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Does Methane Threaten Life?

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The question of whether methane (CH4) in the atmosphere is a threat to life is extraordinarily complex and generally not well understood. But, yes it is a serious threat, very serious and horribly real.

Okay, but don’t scientists understand this, and why aren’t they speaking out?

They are speaking out but only a very few.

Here’s the “speaking out” problem: Leading climate scientists are not willing to honestly expose their greatest fears, as discovered by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! whilst at COP21 in Paris this past December, interviewing one of the world’s leading climate scientists, Kevin Anderson (University of Manchester) of Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research who said: “So far we simply have not been prepared to accept the revolutionary implications of our own findings, and even when we do we are reluctant to voice such thoughts openly… many are ultimately choosing to censor their own research.”

Straightaway, we know from one of the world’s leading authorities on climate change that climate scientists are censoring their own research. But why?

“What we are afraid of doing is putting forward analysis that questions the paradigm, the economic way that we run society today… We fine-tune our analysis so that it fits into the economic reality of our society, the current economic framing. Actually our science now asks fundamental questions about this idea of economic growth in the short term, but we’re very reluctant to say that. In fact, the funding bodies are reluctant to fund research that raises those questions,” Democracy Now! Top Climate Expert: Crisis is Worse Than We Think & Scientists Are Self-Censoring to Downplay Risk, Dec. 8, 2015.

Accordingly, since the current economic framing throughout the world is all about neoliberalism, then it appears this framing does not frame well with climate scientists. One has to wonder why? Maybe it’s only about fossil fuels, but then again, neoliberalism does not leave much room for science. Neoliberalism’s all about “privatizing everything for profits,” removing regulations and let free enterprise (Milton Friedman) determine what’s good for the atmosphere, not science. Alas, climate science is not (underlined twice) profitable. Who needs it?

The scientists that do talk, sans concerns about the current economic paradigm, are openly alarmed by growing evidence of the risk of CH4’s sudden release from the icy protection of the Arctic, knowing humanity is not ready for it.

Those scientists that do speak out, do so in a video, Abrupt Climate Change, The Hard Truth: (The following quotes come from scientists in the video below.)

A major concern amongst scientists is the ongoing meltdown of the Arctic which in turn could release massive quantities of CH4 which in turn feeds into an irreversible feedback loop leading to uncontrollable self-perpetuating rapid planetary temperature rise, the dreaded doomsday scenario, a fireball planet.

“If global average temperature rises to 2 degrees Celsius above baseline, what that means is that the interior of large continents heats up at least twice that much, so to 4C, or higher. And that’s where all of the grain is grown, and grain is the basis for civilization… That would be sufficient to have civilization collapse… we’re talking about the type of suffering that goes beyond anything we’ve ever seen before… well beyond what goes on in war… well beyond the plagues of the past.”

“We have already lit the fuse on a giant methane subsea permafrost bomb in the Arctic which can go off at any moment.”

A methane monster idly sets in waiting in the shallow waters of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf where 100s to 1000s of gigatons could release from very shallow water. Scientists who have studied the area for over a decade say it only takes destabilization of 1-2% to create irreversible havoc for the planet.

According to a 2013 NASA satellite observation, methane plumes in the Arctic Ocean 150 kilometers (93 miles) wide were observed bubbling up to surface. That explains the upward sloping chart of CH4 into the atmosphere, a steeper slope than CO2.

“We’ve found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures more than 1,000 metres in diameter. In a very small area, less than 10,000 square miles, we have counted more than 100 fountains, or torch-like structures, bubbling through the water column and injected directly into the atmosphere from the seabed,” Dr. Semiletov said, “We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered methane fields of a fantastic scale. I think on a scale not seen before. Some of the plumes were a kilometre or more wide and the emissions went directly into the atmosphere. The concentration was a hundred times higher than normal.” (Igor Semiletov PhD, Pacific Oceanological Institute, Far Eastern Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences, visiting scientist, International Arctic Research Center, University of Alaska- not in the video).

How does this vicious cycle end?

First, how did it start? It started by humans burning too much fossil fuel like gasoline for cars and coal for electricity which in turn spews noxious CO2 into the atmosphere which in turn hangs around for centuries acting like a big blanket retaining more and more heat until Mother Earth develops a horrible cough, disrupting her Jet Streams, which brings tropical storms to Boulder, Colorado for the first time ever and loosens up gigatons of CH4 from below the icy cover of the Arctic Ocean, now iceless blue water, into the upper atmosphere to join CO2 as a much larger down-filled blanket which turns up the heat even more.

This cycle likely does not end, assuming noxious emissions do not stop almost cold turkey, rather it expands via vast, continent-wide swaths of climate disruption to the extent that people are forced into pathways of migration, fleeing flooded zones, like Bangladesh (where cities are already sinking), or in search of food sources as desertification overrides local food production, like vast areas of India with 25% already turned to desert, or the drought-stricken eastern Mediterranean (worst drought ever) pushing out more migrants, or entire communities and cities migrating to find sources of water, like Andean communities and cities, e.g., Lima (pop.8.5M) dependent upon glacial water (the World Bank has already warned about this), or a population of 50,000 picking up stakes to move inland, North Carolina’s Outer Banks where portions of the 200-mile island are already at 25% of original width, or crazed upper atmospheric Jet Streams, under the wavering influence of an overheated Arctic, driving endless torrential tropical storms out of the tropics to America’s heartland, like Colorado (2013 Colorado Tropical Storm), as county after county experiences massive flooding, destroying valuable farmland, or when the high tides in Miami are suddenly relabeled “historic flooding.”

Then, a maddening political scramble will ensue to find some way, shape, or form to come to grips with the planet’s rapidly collapsing ecosystem, as angry mobs roam the countryside to hunt down climate change liars to tar and feather. Still, by the time these overwhelmingly large massive bodies of enraged mobs do their dirty work, most of the planet will mirror the dystopian image projected by Mad Max: Fury Road (Warner Bros. 2015). They’ll fit right into the script.

Dr. Peter Gleick (member of the National Academy of Sciences) director of the Pacific Institute of California recently warned, “What is happening in the Arctic now is unprecedented and possibly catastrophic,” Ian Johnston, Arctic Warming: Rapidly Increasing Temperatures are Possibly Catastrophic for Planet, Climate Scientist Warns, Independent, February 25, 2016.

The Solution

Get off fossil fuels as soon as humanly possible and do not elect a president to the White House who denies anthropogenic climate change because that will be tantamount to voluntarily entering a gas chamber, slamming shut the big thick heavy door, and giving thumbs up to the warden!

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Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at rlhunziker@gmail.com.

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