Melting Pemafrost Means the Problem is Existential

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Unpublished, and I won’t bother trying. This is a very negative-sounding piece. But if I’m barking up the wrong tree, could someone point that out and tell me why?

I couldn’t put it any better than George Monbiot, writer for the Guardian in England and so I’ll just put up a link to his recent article:  


www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/nov/25/climate-change-carbon-emissions


The idea is as follows. Melting of the permafrost that covers most of the Arctic has begun. In that permafrost lies enormous amounts of methane, released upon melting. Gushers of methane in the Russian north and elsewhere have become apparent.

This methane is not taken into account in the climate change models that the IPCC uses. This is a total wild-card.

Here’s the rub: that methane represents around twice the effective greenhouse gases than all of the CO2 in our atmosphere at present. In other words, if it melts fully, we will have effectively tripled the greenhouse gas content of our atmosphere.  To put that in perspective, we are currently scrambling to limit increases to around 10 or 20%. What we’re talking about here is an unthinkable 200% increase.

If this doesn’t terrify you, then you didn’t understand what you just read.

The problem is existential because this means we are now staring at what would be – undoubtedly – the end of our civilization. That is not an exaggeration, and this problem is not theoretical anymore.  Even a 20% rise will be dangerous (read Climate Wars by Gwynne Dyer). A 200% rise is the stuff of nightmares.

Question: Can anyone tell me why, once the melting has begun, it might stop? Particularly given the outlook for increased carbon emissions for the next decade or two (at least)?

The trillions we have found for the banks were found almost overnight. Perhaps a political leader might emerge who can say what needs to be said: “Let’s spend those trillions on renewables.” The continued existence of our banks and economy warranted the spending. Surely the larger existential question we face deserves equal attention.
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