If you're in your 30s, maybe even in your 40s, you might be wondering what your odds are on whether you make it to die of old age. What are the odds your life will be prematurely ended by some sort of environmental calamity or some knock-on disaster such as a major war?
Gwynne Dyer is pretty sure most of us won't die from climate change, not directly. He is pretty sure that most of us will depart this mortal coil as collateral damage from warfare. He even wrote a book about it, "Climate Wars."
Look at it this way. Think of our global civilization as a rubber band, a band that's been stretched way too much and must be nearing its breaking point. That's a pretty apt metaphor for humanity today. We are at about 7.5 billion in numbers and headed to 9 billion, perhaps more. In the process we're consuming the Earth's natural resources at 1.7 times the replenishment rate and that's worsening with every passing year. That's how we're stretching the rubber band. We're at, probably long past, the point of inelasticity and we know how that ends - abruptly.
A new report out, seems there's at least one every week. This time it's atmospheric methane loading.
Emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas methane have surged in the past decade, threatening to thwart global attempts to combat climate change.
Scientists have been surprised by the surge, which began just over 10 years ago in 2007 and then was boosted even further in 2014 and 2015. Concentrations of methane in the atmosphere over those two years alone rose by more than 20 parts per billion, bringing the total to 1,830ppb.
Unlike carbon dioxide emissions, however, which have been tracked in various ways since the 1950s, emissions of methane are poorly understood and could represent a threat that scientists have still not accounted for.
For instance, the melting of the Arctic tundra releases methane as the vegetation underneath is gradually and sometimes suddenly exposed. This has been regarded by scientists as a potential “tipping point” whereby warming of the Arctic leads to greater releases of methane, therefore greater warming, in a runaway and uncontrollable cycle.
This summer we learned that scientists have been underestimating the escape of much of the polar methane entering our atmosphere.
The authors say the water trapped in the soil doesn’t freeze completely at 0°C. The top layer of the ground – known as the active layer – thaws in the summer and refreezes in the winter, and it experiences a kind of sandwiching effect as it freezes.
When temperatures are around 0°C (called “the zero curtain”) the top and bottom of the active layer begin to freeze, but the middle remains insulated. Micro-organisms in this unfrozen layer continue to break down organic matter and emit methane many months into the Arctic winter.
Methane has a shorter shelf life than CO2. It degrades more rapidly. Still it's 84 times more potent than CO2 over its first 20 years. Today it accounts for about 25% of overall man made global warming.
Unfortunately, especially for you nearing middle age, we're still supporting governments that support ever more greenhouse gas emissions while saying that they don't. And, yes, I mean the Trudeau government and the governments of Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. It's your life they're messing with.