Thursday, June 5, 2008

Runaway global heating has begun!

Runaway Global Heating HAS BEGUN!

by Anthony Marr

The most alarming phenomenon occurring in the world today is not skyrocketing fuel or food prices, not looming terrorism, not even precipitous deforestation, alarming as these may be. It is something more dangerous than all the nuclear weapons in the world combined. It is almost unnoticeable – silent, stealthy, patient, remote, almost picturesque and poetic to the untrained eye. It is lethal without seeming lethal until it has killed you. And it is emerging from the underworld as we speak. It is called methane.

Globally, we are talking about permafrost methane release (see, global warming section, Arctic subsection) as well as oceanic methane release. Once these releases have started, global warming will in short order take a quantum leap and become RUNAWAY GLOBAL HEATING. It will be inexorable, relentless, merciless, exponential, unsurvivable. When it is all said and done, almost all life on Earth will have been extinguished.

Oceanic methane release is currently mainly a matter of projection, but permafrost methane release is not. Permafrost melting has begun (see the numerous pictures of permafrost melting in, global warming section, Artic subsection), and therefore, so has Runaway Global Heating.

Let me explain why this is an inescapable conclusion. It is very simple really. You don't need to be an Einstein to understand it.

· The Earth has warmed up less than one degree Celsius since the Industrial Age began in 1880, and this has been enough to begin melting the permafrost.

· The permafrost contains frozen methane to the tune of about 1,000 billion tons, or 1 trillion tons, which will gradually be released into the atmosphere in gaseous form as the permafrost melts.

· As a greenhouse gas, methane is 75 times more potent than carbon dioxide within 10 years of release, and 25 times within a few decades.

· The Earth will certainly continue warming up (by 6 or more degrees Celsius by 2100) from the existing and projected carbon dioxide alone – currently about 700 billion tons in the atmosphere, 385 parts per million (ppm) in concentration, and increasing by 8.5 billion tons per year from human activities.

· As carbon dioxide and methane concentrations increase in the atmosphere, a positive feedback loop will result where the atmosphere will warm up more, which will melt more permafrost, releasing more methane, which will warm up the atmosphere even more, which will melt more permafrost, releasing even more methane... This is not a cycle, but a spiral, a spiral towards oblivion.

· This warming can certainly bring about a complete permafrost meltdown within decades, releasing all 1 trillion tons of methane-based carbon into the atmosphere, totaling over 1800 billion tons, or over 950 ppm in concentration. This will certainly drive the global temperature well over the 6oC/10oF threshold where 85% of species will be driven to extinction, to perhaps higher than 10oC/16oF. This will be more than enough to warm the oceans sufficiently to begin releasing their methane from thawing marine methane clathrate deposits.

· The Earth has undergone five major mass extinction bouts. Of the five, only the fifth – the End Cretaceous 64 million years ago – the one that eradicated all dinosaurs - was caused by anything other than climate change. The third, the End-Permian 251 million years ago, experienced a global warming of 10oC/16oF, resulting in the extinction of 75% of all land species and 95% of all marine species. Today, we are in the 6th, the Anthropocene Mass Extinction, which promises to be worse than even the End-Permian, because there is an extra factor in play today not there before - anthropogenic carbon dioxide.

· Here is the most frightening part: The amount of submarine methane clathrate far out-weighs permafrost methane clathrate – by a factor of 10. The submarine methane currently locked up in ocean trenches and continental shelves totals some 10,000 billion tons, or 10 trillion tons. If even a small percentage of this submarine methane is released, the entire biosphere will be toast. Although various deposits are stable to various extends, there are continental sill methane clathrate deposits that can be destabilized by an ocean warming of no more than 5oC/8oF.

The one big question. WHAT IS THERE TO STOP IT?!

Corn/soy/cane/palm-derived ethanol won't do it, since it still releases carbon dioxide (CO2), besides destroying tropical rainforest to accommodate ever expanding soy plantations.

Conservation won't do it. Even if we have cars running on 300 miles per gallon, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere will still increase, and the temperature will still rise. Even if we stop burning fossil fuels altogether, the temperature will still keep on rising, albeit at a slower rate.

Clean energy – solar, wind, geothermal, wave and tidal – can help reduce CO2 emissions, and can even eventually reduce CO2 emissions to zero, but cannot decrease the atmospheric carbon concentration, and therefore cannot stop, much less reverse, runaway global heating.

The only technology that can deal with runaway global heating is Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS), which by definition absorbs carbon from the atmosphere and actually reduces the carbon concentration.

We are not talking about those small, auxiliary CCS systems attached to coal-fired plants. We are talking about gigantic free-standing CCS systems actively gobbling up carbon by the ton out of the atmosphere every day – on a global scale.

Anthony Marr, founder and president
Heal Our Planet Earth (HOPE)
Compassion for Animals Road Expeditions (CARE)
Global Emergency Operation (GEO)

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