Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Our New Reality

Global warming just isn’t going to go away, is it? People are never going to shut up about it, will they?

I had my big “Oh, shit!” moment back in ’03, when I first read about the consequences of the melting permafrost. There was never any doubt in my mind that we would, during my lifetime, start to experience runaway global warming. In ’03 I realized that acknowledging this reality would be just a matter of scientists coming up with the numbers and projections. The media would take it from there.

I had three main questions back then:

1) How much carbon is locked up in the Arctic permafrost and underwater clathrates?

2) How will all this carbon contribute to global warming, or more accurately, global heating?

3) When will people starting using accurate terminology, such as “runaway greenhouse effect,” “runaway global warming,” “out-of-control global warming,” and its synonyms?

In the November 12 issue of Rolling Stone there’s an article, “Warming Gets Worse,” by Jeff Goodell. It looks like my questions are starting to be answered.

From the article:

The world’s leading scientists have come to an alarming conclusion: Global warming is happening even faster than they thought. The Arctic, it turns out, is melting so quickly that even top ice experts are stunned.

The melting Arctic is a ticking time bomb for the Earth’s climate – and thanks to our failure to reduce greenhouse-gas pollution, the fuse has already been lit.

The Arctic is more than just a frozen block of ice – it’s more like a frozen block of carbon... All told, there are some 1 trillion metric tons of carbon buried in the Arctic – the equivalent of the oil, gas and coal reserves on the entire planet. From a planetary perspective, melting the Arctic is like firing up the world’s largest furnace – one that will belch catastrophic levels of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

But that’s not the worst of it. A similarly huge amount of methane is frozen in the floor of the shallow seas surrounding the Arctic. As the water warms, these blocks of methane ice can bubble to the surface and release millions of tons of methane – more or less cooking the planet overnight.

The big question is, is it too late to avert catastrophe? No one knows... Once the Arctic is gone, it won’t be coming back anytime soon... Mother Nature is the timekeeper, and nobody can see the clock.

So... it looks like my first question has been answered. The carbon in the Arctic is the equivalent of twice the planet’s fossil fuel reserves. At a rough guess, releasing this carbon will triple the rate of global heating. This sounds as catastrophic as I would ever hope to imagine. But just think of all that oil that will be accessible to us once the ice melts!

It looks like my second question – the enhanced rate of global heating – is starting to be answered as well: A whole shitload of newly-released carbon will result in a whole shitload of new global heating. The numbers will come later.

As for using accurate terminology such as “runaway greenhouse effect,” not quite yet. Give them a couple more years. Goodell cops out at the end of his article, saying “No one knows.” But I think we already have a pretty damn good idea.

The concept now dancing around in my brain is “Give It Up.” This does not mean “Give Up.” Although, actually, why not give up? Why not just give up and die? But I’m not there yet; I’m not even close. I enjoy life way too much. But I am taking a good long look at what I’m doing, and why, and I’m finding myself yearning to get back to a simpler lifestyle focused more on my garden, orchard, music, meditating, community-type activities of all sorts. Less driving around, working so hard, making so much money money money money money. This, of course, implies voluntarily not making so much money, which is scary for my entire family, including myself. Since there’s no community we can depend on, money is our main bulwark against the unknown dangers that impinge upon our little lives. Who knows what might happen? My little nest egg, and my land, and home, and stuff, are all that stand between me and utter destitution. Though destitution might happen anyway, despite our best efforts. In fact, it’s inevitable. What part of “mass dieoff” are we having trouble understanding?