Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Only If You Really, Really Want to Know

If you're looking for evidence or irreversible climate change - you know, runaway global warming, feedback loops - just look up, look northward because it's happening right in our back yard, right now.

Two months ago we dealt with the thawing of the circumpolar tundra and the fires that were breaking out in this rich, carbon-heavy natural fuel source.  Together with the retreat of glaciers and the loss of Arctic sea ice, the tundra thaw and burn represented three active feedback loops.

But wait, there's more.   Researchers found a massive increase in methane release in ice-free Arctic waters in January.   Read the report and the Q&A immediately beneath.   Methane, as a greenhouse gas 72-times more powerful than CO2, could well be the "tipping point" scientists have been warning about.

"Though a term used frequently in discussions on climate, its full meaning and magnitude have rarely been taken to heart. Far too often, it is simply another "buzzword" dropped into an article and treated only in the most superficial way. Indeed, such usage seems almost to "anesthetize" us to the horrific reality it points toward. In truth, the crossing of some kinds of tipping points can lead to the crushing of our entire civilization on no less of a scale than nuclear war. The devastation can be so sweeping that the concept of "adaptation" becomes meaningless. "Irreversible" refers to the brutal fact that once humanity allows this process to become triggered, there will be no chance to go back, no chance to learn from our mistakes and correct them.

"Of the several tipping point scenarios which are possible, one considered especially frightening is the prospect of triggering an abrupt and large scale methane release in the shallow seabeds along Arctic coastlines. The entire climate debate has been dominated by a discussion of humanity's contribution to the problem - which has been the emission of carbon dioxide since the beginning of the industrial age. What science has discovered is that nature has its own vast storehouse of ancient carbon trapped in the ice of the polar regions.

"The scenario of most concern to methane "specialists" is what's known as the "runaway feedback" reaction. As described by Dr. Ira Leifer of the Marine Science Institute at the Univ. of Calif.: "A runaway feedback effect would be where methane comes out of the ocean into the atmosphere leading to warming, leading to warmer oceans and more methane coming out, causing an accelerated rate of warming in what one could describe as a runaway train." [7]  A cycle would be initiated which feeds upon itself and therefore becomes unstoppable."
 How do we deal with this when we can't even muster the political will to arrest carbon emissions and transition from fossil fuels to alternative energies?   How bad could this get, how quickly?   Is there even anything we can do about it now?

I'm coming to the conclusion that, without any reason to believe we have the will to deal with these challenges, maybe it's better these questions be left unasked.   Really, who wants to know?

h/t Christine@350orbust.com

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