For all the talk, studies, reports, climate conferences, and marketing of Green Energy, human society has not curbed planetary warming. Even if human emissions leveled, Arctic methane emissions are a growing threat amplifying global warming, because they are increasing. Climate systems are reacting to the warming humans have started; they are amplifying the effects. Most of my blog posts have soft pedaled the degree to which past inaction has allowed Earth’s climate to destabilize – now regularly generating extreme weather events.
Media has failed to inform, and politicians have failed to lead. I’m writing this as a current post on VOX does an excellent job of pointing out the differences between various climate plans of the different Democratic candidates. Even that excellent post only focused on CO2 emissions while the numbers show an increase in 3 greenhouse gases.
[Note: Water vapor is the dominant greenhouse gas. Its concentration is self-regulating via precipitation as dew, rain, sleet or snow. Water vapor concentration ranges increase 7% globally for each 1ºC increase in average global temperature.]
Humans have dawdled too long, not reduced our CO2 emissions.
Worse, we’ve invested in infrastructure that continues the release of CO2 while adding more methane into the air. How? By switching to fracking, a source of many methane leaks along its way to its being burned. RESULT? The net effective atmospheric insulation has gone up 59% not 48% as suggested by the CO2 value alone. Worse, the biggest swing factor is at risk of new and massive releases.
Start with the reddish table at the top of this next image and note that 3 main greenhouse gases (GHG) are each increasing in concentrations. Those same GHG are historically shown over a 2,000 year history in the line graphs below. Blue for Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Orange for Methane (CH4) and Green for Nitrous Oxide (N2O.) ALL THREE were fairly stable until around 1800 when human industrialization began growing around the globe.
You might say “That’s interesting, but so what?” The thing not being discussed in any of the political plans, let alone debated politically, is that what humans have initiated in warming is being amplified by numerous feedback loops to warm the planet more and faster.
While humans debate, Arctic methane emissions are increasing, amplifying global warming.
Most of the largest loops are unfolding in the Arctic. The Arctic is where the most area is at risk of rapidly switching from reflective white to solar energy absorbent dark colors. The Arctic has three other ways to exponentially accelerate the warming.
Arctic Methane Amplifies Global Warming by:
- Anaerobic microbes decomposing thawed permafrost.
- Anaerobic microbes decomposing peat bogs more quickly as temperatures rise.
- Increasing thawing and release of shallow sea methane hydrates as Arctic Sea Ice diminishes annually and the Arctic seas absorb more heat. In shallow seas much of this methane vents through the water column into the atmosphere.
As for the other main GHG feedback loops, many media stories have covered the melting of ice 75% of the volume of which has been lost over the past 40 years. Media does not so frequently report the other two CO2 pathways directly increasing/ amplifying the net CO2.
CO2e and the Warming Power of Methane
The three GHGs are not equal in thermal absorption/ insulation properties. This is expressed as “CO2 equivalents” or CO2e. Many people discount the danger of methane because it mostly converts/oxidizes to CO2 within a decade or so, reducing the 100 year impact of a methane leak/ emission to 25x the warming impact of CO2. Yet while methane is breaking down, the emissions have grown faster, so the total amount has grown! It’s now at 1.85ppm (1,850ppb) and tracking a rate of growth higher than the other GHGs. Thus 1ppm of CH4 needs to be factored at the short term equivalency rate of 100 x CO2 (100CO2e.)
[Note: While on CO2e, the factor for 1ppm of N2O is 300CO2e. N2O is a molecule the Earth is not amplifying. Humans are solely responsible, and we’ve mistakenly generated it increasingly due to industrial fertilizers which are killing our soils.]
For most of the past 2,000 years, CO2e has been at 440ppm. The top graphic shows that since about 1800, all three of these greenhouse gases have increased. Before industrialization Earth would have drifted back into another Ice Age as Earth’s orbit repeats its cycles. Instead our atmosphere is at CO2 of 415ppm but 700ppm CO2e!
This large increase in insulating effectiveness has overridden the climate patterns of the past million plus years and the Earth is warming, with increases in extreme weather events as everyday evidence.
Media, Political, Societal Failure
Ignoring Methane in societal proposals or using the discounted emissions value of CH4 in reference to global trends is folly! There is more than enough CH4 emitted from all sources to replace those oxidized molecules and continue growing the net atmospheric concentration. This analysis highlights the effective warming from the net concentration increases. The IPCC reports focus on CO2 as benchmarks, with the Paris Agreement headlines ignoring net CO2e. The IPCC, leaders widely and media ALL FAIL when not accounting for the growing risk of future exponential increases due to planetary amplifications in the Arctic.
The imbalance that humans have added/initiated is 260ppm CO2e insulation. Methane’s share of that increase (106ppm CO2e) is bad, but set to get rapidly far larger. In the mix to watch are:
- Human emissions from leaks and industry, combined with
- Historically natural concentrations PLUS
- Arctic Amplification by microbial action and warming sea floors.
Problems not fully accounted for cannot be solved. Politicians and society need to face the bigger problems depicted here, not solely the CO2 issue. If there is a goal to save an inhabitable planet, we need to face the fuller problems BEFORE the planetary amplification processes gain more momentum.
OPTIONS FOR AVOIDING EXTINCTION?
1) A Green New Deal has many proposals, including regenerative agriculture. Can these include large scale public works projects? Such could put the best concepts of permaculture into implementing the soil rejuvenation/ carbon sequestration. Repairing ecological damage on a planetary scale needs be seen as one of the primary goals of the Green New Deal. It is seen as a possibility demonstrated by Lessons of the Loess Plateau (8½ min.) Try to get beyond cultural biases and see an example of what can be achieved. Can our society admit and face up to the dire situation ahead if we continue following the path we’ve been on? We need approaches that keep people busy, improves the land, and focuses on having a future.
2) Stop Exploration for more coal, oil, and gas, stop permitting new pipelines or refineries and stop subsidizing their consumption! Simultaneously begin the geoengineering long threatened – of intentional global dimming via high atmosphere and /or orbiting reflectors in space… at a level to match the particulate levels / solar dimming that will happen by shutting down the industrial system. If tweaking is to be done, it needs to be by global assessment and agreement because it will affect temps and rainfall unequally. Past posts considering these topics are:
- Fossil Fuel Subsidies are the Wrong Tool
- Shutting the system need be quick, but apply a carbon fee and dividend in any interim Carbon Fee & Dividend Beats Carbon Tax
- Enter a century of strict birth control on a lottery basis to draw down the population. Population, especially among the globally more affluent, is the leading cause of consumptive excess. Consumption affects sustainability How low a population might we need to get to? One calculation – based on energy shifts and material supplies says 50 to 100 million, especially after recent pollution and soil degradation.
- Honor the needs of children and the yet unborn to have a habitable planet. So far, the US government under Obama and Trump has fought this idea vigorously.
3) Sequester carbon in the the best ways we currently can. Put more effort into developing low energy conversion and long term sequestration. Marketers say “sure!” “invest with us” but Kevin Anderson and other scientists discuss just how monumental this will be. For the processes needed, Survivable IPCC projections based on science fiction – reality is far worse – YouTube
4) Accomplish these massive and draconian policy shifts by unifying the human society nationally and internationally so as to get it done BEFORE the Planetary Amplifying effects described in the top graphic gain too much momentum to be tamed by our attempts to change course.
THIS LAST SENTENCE IS THE TRUE DEAL BREAKER. We need leaders who act to unify people to face this common danger threatening our continued existence. Facing the true danger includes facing Methane and the full range of planetary amplifications we are generating. Look to the concepts of good leaders vs bad as taught in the 1WOW School Program and help inform each other as to which candidates for elected office are worthy of being elected to office. Then go back to that VOX article which inspired this post.
Can humans unite? Can we get past our ideological bickering? Nature (the laws of Physics) isn’t waiting. I propose all 4 steps above and regularly encourage people to act. It’s no longer out of hope of success but in the belief that they do the least harm to the biosphere as a whole. If I am wrong about it being hopeless, such action might have bought time for a less destructive outcome.
THE ARCTIC AMPLIFICATION OF WARMING IS NOT THEORY, IT IS ALREADY HAPPENING.
In a study published in Nature Climate Change, scientists estimated that 1.7 billion metric tons of carbon were lost from Arctic permafrost regions during each winter from 2003 to 2017. Over the same span, an average of 1 billion metric tons of carbon were taken up by vegetation during summer growing seasons. This changes the region from being a net “sink” of carbon dioxide—where it is captured from the atmosphere and stored—into being a net source of emissions. All indications are that these imbalances will grow worse as warming continues.
This is a Twitter feed discussion of fires now happening in the Arctic
Arctic fires have been burning for over a month now = Part 1, then continued at…
A crucial question is whether these fires have ignited peat soils. This THREAD takes a closer look.