its weather systems, oceans, and so much more…” and that there are no globally agreed upon plans to curb ever increasing human emissions, you can rest assured, we’re fucked. Most everything else living is fucked.  There are no “solutions” or “mitigations” or “actions” to be taken. We’re done. We probably have about 20 years left. Enjoy them as best you can, don’t waste them contributing to your own extinction.” -OSJ

By Robert Hunziker @ Dissident Voice:

The American Museum of Natural History/NY (AMNH-NY) conducted a survey about the likelihood of a mass extinction event. The majority of the 400 scientists polled were convinced that a “mass extinction of plants and animals is underway,” posing a threat to humanity in the next century. According to that same poll, the public is “dimly aware” of this threat of an extinction event.

The AMNH-NY survey took place in the year 1998; thus, “the next century” that they referenced is here now. Also, since 1998, above and beyond additional loss of habitat for plants and animals, the state of the climate has deteriorated considerably. Here’s why: Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from burning fossil fuels; i.e., oil, gas, and coal, have increased, on an annualized basis, by nearly 50% over the past 16 years. 1  Ipso facto, the world’s climate has turned turbulent.

Perilously, the planet does not divulge extinction events. Rather, extinctions are clandestine, shrouded in mystery, and occur far away from where humans tread. Extinctions start under the water, at the top of the world, and in far away places unpopulated, remote, and hidden from the wandering eye of the human species, unbeknownst until it is too late.

Ergo, stating the obvious, the worst possible outcome for the planet is an extinction event because geologic history shows that 75% to 90% of all life is wiped out. But, without question, an extinction event takes some time to complete, like centuries or millennia, or longer, something along those lines.

Still, what if an extinction event is on steroids, happening much, much faster than geologic history indicates?

Then, what?

Tipping Point

This article explores the possibility that an extinction event is on steroids, right now, threatening all humanity.

To prove the point, this article examines peer-review scientific articles and leading scientists, their views of the danger of a tipping point (no turning back) occurrence and/or whether the world is already in the zone. As such, the eminent and prestigious National Academies has already weighed-in on three prominent trouble spots where abrupt climate change may be festering right now. Whether those trouble spots trigger a tipping point, only time will tell.

According to Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change, Anticipating Surprises, National Research Council of the National Academies, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., December 2013:

The history of climate on the planet— as read in archives such as tree rings, ocean sediments, and ice cores— is punctuated with large changes that occurred rapidly, over the course of decades to as little as a few years.

At the same time, it is important to emphasize that the geologic history the report references occurred millions of years ago before humans started artificially influencing the climate by emitting tonnes and tonnes and tonnes and tonnes of greenhouse gases. Alas, scientific research shows that climate change may very well be on steroids, changing faster than ever, at breakneck speed when contrasted to the historical record.

The National Academies’ 200-page report, as of December 2013, detailing the risks of abrupt climate change, identifies three primary risk areas of abrupt climate change this century: (1) the ocean; (2) the Arctic; (3) Antarctica. Two of these are already out of the starting blocks, up and running.

The Ocean

Ocean acidification today is unprecedented, much faster than any time over the past 300 million years, “… at least 10 times faster than 56 million years ago,” according to Bärbel Hönisch, a paleoceanographer at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Oceans Acidifying Faster Today Than in Past 300 Million Years, National Science Foundation, Press Release 12-041,March 1, 2012.

In that regard, the National Research Council of the National Academies’ report concludes: If ongoing pressures of climate change continue, meaning the burning of fossil fuels, then deeper, more pronounced, abrupt climate changes would likely occur before the year 2100.

As of today, fossil fuels are burning more than ever before. Meantime, research confirms that global warming has accelerated over the past 15 years, not slowed as expressed by global warming contrarians.  2

Indeed, an extinction event in the ocean is already under observation: “… nearly all marine life forms that build calcium carbonate shells and skeletons studied by scientists thus far have shown deterioration due to increasing carbon dioxide levels in seawater.” 3

The science is not circumstantial: “…sufficient information exists to state with certainty that deleterious impacts on some marine species are unavoidable, and that substantial alteration of marine ecosystems is likely over the next century.” 4

Humans are already starting to notice the effects: “The first direct impact on humans may be through declining harvests and fishery revenues….” 5

“Ocean acidification is appearing in Washington decades sooner than anticipated….” 6 The state of Washington was initially alerted to the inherent danger of excessive carbon dioxide (CO2) in the water when oyster larvae in hatcheries died in large numbers, threatening the state’s $270 million shellfish industry.

“This report really draws attention to a problem that exists internationally but that has really hit hard right here in the state of Washington.” 7

By all appearances, an extinction event has already started in the ocean as the result of excessive levels of fossil fuel CO2 emissions. And, this dilemma is bound to grow bigger and bigger and escalate ever more rapidly as 1,200 coal-burning power plants worldwide are currently on the drawing boards (75% in China and India), which, in turn, will ramp up the sourcing behind ocean acidification, which is already clocking 10 times faster than anytime throughout geologic history. Does marine life have a fighting chance?

According to Alex Rogers, PhD, professor of Conservation Biology, University of Oxford and Scientific Director, International Programme on the State of the Ocean: “The change we’re seeing at the moment is taking place extremely rapidly… We’re seeing levels of pH [a measure of acidity] in the ocean that probably haven’t been experienced for 55 million years… I find it very difficult to tell people what a scary situation we’re in at the moment. The oceans are changing in a huge way, and I am particularly worried for my grandchildren. The changes we thought would happen in the future… We’re actually seeing them now.” 8

Dr. Rogers claims the ocean is in a critical state.

Accordingly, out of dire necessity, the operative question is: How should the world’s governments respond to an ocean that is in a critical state?

Do nothing or do something?

Methane

Methane (CH4) is the ugly stepsister to carbon dioxide (CO2). Excessively, it’s a killer.

Methane is over twenty times more powerful, over a 100-year period, per molecule, than is carbon dioxide (CO2).  Or, put another way, methane is more effectual than carbon dioxide at absorbing infrared radiation emitted from the earth’s surface and preventing it from escaping into space. Notwithstanding, methane, during its first few years upon entering the atmosphere, is 100 times as powerful as an equal weight of CO2.

As it happens, it appears excessive levels of methane are just now starting to seriously impact the atmosphere in a big way!

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, as of February 2013, methane levels in the atmosphere are measured at 1,874 ppb (parts per billion.) This level, in an historical context, is more than twice the level as any time since 400,000 years before the industrial revolution. In the past, methane has ranged between 300-400 ppb during glacial periods and 600-700 ppb during warm interglacial periods.

The CH4 quagmire, in large measure, is the result of a melting Arctic, which, in turn, exposes methane that has been entrapped for millennia-times-millennia. Here’s the quandary:

We show results from some recent work from submarines, and speculate that the trend towards retreat and thinning will inevitably lead to an eventual loss of all ice in summer, which can be described as a ‘tipping point’ in that the former situation, of an Arctic covered with mainly multi-year ice, cannot be retrieved. 9

The statement by Peter Wadhams, PhD, Head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group, Dept. of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge, goes to the heart of the scope of methane’s threat, for example: Rising temperatures in the Arctic (which are already rising 2-3 times faster than temps elsewhere on the planet) could abruptly trigger the release of 50 Gt (gigatonnes) of methane currently frozen in the seabed within a decade, which would be catastrophic.

It is the summer sea ice loss passing the point of no return, leading to unstoppable catastrophic Arctic methane feedbacks, sooner or later… puts us in a state of planetary emergency today.10

Methane emissions slowed in the 1990s, but “… strong growth resumed in 2007.”11

With methane strongly on the rise again, the news could not be any worse regarding the prospects of an extinction event. As a matter of fact, the recent surge in methane feeds right into the wheelhouse of an extinction event.

Alas, the story only gets worse. The seafloor off the coast of Northern Siberia is releasing over twice the amount of methane as previously estimated, according to new research, as of 2013: “We believe that the release of methane from the Arctic, and in particular this part of the Arctic, could impact the entire globe.”12

“Impact the entire globe” is not at all positive in any way shape, or form; rather, ultimately, it means heat, lots of heat, leading to runaway global warming, and this forecast is why a group of renowned scientists formed the Arctic Methane Emergency Group , which has already sent major governments a letter pleading for: “Emergency intervention is needed both to save the Arctic sea ice and to reduce the risk of catastrophic global warming from a sudden large emission of methane.” 13

“We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered methane fields of a fantastic scale – I think on a scale not seen before. Some of the plumes were a kilometer or more wide and the emissions went directly into the atmosphere – the concentration was a hundred times higher than normal,” says Dr. Igor Semiletov of the International Arctic Research Centre at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, who led the 8th joint US-Russian cruise of the East Siberian Arctic seas. 14

According to the National Academies’ report, abrupt climate change has already started in the Arctic. Whether a tipping point has been reached, or exceeded, time will tell, but it shouldn’t take too long to know, maybe a few years, maybe longer.

As an aside, it would be absolutely wonderful and spectacular if the climate change denialists prove to be correct about ice in the Arctic. Their claim, which appeared all over the mainstream news this past fall, is that the ice at the Arctic is rebuilding beautifully. And, yes it is true Arctic sea ice “extent” and “volume” did increase, which occasionally happens in any given year. However, the basic science, on a long-term secular basis, doesn’t agree with their hysterics.

Accordingly, “Arctic sea ice extent in February 2014 averaged 14.44 million sq. miles. This is the fourth lowest February ice extent in the satellite data record, and is 910,000 sq. kilometres. below the 1981 to 2010 average.” 15

In order for Arctic sea ice to recover from more than 30 years of shrinkage, it will require much more than one season of increased sea ice. It will take many, many seasons of increased sea ice. Meanwhile, the Sword of Damocles hangs over the Arctic, threatening all society with runaway global warming.

In that regard, the Arctic Methane Emergency Group sent a Policy Brief to major governments. Here is their conclusion:

AMEG’s conclusion is that there is now a planetary emergency. Only by grasping the nettle and intervening with great determination, as in a war effort, is there a chance of remedying the situation before it is too late. International collaboration to fight this common ‘enemy’ of Arctic meltdown must bring all nations together, in the cause of our very survival.

“If we burn all reserves of oil, gas, and coal, there is a substantial chance we will initiate the runaway greenhouse. If we also burn the tar sans and tar shale, I believe the Venus syndrome is a dead certainty.” (James  Hansen, Storms of my Grandchildren (Bloomsbury Press, 2009.)

Venus’s atmosphere consists of 96.5% carbon dioxide (CO2), which keeps a lid on the heat as surface temps run 872 degrees F.  The Venus Syndrome happens when climate and atmospheric feedback loops are triggered and cannot be switched off, e.g., greenhouse gases build up, causing more warming, in turn, more greenhouse gases are released, causing more warming, and so on and so forth in a maddening continuum of a vicious feedback loop.

Under those circumstances, Earth risks becoming a pressure-cooking inferno.

Subsidize renewables, not fracking.

Post Script: The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports the world’s carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel usage hit record levels (IEA: Carbon Emissions from Fuel Usage Hit New Global Record, Deutsche Welle, Oct. 6, 2013). The IEA also warned that, based upon larger levels of carbon dioxide emissions than previously calculated, the world is on a path to an average temperature rise of between 3.6 and 5.3 degrees C, about double the target set at a UN summit in Durbin in 2010.

On a positive note: A student movement at more than 300 university and college campuses is encouraging endowments to divest holdings of fossil fuel companies. As for one example, Divest Harvard declares: “By sponsoring climate change through our investments, our university is threatening our generation’s future.” 16

  1. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee. []
  2. Magdalena A. Balmaseda, et al, Distinctive Climate Signals in Reanalysis of Global Ocean Heat Content, Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 40, Issue, May 10, 2013, 9, DOI: 10.1002/grl.50382 []
  3. Dr. Richard Feely and Dr. Christopher Sabine, Oceanographers, Carbon Dioxide and Our Ocean Legacy, Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, April 2006. []
  4. Victoria J. Fabry, et al, Impacts of Ocean Acidification on Marine Fauna and Ecosystem Processes, ICES Journal of Marine Sciences, Oxford Journals, Vol. 65, Issue 3, Feb. 2008. []
  5. Sarah R. Cooley, et al, Anticipating Ocean Acidification’s Economic Consequences for Commercial Fisheries, IOP Science, Environmental Research Letters, Vol. 4, No. 2, 2009. []
  6. Ocean Acidification and Washington State, Department of Ecology, State of Washington, 2013. []
  7. Jane Lubchenco, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Rising Ocean Acidity off Washington State Threatens Shellfish, Panel Says, The Associate Press (AP), Nov. 27, 2012. []
  8. International Programme on the State of the Ocean, OneWorld Video (UK), August 2011. []
  9. Peter Wadhams, Arctic Ice Cover, Ice Thickness and Tipping Points, AMBIO (Publisher: Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences), February 2012, Volume 41, Issue 1. []
  10. John Nissen, AMEG Chairman, Arctic Methane Emergency Group. []
  11. Euan G. Nisbet, et al, Methane on the Rise-Again, Atmospheric Science, Science Vol. 343, No. 6170, January 31, 2014. []
  12. Natalia Shakhova, et al. Ebullition and storm-induced methane release from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, Nature Geoscience, DOI: 10.1038/ngeo2007, Nov. 24, 2013. []
  13. Arctic Methane Emergency Group []
  14. Steve Connor, Vast Methane ‘Plumes’ Seen in Arctic Ocean as Sea Ice Retreats, The Independent (UK), Dec. 13, 2011. []
  15. Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis, National Snow & Ice Data Center, University of Colorado, Boulder, March 3, 2014. []
  16. Randall Smith, A New Divestment Focus on Campus: Fossil Fuels, New York Times, September 6, 2013. []

Robert Hunziker (MA in economic history at DePaul University, Chicago) is a former hedge fund manager and now a professional independent negotiator for worldwide commodity actual transactions and a freelance writer for progressive publications as well as business journals. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.

This article was posted on Monday, March 10th, 2014 at 12:56am