“Governments must get a grip on a situation which IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has ignored. A strategy of mitigation and adaptation is doomed to fail. It will be impossible to adapt to the worst consequences of global warming, as IPCC suggests.”
— John Nissen, Chairman, Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG”), Press Conference Announcement, COP20, Lima, December 4, 2014.
According to AMEG, an Arctic meltdown is nearly upon us, and the consequences will be brutal for everybody alive today. “In fact, the September sea ice volume is already down 75% with a trend to zero by September 2016, suggests that the Arctic is heading for complete meltdown, which would be a planetary catastrophe,” Ibid. Yes, a planetary catastrophe!
In essence, that is the message delivered at COP20 by John Nissen, who says the “tipping point” for the Arctic has already passed. If his statement holds true, the future is dim.
His is not a yellow alert.
It is a red alert!
According to Nissen: “There is no sign of any natural process to break the cycle,” of the Arctic meltdown.
According to AMEG, and by way of insinuation, the Artic must be refrozen or life on planet Earth is certain to turn very, very ugly, nearly uninhabitable, and given enough time, it could become uninhabitable. The planet can only handle so much human-caused greenhouse gases before it coughs, burps, erupts, and sneezes away viable food production and the temperate climate humans depend upon.
But, seriously, refreeze the Artic?
Yes, according to AMEG, it is possible: “Techniques exist for cooling on the necessary scale. Both the brightening of low-level clouds and the production of a reflective haze in the stratosphere are techniques based on natural phenomena, which have been studied extensively. Various methane suppression techniques have been proposed. However, all these techniques require technology development and testing before deployment.”
But, there is no consensus in the world community to even start testing. Furthermore, geo-engineering is extraordinarily controversial with sharply differing opinions amongst the scientific community. Some believe it could result in a Frankenstein climate. Others, like AMEG, claim it works, and it is our only salvation.
“The central conclusion, according to Dr Matt Watson of Bristol University, is that the issues surrounding geo-engineering – how it might work, the effects it might have and the potential downsides – are ‘really, really complicated,” David Shukman, Science Editor, Geo-Engineering: Climate Fixes ‘could harm billions’ BBC News, Nov. 25, 2014, “Personally I find this stuff terrifying, but we have to compare it to doing nothing, to business-as-usual leading us to a world with a 4C rise.”
And, doing nothing has far-reaching ramifications, well beyond the Arctic. Consider a 2C rise in global temperature, which an Arctic meltdown would likely cause.
A 2C (3.6F) Rise Puts NYC 16 Feet Under Water
Two Celsius (2C), aka: Centigrade, seems like a small measurement; however, according to Sir David Attenborough’s Are We Changing Planet Earth? (BBC One) it’s enough to alter life on the planet, as we know it.
Sir Attenborough’s film queries how it is possible that seemingly small temperature changes of one or two Celsius, which seems so small, so inconsequential, cause so much havoc. The answer, in part, is found in ‘averaging’ because the reported average of global warming, approximately 0.85 C over the past 100 years is only an average for the world (in the past, it took 5,000 years to warm that much, thus, on a yearly basis, we’re tracking 50 times faster today than 5,000 years ago). But, averages do not represent variations in specific regions, for example, in the Arctic.
In the Arctic the temperature has increased three times, or much faster than the average for the planet. “The Arctic is now melting so fast that the whole web of wildlife is threatened… The ice is already melting three weeks earlier each year,” Ibid.
Sir Attenborough’s film reveals the remarkable temperature sensitivities of the planet from seemingly small changes prompting big, radical climatic transformations. As it happens, small numbers have huge climatic outcomes, and Sir Attenborough’s film details how these seemingly small temperature changes produce outsized results, as follows:
…160,000 years ago NYC, if it existed, would have been on the edge of an ice pack two kilometers [1.24 miles] high and yet global temperatures were only 4 degrees cooler than they are today…
…30,000 years later, NYC would have been in 5 meters [16 feet] of water, yet global temperatures were less than 2 degrees warmer than they are now…
…Natural forces drove this seesawing of the earth’s climate long before humankind appeared.
Today, unfortunately carbon dioxide (“CO2”) emissions have dramatically accelerated the forces of nature. For example, the Arctic has lost over 50% of its mass in only a few decades, which is similar to a few minutes on the ultra slow geological clock. Glacial time has been shortened, compressed, contracted because of industrialization, spewing out CO2 ever-ever-faster year-by-year.
Only a two-degree C and a four-degree C change in temperature from today result in an entirely different planet:
Two degrees warmer and the NYC is in 16 feet of water
Four degrees cooler and NYC is part of a glacier 1.24 miles thick.
Indeed, the sensitivities to temperature change of Planet Earth are bewildering. The planet is big, very big, with great distances from continent to continent, Yet, the planet seemingly turns into a malleable toy sphere when only a small 2C or 4C change transforms its entirety from ice to water or vice versa. Such small temperature changes with such gargantuan outcomes bespeak of a susceptibility that belies its true size. Enigmatically, the planet is extraordinarily vulnerable, yet remarkably substantial.
An Arctic Meltdown Threatens Life
An Arctic meltdown is a game changer. It’s not just polar bears.
Already, the warming Arctic is negatively impacting the climate for the Northern Hemisphere by altering the jet streams, causing them to meander, resulting in more persistent weather patterns that drive extreme events, like torrential storms, deep-freezes, and prolonged droughts. Additionally, worldwide extremes of weather conditions are unprecedented in ferocity (see: Extreme Weather, ABC TV Catalyst). The ABC TV video provides an excellent explanation of how global warming in the Arctic brings unprecedented extreme weather patterns throughout the Northern Hemisphere, starting at the 13:00 minute mark of the 18:28 minute video.
As it goes, AMEG says weather extremes threaten agriculture such that too much warming in the Arctic will result in crop failure, leading to social unrest and likely food wars all across the planet.
Nevertheless, the 900-pound gorilla in the room is methane (CH4). As the Arctic looses mass, CH4 that has been trapped for millennia is exposed. Already, Russian-U.S. survey teams have recorded large “fountains” of methane erupting from the Arctic, out-of-the-ordinary plumes. Should the Arctic meltdown, it is feared a sudden release of fifty gigatons CH4 will turn the planet into a heat chamber so hot that life may become unbearable.
Withal, this is another contentious issue within the scientific community. As for example, “I don’t have any problem with 50 gigatons, but they’ve got the time scale all wrong,” adds David Archer, a geoscientist and expert on methane at the University of Chicago. “I would envision something like that coming out, you know, over the centuries,” Chris Mooney, How Much Should You Worry About an Arctic Methane Bomb, Mother Jones, Aug. 8, 2013.
In all, at the end of the day, one can pick one’s poison when it comes to scientific opinions about global warming and climate change. Equally persuasive opinions are found on several sides of the argument, but significantly, there is all-powerful general agreement that global warming is very, very, very real and caused by humans.
The weight of evidence, the crucial fact, the reality is that ice is melting around the world at an incredible rate. Absolutely incredible! And, it is measurable. The Alps, on average, have lost 30 feet of mass the past decade, one-half of the glaciers in the Andes are gone over the past four decades, totally melted away, Chinese scientists report the headwaters of major rivers, fed by glaciers, like the Lancang River “the Danube of the East” has lost 70% of it feeder glaciers, Greenland’s entire surface, for the first time in modern recordings, turned 95% to slush, and the Arctic is losing its multi-year layers of ice so rapidly that researchers with “boots on the ground” like Peter Wadhams, professor at Cambridge University and co-founder of AMEG, as well as world renowned expert on Arctic ice, who has traveled under the Arctic ice in nuclear submarines 10 times to analyze the Arctic during his decades of research, strongly believes humanity is in for a major, major shock to the Earth system as the Arctic turns ice-free by September, within this decade.
With that in mind, hopefully David Attenborough, the English broadcaster/naturalist has it nailed, when he says: “I don’t think we are going to become extinct. We’re very clever and extremely resourceful – and we will find ways of preserving ourselves, of that I’m sure. But whether our lives will be as rich as they are now is another question.”
Well, that being the case, how much does quality of life count?
Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org