This, if confirmed, is really, really, really bad news:
The first evidence that millions of tons of a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide is being released into the atmosphere from beneath the Arctic seabed has been discovered by scientists.
In the past few days, the researchers have seen areas of sea foaming with gas bubbling up through "methane chimneys" rising from the sea floor. They believe that the sub-sea layer of permafrost, which has acted like a "lid" to prevent the gas from escaping, has melted away to allow methane to rise from underground deposits formed before the last ice age.
They have warned that this is likely to be linked with the rapid warming that the region has experienced in recent years.
Methane is about 20 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and many scientists fear that its release could accelerate global warming in a giant positive feedback where more atmospheric methane causes higher temperatures, leading to further permafrost melting and the release of yet more methane.
Some have already begun calling for a program of massive geoengineering to stave off the triggering of runaway climate change as this methane starts hitting the atmosphere.
I've talked a lot about how mega-scale geoengineering is unnecessary, defeatist and likely to fail and even make things worse. I think these are points worth making again here.
Our first priority as a civilization ought not to be huge interventions in systems we only barely understand, but a planetary commitment to Zero, now.
The stakes are rising faster and faster. You often hear the line at conferences that on climate change, science is 10 years ahead of business, and business is 5 years ahead of policy and the public debate; I'm increasingly less sure that science and the public debate are even operating in the same space-time continuum anymore.
Sorry, but global warming denialists aren't the only ones who can stick their heads in the sand. If this is true, then "Zero, now" is flat-out too little, too late.
I was at a lecture by Steve Rayner the other day. Geoengineering, he said, is a forbidden topic among many who are concerned about climate change, because they fear that it will help to legitimize wasteful lifestyles which they would rather see changed. This, he said, is analogous to those who don't want to talk about birth control with teenagers, for fear that it will encourage them to have sex.
To carry the analogy further: if the methane hydrates are indeed going off, then the girl is officially knocked up. Carbon sequestration is the *only* thing which might turn that process around. Insisting upon abstinence / conservation-only programs is no longer merely unwise: it's flat-out delusional.
I DON'T mean to minimize the seriousness of this. I'm not sure "Zero, now" would be completely hopeless, though.
Granted, methane is more powerful than CO2, but CO2 is probably its end state. Further, if we got to zero now, might the reduction in atmospheric CO2 be enough to refreeze the permafrost? I don't think anyone knows.
Now, that said, I agree with Nathan -- this is the worst news I've seen in a long time. Far worse than our economic "blip" here in the U.S., which is pretty darn bad.
For one thing, "probably" and "no one knows" aren't near good enough answers for a planet we have to live on. Second, we aren't going to get to zero now, nor anytime like now.
Some overreaction (if it is an overreaction) may be justified, if only to serve as a wake-up. How to pitch this for maximum sustained impact is the question.
Nathan, I take your point, but that's a terrible analogy. Leaving aside the weirdness of gendering the climate as a teenage girl, it's not like geoengineering is abortion and will suddenly make that girl un-pregnant. We don't even know that any of the proposed geoengineering ideas would actually work. History suggests that it's far more likely that they would go disastrously wrong.
We do know that redesigning society works. And while we certainly need to be aiming to draw down the atmospheric greenhouse gasses, the first logical step is to stop putting them up there in the first place.
It is entirely within our abilities today to design a carbon-negative prosperous society, if we care enough to do so. The main stumbling blocks to doing that have been political ones, thrown in our path by the very conservative oil and coal interests who are now backing geoengineering as a "solution."
I think the uncertainties regarding tipping points and thresholds are so profound that we can't also take risky approaches to addressing it. We know what we need to do (more or less), we know we can do it, we just need to decide to do it...
Perhaps the release of these gases are part of the cycle...
The scariest thing I've read in a long while!!!
Maybe a little naive here, but would it be possible to harvest the methane and turn it into something useful?
Will this lead to widespread flooding if so how much will the water rise and how much of our land worldwide be lost. How long do we have how much smaller would our population need to be to survive on what land is left. how long do we have to reverse this before climate change is irreversible.
things we need to think about as there will be a massive refugee flood to higher ground and I believe we are in for a long adjustment period.
Year Zero is not to little to late. On one hand we need to do more then just be zero. But on the other zero is necessary part of progress to even keeping this earth sustainable long enough to finds ways to revers most of are effects.
When you don't know what you are doing, ANY action is the wrong thing to do. One thing we have seen over and over is that when an environmental matter becomes a political matter it always comes out wrong. For example, the carbon credit nonsense, where you can just buy a license and then go ahead and pollute.
The world has been around a long time and has survived some amazing catastrophes. I trust nature more than geo-hackers.
Absolutely fascinating. I had no idea this was happening. (Not to say I am ignorant about this, but I try not to watch the news as I find it deeply biased and selective)
Anyway I love the Zero, Now idea and I don't think anyone can just say it is too late. No way, there is so much we can do, there is so much healing that can happen if we all acknowledge the facts and begin to seriously cooperate. No, I am not a dreamer, I am just aware of the potential of humans when push comes to shove!
Thanks for bringing out the news!
The artic sea I have only seen in pictures but we all are supposed to be getting ready and preparing for climate change. I feel so sad when I see pictures of polar bears, such a beautiful animal dying from not being able to walk across the ice for food. Then falling in because the ice is fragile. Climate change is affecting us here in australia but the politicans are so weak to do anything about the trouble our land is in. It is all happening now politicians involving themselves to little too late.
Honestly, I think we (as a human race) deserve to go extinct due to the way we've treated our planet. I think it's too late - but life will go on. It just won't be OUR life as humans.
Does this mean the "Methane Clathrate Gun Hypothesis" is correct? Going to zero carbon isn't a waste of time as some of you are saying. CO2 lasts for 200 years on the atmosphere, so it might have some long term benefits. Methane lasts significantly less, but it more potent as a greenhouse gas. I suppose we can only monitor and hope. I wonder what the climate models say about this? Geoengineering was only proposed as a short term measure to give us more time to cut emissions. If methane from the ocean is escaping into the atmosphere, what precisely are such projects going to do for us?
Yes we have passed a tipping point in global warming for sure. This site http://www.global-warming-truth.com/ gives an excellent view on the situation. Basically the fastest way to curb emissions is eat less meat.
"Relax baby, it's not the end of the world, just the end of us [humans]."
Fantastic post. Is anyone out there concentrating on collecting and disseminating full information on the problem? Also, who do we tap to fill the money-bags position currently held by oil industry lobbyists?
Okay, I feel like a broken record, because this is the thing I seem to keep posting to every other climate-related website, but: How. Do. We. Get. The. Word. Out? How do we move people, and governments, to decisive and *fast* action?
Because whenever I talk to people about this, reactions range from cyncially-amused disbelief to fatalism, so apparently either people just don’t believe that things can really be as bad as all that, or people do believe that but think that everything is lost already and they therefore don’t have to do anything. And the political sphere, as we all know, is twiddling its metaphorical thumbs.
How do we inspire people to act?
(This has been posted to the comments sections for this bit of news at grist and Climate Progress, too, because I’m really curious/desperate for replies.)
"Really really really bad news" is an understatement.
The way I figure it, looking at the WWF data on ecological footprint and James Lovelock & others' "what-ifs," we have to get to a 60% reduction in world population, and a 60% reduction in resource throughput in the wealthy nations, ASAP, *or else.*
The happy-talk about "growth" has got to stop. Growth is what's killing us and killing the planet. The future of the economy is a negative-sum game of shrink & dwindle, characterized by increasing competition for shrinking slices of a shrinking pie.
We have got to face, squarely and truthfully, the realities about overpopulation and overconsumption. This will no doubt be distasteful to those who feel it their birth-right to multiply like mice or consume like locusts. Tough for them, or if not, then tough for all of us.
The most realistic assessment and the most humane option overall, will be to "do whatever we can" without stepping over the line into totalitarian measures. This will entail accepting the fact that it's not going to be enough, and somewhere upwards of three billion humans are going to die of something related to ecosystem crash: disease, starvation, resource wars.
Or we could go all the way into totalitarian measures and save more humans at the expense of our humanity. Or we could do nothing and lurch toward an appointment with extinction as a species. In any case, nature will continue with or without us.
Meanwhile, as I write this, the news on the radio is about the $700 billion bailout: money thrown after malfeasance, the future be damned.
Is there enough of it to set it on fire to return it to mere CO2?
So if this permafrost dates back only to the last ice age, that means that before the ice age, the earth was even warmer than it is now. Was that due to cars and factories, too?
Scary topic, mostly great discussion. Getting to zero greenhouse gas emissions is something that even with maximum political will and total focus would still take 10-20 years. It's like an ocean liner--can't turn on a dime even when the wheel is yanked hard to one side.
So even "zero, now" is still "zero in 10-20 years". If we really stopped burning anything that produced carbon anywhere on earth right now today, much of humanity would quickly starve.
I think all options will be needed: Maximum political effort to curb man-made carbon emissions should be the first priority, including heeding Gore's call for civil disobedience if necessary. Then right afterward, crisis-level Manhattan Project style development by every government on Earth of effective sequestration/geoengineering schemes. Obviously, we need both international agreement and the utmost solid empirical data before proceeding, which puts the start of actual mitigation far down the line. But every day we wait to start the process makes the situation (however bad it is now) worse.
As Alex said, it is entirely possible to design a carbon-negative and prosperous society by implementing cradle-to-cradle processes and natural capitalism at every level. Creating such a society would also address the terrible structural problems which have led to our financial crisis (the ultimate unsustainable public policy disaster).
The murderous propaganda of the carbon-externalizing industries must stop, as well as their continued insistence on the false dilemma of temporary prosperity vs. long-term human habitat destruction.
The misanthropic human-extinction-three-billion-deaths crowd needs to STFU. Not only is it a horribly spiteful attitude, it's counterproductive. It causes people to give up hope, which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Disgusting.
And Josh S has beautifully stated the position of the denialist that I was sure we would hear regarding this matter. Essentially, they're all going to say something similar, "well, if this is a natural process that's more damaging than CO2 emissions, then humans can't be the cause of the current global warming trend".
In case Josh S actually frequents this site and isn't trolling, I will throw in my 2 cent rebuttal. The melting of permafrost is directly contributing to global warming. It acts as a lid containing the methane that acts as a greenhouse gas. It's not as if the formation of permafrost forces a bunch of methane into the soil below.
It's this kind of oversimplification of the biosphere that makes it obvious why denialists can't understand the position of the IPCC.
Of course, if you mention the complexity of the biosphere, then the denialists say that there's no way, therefore, to establish definitive cause and effect.
Just want to add that I agree with Alex that geoengineering is a dangerous road to go down. The analogy between bioengineering and abortion misses the mark as abortion is an established procedure. The megascale bioengineering projects that I've heard of is more akin to bombarding a pregnant girl with chemicals with the hopes of aborting the child. THe risk, of course, is killing the girl, too.
"So if this permafrost dates back only to the last ice age, that means that before the ice age, the earth was even warmer than it is now. Was that due to cars and factories, too?"
I detect sarcasm... and a gross lack of a understanding of the issue.
Whenever I read someone mentioning "natural process" when it comes to global warming, climate cycles, etc., they never seem to follow up to the end.
Mass extinctions are a natural process.
Happen all the time.
well... I know that this is not humans fault. This is nature doing what it does best. Going through a cycle. To those that say we need to cut 60% of our population... and to those that say it is the end of humans... all I can say is I pray that you are part of that 60% that we must.... what... kill? or just plain die? In any case with your defeatist attitudes out of the way things will be better and the rest of us will survive, adapt and live through the earths many cycles. In fact this new cycle of the earth may bring on evolutionary changes in many creatures on this planet including humans. To say that nature is a bad thing and that global warming... an act of nature is wrong is plain insane.
The earth is due for a change in polarity and you nor I nor anyone knows what that entails. We do know it has happened hundreds of times, and we know it has gone through weather extremes hundreds of times. This is mother earth doing her thing... and radical defeatists trying to make a big deal about it and laying the blame on people that don't hold the same belief as them.
The end of the world?
Noway We are just on the beginning. If 4.3 Billion rocks suvived we will survive for at leats another 5 Bllion years. Things and live will be different but they were 5 Billion yeras. We are lucky to live now
Hi al Tony
The end of the world?
Noway We are just on the beginning. If 4.3 Billion rocks suvived we will survive for at leats another 5 Bllion years. Things and live will be different but they were 5 Billion yeras. We are lucky to live now
Hi al Tony
Zero Now? Are you kidding? The masses are not going to go for it. Face facts, most people don't give a hoot and the only way Zero Now is going to happen is if they all go extinct. Nature will correct itself after we're gone...
You true believers in the Church of Latter Day Global Warming crack me up. MMGW is a scam pure and simple. You should go find a REAL problem to work on. There is plenty to do without making up crisis.
When it comes to climate change I often wonder how qualified are we to even talk about it! do we understand nature enough to even think about manipulating it. Methane emissions may just again be a part of the story and certainly one wonders what next? I however believe in nature's natural balancing mechanisms and know that the same would become operational but how far that would benefit humanity is again a big question afterall there are spatial and temporal limitations to our existence and may be its just time to move on and make place for the next species that mother nature selects to dominate the planet earth.
I don't know if any of you have even been near the Arctic lately, but at least in Alaska, it's actually been getting colder. So, I'm not sure where exactly this warmer climate is. Climate change, yes. Warming? Sure doesn't seem like that. I wonder if the picture was of the ice finally melting up in Bristol Bay in late April/early May!
Sure, this is a big problem, but it is important to analyse what you read rather than just assume it's all true.
Also, Zero emissions? Come on people, we all emit carbon dioxide just by breathing. You'll have to kill yourselves to achieve that. I don't think that's a desirable outcome.
What if we just decided not to determine who's at fault here? Just to keep the discussion moving?
Let's just pretend that one morning we woke up to find that the oceans had started releasing streams of a potent heat-trapping gas, and that the warmer they became, the more they'd release. Let's just take that as a starting point.
Now, what would smart people do if that happened? Because we just heard that it did.
First, let's make sure that is what's happening. Let's get some measurements.
Let's make sure it's something new.
Let's try to figure out what impact it will have, and how soon.
Then, let's think about what, if anything, we should do.
If no one were to blame, and no one had to defend a position, wouldn't those be obvious steps to take?
Let's find out how big this elephant is. Can't we at least agree that should be done?
It's a bit early to have a debate on Geoengineering just yet as we don't have a ready to deploy solution. Scientists all over the world are conducting research that may or may not bring us that solution. In the meantime in the absence of such a technology there's nothing to really debate about.
Any solutions to this problem have be centered on technology that we have. Anything that we might develop in the future will be welcome when it arrives I'm sure but it can't be relied on as a viable solution at present.
Either way I think a WW2 esque mobilization of resources, industry and technology can solve this problem. We've got the technology, the industrial capacity and the money the only thing that is missing is the political will.
Little known new science opens a door to rapidly reducing the need for fuel. It taps energy sources never before commercialized such as Zero Point Energy.
Mark Goldes, Magnetic Power Inc.
Now, if he'd personalized melting arctic permafrost as the Goat of 1000 Young being pregnant, we'd have green analogy lights across the board, eh? The distinction between geoengineering and training barbequers in tofu safety is likewise just plain involved labor two ways. Immediately it -does- seem sensible to get running a propane-generation platform (which freezes more easily, if you do float excess reactors and have to sink product.) What's that, by analogy?
You say, "Our first priority as a civilization ought not to be huge interventions in systems we only barely understand,"
CO2 concentrations have never gone over 300ppm during an interglacial. CH4 is even more out of whack. Sorry, but it's rather impossible to turn back the clock and not make huge interventions.
Re. "The misanthropic human-extinction-three-billion-deaths crowd needs to STFU. Not only is it a horribly spiteful attitude, it's counterproductive. It causes people to give up hope, which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Disgusting."
That's called soft denialism: admit there's a problem, deny the consequences, and attack those who won't, as you said, "STFU."
You can use all the emotional attack-words you like and they won't change the facts. We are in overshoot. Overshoot leads to collapse. That is true for 100% of species studied by science both in their natural habitats and under lab conditions. What makes you think we're exempt? Does saying it ain't so make you exempt from the effects of the law of gravity when you jump off a bridge?
One death is a tragedy, three gigadeaths are a tragedy multiplied and raised to an exponent. Either way, nature doesn't care, any more than 9.8 meters per second squared gives a hoot about the poem you wrote last night. That's not spite and it's not misanthropy: it just *is*.
And our task is not to wish away the consequences but to find a way to preserve our most important values, such as compassion and the furtherance of knowledge, in the face of them. Those are *our* values, not nature's values, so it's up to *us* to preserve them.
As for "zero-point energy," I've studied those claims and I have yet to see a single example demonstrated and tested under controlled conditions by independent investigators. In any case, there is a fundamental flaw in the reasoning:
Removing one limit does not remove other limits. Even if we had limitless clean energy, we would still be facing overshoot & collapse on other fronts, starting with fresh water.
If you have ten bicycle frames, ten front wheels, nine rear wheels, ten sets of gears, eight chains, and six sets of handlebars, how many bikes can you build? The answer is six. But if you suddenly get an unlimited supply of handlebars, how many bikes can you build then? The answer is eight: you run into the limit of chains. If you get an unlimited supply of chains, you run into the limit of rear wheels. And with an unlilmited supply of rear wheels, you still only have ten frames etc., so at most you can still only build ten bikes.
So it goes for all of Earth's resources. Our ultimate limits are the surface area of the planet, and the amount of incoming solar radiation. And for those who think those limits are far, far away, consider exponential growth, and doubling times. The limits to growth are right in our face, and failing to face the facts won't change them.
If we wanted to keep up the growth by exporting humans to Mars or some other planet, consider this: present population is 6.75 billion, with a growth rate of 1.1% per year. If we only wanted to export the growth, we would be looking to launch 73.9 million people per year to "Mars or wherever," which translates to about 8,445 people per hour. If we had space ships capable of transporting 200 passengers at a time, that would mean 42.2 lanuches per hour, every hour, every year. And that doesn't begin to consider the issue of building habitat for them at their destination.
When a person is facing death, they go through stages that include denial, arguing, pleading, and depression. Finally they get to acceptance of what is, for all of us, inevitable. At that point, they usually find their attention turns toward matters of the spirit, and of doing what they can to ease the circumstances for those around them who will go on living after they have died.
All I'm saying is it's time to stop wasting precious time on the denial, the arguing, the pleading, and the depression. It's time to move to accepting what is happening to us as a species, and preserving the spirit of humanity even in the face of the loss of so many humans. And since, unlike the terminal patient in hospice, we still have our health and our strength: doing everything possible to make the circumstances better for those who come after us.
Our task is not to make life better for ourselves. Our task is to make life better for the generations that will have to endure the worst of it, and for those who come after.
Changing from a car dependent lifestyle to one that doesn't depend on a car is incredibly hard. For example, visiting my website, you'll see the challenges I'm facing building a plug-in electric car. Even when I succeed, the other aspects of my life such as what I eat, how I heat my home and maintaining the infrastructure which commerce depends on will continue to generate quite a bit of greenhouse gas. The only alternative I see would be one I haven't quite figured out. It would be changing my work location and my occupation as well.
In the years ahead, lowering energy use (which will also tend to lower greenhouse gas) will happen. However, large technical and social and geographical challenges remain. For example, I've seen a recently unemployed mom continue to drive her children to and from shared custody. I have no doubt she will continue to do this right up to the point when she has absolutely zero money to do so. If she remains unemployed, I have no doubt that she'll ask friends and family to help her maintain this habit for the sake of the children. She may reduce her driving, but I doubt she would stop until she absolutely could not do so. Even though she believes global warming is happening, she has only reduced her transportation due to economic hardship, not because of global warming.
In short, don't expect much help from the populace. They cannot or are unwilling to change lifestyles fast enough for zero emissions. I think the only way scrubbing the atmosphere can be done in time is at the national level through a wedge strategy involving incentives, penalties, massive geoengineering and promoting birth control (not only in the 3rd world but in developed countries too - especially in the US)
G Said: "That's called soft denialism: admit there's a problem, deny the consequences, and attack those who won't, as you said, "STFU."
You can use all the emotional attack-words you like and they won't change the facts. We are in overshoot. Overshoot leads to collapse."
I'm about as far from a denialist as you can get. I have written dozens of articles on climate change and advocate for sustainability at every opportunity--often testing the patience of anyone within earshot.
As far as "emotional attack words," you don't get much more emotional than when you bring up the idea of "gigadeaths." That word and the self-righteous attitudes that produced it are the epitome of emotionalism. When you raise the ultimate existential threat, most people completely shut down. You may be technically correct, but it adds absolutely nothing to the discussion, and is used as a condescending emotional club to those who haven't quite groked the severity of the situation. But then it causes most of them to quickly give up hope, and creates deer-in-the-headlights paralysis.
We may be in overshoot, using current methods and technology, but that does not mean that a sustainable society of 10 billion or more people can never exist on earth. We have failed to tap virtually any of the vast geothermal energy, and very little of the solar. Green technologies are in their infancy. Government policies are still for the most part hostile. Imagine if this situation were to change. It would alter the calculus of Earth's carrying capacity overnight.
The human extinction crowd has done NOTHING for the forward movement of consciousness, nor for the improvement of the political/technical reality.
I suggest if people holding that view want to help, they walk their talk and volunteer to be the first of the "gigadeaths." But really, I'd rather see us band together and figure this thing out. Even the misanthropes in their heart of hearts want to see a better world. They have just lost patience with the glacial pace of human enlightenment.
So I apologize. Gigascale misanthropy is extremely frustrating to me. Rather than STFU, I guess I should have said I'd rather see them learn a little about how to better present their vision in a way that broadens understanding instead of engendering hostility and mockery from the vast majority who just want to get on with it and live their lives.
Very very bad indeed. But sequestration is a no-hoper. For every ton of carbon we burn, we'd need to bury about 3 tons! Can you imagine how difficult that is? Or how expensive?
The best hope for mankind is photosynthesis - either harnessing natural plants like algae or some as-yet-undeveloped artificial photosynthesis.
On the positive (?) side the methane is easy to convert to a less potent greenhouse gas - we burn it! (It merely produces 'normal' CO2 - which is only averagely bad! And if we could collect it - then we could at least use it to do some useful work as part of the process.)
Unfortunately it doesn't really turn it into good news - only slightly less bad news!
I believe that our governments worldwide have an obligation to educate us all by the findings of our experts such as geotechnical engineers and environmental scientists, to name just a few. This needs to be done imediately so everyone as communities can at the very least make the small significant changes, that are required to collectively make a difference. This education could start with the media such as newspaper, radio and television, but education must start at our schools for our children. Our children need to be bought up with the facts, they to need to learn about the small changes that we all must make, like recycling, installing rainwater tanks, growing our own fruit trees and vegetables. All of these very basic small things can help to make a difference if the worlds entire population are doing this. Public transport could be improved to reduce the amount and reliance on private vehicles. Local councils could introduce pick up bins which segregate our recycleables into catagories, paper, metal, wood, plastics, food waste, so nothing is wasted and recycled back into repurchased products. We as communities need to take responsibilities for our own actions and acting as a team, all of these small steps are helping the wider global community. These are my own private views, but I do beleive that as individuals, we can and must all take the small steps to help save our planet.
Is it a big bad sin to say, the warmer the better? Humans are a tropical species. What temperature do you like best? 0ºC?, 10ºC?, 20ºC?, 30ºC?
So if sea level rises, arctic unfreezes and etc we just need to go where we can live.
I do not see more problem than country boundaries or frontiers to move away from problems.
More heat means more evaporation and more rain.
The warmer the better, I cant see human extinction in a warmer earth, on the contrary it seems a better environment for humans to me.
From today to this warmer earth we should be able to avoid or reduce suffering. If it happens in 10, 100, 1,000 or 10,000 years, or if it does not happen at all, the problem is to adapt wisely.