Skip

Boiling like a pot
December 13, 2011 5:55 PM   Subscribe

Dramatic and unprecedented plumes of methane have been have been seen bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean.

Vast amounts of methane are frozen within icy lattices called methane hydrates, which break down as the water temperature rises. Although methane plumes have been reported for some years, the scale of these releases may support fears of abrupt climate change. (previously, previously)
posted by Joe in Australia (189 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ahahahaha we're so fucking doomed hahaha
posted by The Whelk at 5:57 PM on December 13, 2011 [137 favorites]


remain calm, all is well and in good hands
posted by Fupped Duck at 5:58 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


But hey, environmental regulations now will just hurt the job creators.
posted by Burhanistan at 5:58 PM on December 13, 2011 [12 favorites]


Oh, that's really not good news.
posted by Artw at 6:01 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I want a new F-150. If the world burns on account of this, so be it. Tar sands is ethical oil. Suck it haters. You're welcome, global south.

Kind regards,
Canada
posted by [expletive deleted] at 6:01 PM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Everybody relax! I have it on good authority that this is yet another hoax from money-grubbing god-hating "scientists".

Now let's all drive on down to our local War-Mart™ Supercenters and enjoy some delicious, refreshing Coke™ products!

:D
posted by Avenger at 6:01 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


On the plus side, this gives humanity the unprecedented opportunity to set the Arctic Ocean on fire.
posted by Dasein at 6:01 PM on December 13, 2011 [34 favorites]


I am going to be the smuggest damn "I told you so" on the quarantine/refugee ship.
posted by The Whelk at 6:02 PM on December 13, 2011 [8 favorites]


Can't think of anything glib to say. This scares the everloving shit out of me.
posted by pts at 6:02 PM on December 13, 2011 [27 favorites]


Step 1: Destroy world ecosystem causing massive natural disasters all over the globe.
Step 2: Millions die (thus reducing total population)
Step 3: Higher hundreds of thousands of people to clean up dead bodies thus increasing employment - bonus: they can eat the corpses.

World population and world unemployment rate addressed at the same time.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:03 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is the point in the science fiction novel where the story cuts to some plucky scientist or engineer who's currently working in obscurity on the very technology that will end up saving the world. Right?
posted by Kevin Street at 6:03 PM on December 13, 2011 [8 favorites]




Why didn't anybody warn us?
posted by gerryblog at 6:04 PM on December 13, 2011 [58 favorites]


This thread is the very definition of whistling past the graveyard.
posted by stbalbach at 6:08 PM on December 13, 2011 [10 favorites]


The word "calthrate" seems now sounds scarier than "cthulu".
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:08 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, to all you doomers who think this might signal runaway climate change: I have it on good authority that increased arctic methane emissions will be offset by increased albedo once all the world's forests and productive farmland become deserts.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 6:08 PM on December 13, 2011 [11 favorites]


This is scary. The implications are horrifying. Painting this with humor (denial) is why we're here to being with. Not a laughing matter at all.
posted by danherwig at 6:09 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is 1 out of 2 icecaps a passing grade at UW-Madison?
posted by localhuman at 6:09 PM on December 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


You know, Joe in Australia, you and I have fought over the I/P conflict over and over on this website for a long time, but you know what, I'm just now coming to the realization that, really, none of it matters that much. Israel and Palestine are both going to be under 20 feet of water in about a hundred years and all of our conflicts will be remembered (in campfire stories, more than likely) as historical curiosities.

It's really all coming to an end, isn't it?
posted by Avenger at 6:09 PM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Lots more where that's coming from.

Want scary?

Don't want scary? Let's see ... hmmm ... shuffle .... flip ...

Sorry, all we have is scary.
posted by hank at 6:10 PM on December 13, 2011 [11 favorites]


humour does not equal denial, trust me
posted by neuromodulator at 6:10 PM on December 13, 2011 [14 favorites]


"Some plumes were a kilometre or more wide and the emissions went directly into the atmosphere – the concentration was a hundred times higher than normal."

Christ. We are fucked.
posted by rtha at 6:10 PM on December 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Shit. I need to buy a gun.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:11 PM on December 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Damn this is not good.
posted by dougzilla at 6:12 PM on December 13, 2011


BUT THINK OF ALL THE NEW COSTAL REAL ESTATE

(goes back to having Windup Girl nightmares and drinking)
posted by The Whelk at 6:14 PM on December 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


When I grow up, I want to be a lawyer doctor politician subsistence farmer.
posted by mek at 6:17 PM on December 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


When I grow up, I want to be Alive.
posted by The Whelk at 6:18 PM on December 13, 2011 [33 favorites]


hank. I want scary but it is too small to read. Got a link?
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 6:18 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


TheWhiteSkull: How the heck did you find that? I've been looking for a clean copy of that recording on youtube to link to folk for years, and all I could find were either this weird documentary version or covers (including the Due South one). Thanks!

Before panicking, I'll want some more data and hard numbers. Just how much methane is being released in ppm or something? How far away is that number from total-apocalypse numbers? And some other observers would be good. And if this information was released last week, why is the only now coming up in an article in, of all things, The Independent? Not to cast aspersions on the paper, but if it's an "exclusive interview" I would've expected a more high-profile outlet. All googling seems to do on this Igor Semiletov's name is bring up a bunch of articles regurgitating the information from The Independent's article.

In short: find your towel and hang out for another week or two before making those big survivalist decisions.
posted by curious nu at 6:18 PM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


It occurs to me that Republicans -- including all the current presidential candidates, now even including Huntsman -- err when they claim simultaneously not to believe in evolution and not to be worried about climate change.

Because it seems to me that we are, as a species, going to have to quickly become highly heat tolerant, very radiation-resistant, and methane breathing creatures, and I don't think "Intelligent Design" has us covered.
posted by spitbull at 6:19 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


All googling seems to do on this Igor Semiletov's name is bring up a bunch of articles regurgitating the information from The Independent's article.

Perhaps you need to try googling in Cyrillic?
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:20 PM on December 13, 2011


The amount of global warming caused by methane in the atmosphere is like 4% or so, it's really very minor at this point. We can measure this stuff, it's being monitored. If there was a huge spike we'd know about it. In fact methane levels were flat for about 10 years during the late 90s and early 00's due to eastern European economic slowdown. Levels are increasing again since 2006, but at a steady rate like CO2, not a bomb. It would take a huge amount of warming yet to release the rest of it from the permafrost. The more immediate danger is human release such as Canadian tar sands and coal.
posted by stbalbach at 6:22 PM on December 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


So, how much should I panic over this? Is it "The world is fucked and we won't see 2012" or is it "You might start working on a bucket list", or "Write your future grandchildren a 'sorry' note"?
posted by ymgve at 6:22 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


WhiteSkull, thanks so much for the Stan Rogers hit...
posted by spitbull at 6:23 PM on December 13, 2011


Look, I can't say I did everything right. I didn't try as hard as I could have. I'm lazy and forgetful like the next guy. When I was in elementary school I did a report on CFCs; I recycle, of course; there was a year after college in which I bought nothing that wasn't consumable or re-used. But I could have done better, I know that.

Fuck, though. I was really hoping it wouldn't be like this. Not like this.
posted by penduluum at 6:23 PM on December 13, 2011


"Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we've found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures, more than 1,000 metres in diameter. It's amazing," Dr Semiletov said.

Kilometer wide continuous plumes of methane. That's fucking insane.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 6:24 PM on December 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but
posted by finite at 6:25 PM on December 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


Levels are increasing again since 2006, but at a steady rate like CO2, not a bomb.

Well, apparently this study just found otherwise. I certainly would like to believe it's not true, though. That would be nice.
posted by mek at 6:26 PM on December 13, 2011


Kilometer wide continuous plumes of methane. That's fucking insane.

It's really nothing compared to what's being released daily from coal fired power plants, that power our computers so we can talk about how we're all going to die.
posted by stbalbach at 6:26 PM on December 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


And we ask ourselves why YA post-apoca fiction like The Hunger Games is so popular. I remember reading somewhere about the end of the world stuff that was coming out of the Roman Empire in its last 200 years or so.
posted by angrycat at 6:27 PM on December 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


After re-reading the Independent "exclusive interview", the most significant part of the story, at least to me, is that, based on these Russian observations, scientists now have to re-assess the amount of methane being released into the air in climate models.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:28 PM on December 13, 2011


Well, apparently this study just found otherwise.

Can you support that? I have NOAA atmospheric methane data up to 2010. Did this study invalidate NOAA's data? It's not very difficult to measure atmospheric levels of methane.
posted by stbalbach at 6:29 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Perhaps you need to try googling in Cyrillic?

Which would get me a) stuff I couldn't read, and b) a lot of, to be frank, "Russian science". The amount of nonsense that gets posted on the internet from "scientists in Russia" could feed a healthy subset of internet folklorists for a year. And most of it's from Pravda, that bastion of integrity.

Anyway, not to sound like some kind of denialist, I'm just not ready to throw an "end of the world" party based on this one article.

When I was in elementary school I did a report on CFCs

Me too! And in fact I still remember getting dinged for not defining what CFCs were (and I've never made that mistake again, so, uh, thanks teacher whose name I do not recall!).
posted by curious nu at 6:30 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, climate change sure started to pick up in a hurry once Canada withdrew from the Kyoto Accord.
posted by ceribus peribus at 6:31 PM on December 13, 2011 [14 favorites]


I have NOAA atmospheric methane data up to 2010.

According to the article, these new sources were discovered this past summer, so apparently they are new.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:32 PM on December 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


End of the world, you say? Pandemonium

But seriously, watching this shit grow over the last decade has been really quite depressing. I have a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.
posted by Existential Dread at 6:34 PM on December 13, 2011


I remember reading somewhere about the end of the world stuff that was coming out of the Roman Empire in its last 200 years or so.

200 years?

*Buries head back in tar sands, waits to die in ~50*
posted by notyou at 6:36 PM on December 13, 2011


Since methane is 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas, does this mean we'd actually be slowing down global warming by lighting these plumes all on fire (which I assume would have co2 as an output)? Because that's fucked up.
posted by condour75 at 6:36 PM on December 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


But seriously, watching this shit grow over the last decade has been really quite depressing. I have a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I lost all hope for any meaningful change years ago, but I can't decide if that's just because I've been getting older and that's what old people do.
posted by selenized at 6:37 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


The more immediate danger is human release such as Canadian tar sands and coal.

Given that the oil sands make up about 0.1% of global carbon emissions, I'd suggest that if they're one of two sources of carbon you've chosen to mention as worthy of concern, you're worrying about the wrong things.
posted by Dasein at 6:37 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wasn't there an ancient prophesy about seas "boiling?"
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:38 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Since methane is 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas, does this mean we'd actually be slowing down global warming by lighting these plumes all on fire (which I assume would have co2 as an output)? Because that's fucked up.

That's when you trule know that you've passed some tipping point: when turning the arctic into a flaming hell pit helps.
posted by selenized at 6:38 PM on December 13, 2011 [47 favorites]


Perhaps this is an elaborate scientific scheme to study Venus. To whit, since its so expensive for us to travel to it, we'll just make our planet just like it.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:41 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


when turning the arctic into a flaming hell pit helps.

Worked for Cleveland.

Actually, Killing Joke is the perfect soundtrack for this thread.
posted by Existential Dread at 6:42 PM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Actually, Killing Joke is the perfect soundtrack for this thread.

Coil: Horse Rotorvator over here.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:43 PM on December 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'm not glib about these kinds of things because I'm in denial. I'm glib about them because I'm seat-belted in the back seat, the child locks are on so I can't bail out, and anyone who could possibly drive is up front yanking on the wheel randomly and yelling about who called shotgun or who has to go to the bathroom or no we're making good time or look jesus says we'll be alright or well we have GPS this MUST be the way even though we're plainly headed over the cliff. There's nothing I can really do but snark and try and ignore the screaming from everyone sensible in the back with me.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 6:44 PM on December 13, 2011 [102 favorites]


>I have NOAA atmospheric methane data up to 2010.

According to the article, these new sources were discovered this past summer, so apparently they are new.


How does this discovery change past measurements of atmospheric methane?
posted by KokuRyu at 6:47 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wasn't there an ancient prophesy about seas "boiling?"

But woe to that man through whom the occasion cometh.

(Seriously, the minute some eschatological christian nutcase starts spouting off about how this was all part of the plan and the will of God and there was nothing we could have done about it, my hand might well rise up against the hand of my neighbor -- after all, that's prophesy too.)
posted by namespan at 6:52 PM on December 13, 2011


I lost all hope for any meaningful change years ago, but I can't decide if that's just because I've been getting older and that's what old people do.

We don't feel a sense of loss at not being able to drink out of the Hudson River because we've never known anything different.

Future generations will take for granted what is horrifying from our perspective.
posted by Trurl at 6:56 PM on December 13, 2011 [12 favorites]


I was hoping to get to the cuddly, hair-stroking "There, there, this happens all the time", but I scrolled in vain.
posted by smithsmith at 6:56 PM on December 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


Future generations will take for granted what is horrifying from our perspective.

The best novel I know of on this theme is John Brunner's The Sheep Look Up. William Gibson said it is the only science fiction book to come close to predicting what the 2000s have actually been like.
posted by gerryblog at 6:58 PM on December 13, 2011 [28 favorites]


Nostradamus called it:
Earth-shaking gas from the center of the earth
From three fronts the enemies assail
Not far from the age of the great millennium
The brilliance of the translator will come to fail
The reference to Russian-English translation really nailed it, though I don't know what the three fronts are.
posted by vidur at 7:00 PM on December 13, 2011


I remember a couple of years back hearing that it was when the oceans became warm enough to release their huge undersea methane deposits that the runaway climate change would really get going, and that a similar process was believed responsible for one of the greatest mass-extinction events in geological history.
posted by moorooka at 7:01 PM on December 13, 2011


(goes back to having Windup Girl nightmares and drinking)

Don't worry...for that to happen, there would also have to be massive biological and chemical interference in the food supply. Thank goodness no one is trying to do that.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:01 PM on December 13, 2011 [9 favorites]


Mycoherbicides? What could possibly go wrong.....?!?!??!
posted by mek at 7:06 PM on December 13, 2011


TheWhiteSkull: What. The. Fuck.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:08 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


when turning the arctic into a flaming hell pit helps.

...but we already have a flaming hell pit.
posted by ceribus peribus at 7:11 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Daaaaaaamn calthrates.... remember reading about this scenario years back..errr....

Calthrate Gun Hypothesis[wiki]

Time to break out some Busta Rhymes!
posted by cavalier at 7:12 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is it time to start revising the history of science fiction (particularly The New Wave) so that J.G.Ballard can be "literature" yet?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:12 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]




> The best novel I know of on this theme is John Brunner's The Sheep Look Up.

I read that book as a depressed undergraduate, and...let's just say it wasn't the best book for a depressed undergraduate to be reading.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:14 PM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Everyday, I think, I've done mighty in well picking my metafilter name. Everyday indeed.

I am curious to know what sort of hedges and bets the richest of us are making -- what plans, if any, the top .0001% are putting in place as a contingency.
posted by Shit Parade at 7:14 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


When things start to get out of hand, I wonder how long it'll be until we see Forbes or WSJ run an article saying the free market would have solved it were it not for Socialism.

Ignoring the fact that the big issue is that we weren't charging for the externalites of pollution.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:15 PM on December 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


Is there a reason no one has name checked Paul Hawken yet in this thread?

Does it matter that this threat has been warned for 15+ years?
posted by ProfLinusPauling at 7:16 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have it on good authority that this is yet another hoax from money-grubbing god-hating "scientists".

One doesn't need scientists to be 'money grubbing' - that position is already taken.

Overhead and profit-taking in the carbon offsets system eats up about 70 percent of what is spent on carbon offsets, according to a report from UK-based Carbon Retirement report.

And the 'monied interests' are such a positive influence.
A study by think-tank the New Economics Foundation found the average banker destroys ­£42million a year in value while creating just £5million.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:16 PM on December 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


So I guess that bang vs whimper thing is still up for debate.
posted by blaneyphoto at 7:25 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Levels are increasing again since 2006, but at a steady rate like CO2, not a bomb.

Well, apparently this study just found otherwise. I certainly would like to believe it's not true, though. That would be nice.

If I may, you can very much measure elevated ppm of urine in the water without knowing which little bastard it is that's pissing in your pool.
posted by indubitable at 7:26 PM on December 13, 2011


> Painting this with humor (denial) is why we're here to being with. Not a laughing matter at all.

Well, what are we as web forum commenters going to do about the methane plumes? Having some gallows humor helps to keep the sanity.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:29 PM on December 13, 2011


.
posted by schyler523 at 7:37 PM on December 13, 2011


*scratches head* Um, couldn't we just put a really big, inverted funnel over it and catch the methane? Then maybe sell it? We'd just need to build a pipeline. Yeah, that's it, a pipeline.
posted by exphysicist345 at 7:38 PM on December 13, 2011


It's spelled clathrates, you philistines!

And, yeah, I told you so. In, like, 1991.

Finally: this seems a skosh hyperbolic. I don't think it's confirmed yet.
posted by zomg at 7:44 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, what is the time table here? Decades or years untill things get unseemly?
posted by vrakatar at 7:44 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Shit. I need to buy a gun.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 21:11 on December 13"

This could be the beginning of the most contentious/GRAR filled AskMe and MeTa yet!

Anyone with more in-depth knowledge of climatology - how fucked are we?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:45 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


CH4 + O2 → CO + H2 + H2O

Free heat! Oh wait, CO is carbon monoxide.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:45 PM on December 13, 2011


I am curious to know what sort of hedges and bets the richest of us are making -- what plans, if any, the top .0001% are putting in place as a contingency.

The problem is that even dire, dire climate change -- of the kind predicted in the 'rapid tipping point' article linked somewhere upthread -- is still a slow change on the timeline of a human life. Incredibly fast in geologic time, but very slow for a human. The "worst case" predictions in that report said the potential for a metre per century rise in the oceans. That is shockingly, incredibly fast and would have phenomenally bad consequences for millions and millions of people who are not yet born, within the next few hundred years. Again, a blink of an eye in geologic time and a tragedy that must be averted. But from the perspective of one wealthy dude, that's all long after he's in the grave.

So I doubt there's the kind of 'contingency' planning you are thinking of.
posted by modernnomad at 7:49 PM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Anyone with more in-depth knowledge of climatology - how fucked are we?

Google the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). It pretty much describes the exact level of fuckedness we should expect. Time scale? 100 years, maybe.
posted by zomg at 7:50 PM on December 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


Ah, but our species already knows of an effective response to this problem: "time periods when war or plague resulted in population declines are coincident with global atmospheric methane decreases."
posted by hank at 7:51 PM on December 13, 2011


@hank i think i beat you to it
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 7:52 PM on December 13, 2011


oh good so it's not just me that stopped pretending there was going to be a 2013.. well I guess there will be if you're one of those crustaceans that live off the methane vents.

Bartender: You really think the world's gonna end?
Ford: Yes.
Bartender: Shouldn't we lie down? Put paper bags over our heads or something?
Ford: If you like.
Bartender: Would it help?
Ford: Not at all.

posted by ninjew at 7:54 PM on December 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


Something to keep in mind before freaking out -- methane has a half life of 7 years in the atmosphere. Anything released today would be gone entirely in about 10 years.
posted by empath at 7:59 PM on December 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


Anything released today would be gone entirely in about 10 years.
posted by empath


Yep, oxidized into carbon monoxide.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:01 PM on December 13, 2011


Yep, oxidized into carbon monoxide.

That would be great, because CO isn't a greenhouse gas, but I believe it actually mostly converts to Carbon Dioxide and water.
posted by empath at 8:07 PM on December 13, 2011


stop trying to talk us down from our death fart panic, dammit
posted by elizardbits at 8:08 PM on December 13, 2011 [14 favorites]


Was it a Stephen Baxter novel in which melting methane clathrates were the tipping point that led to the end of civilization? (most of his novels involve the end of civilization, so it's hard to recall)

On the other hand, methane's atmospheric lifetime is barely a decade, so this isn't going to screw us over in the long term. If we're screwed, we're screwed right now.
posted by roystgnr at 8:09 PM on December 13, 2011


2008 study: "We consider release of up to 50 Gt of predicted amount of hydrate storage as highly possible for abrupt release at any time. That may cause ∼12-times increase of modern atmospheric methane burden with consequent catastrophic greenhouse warming."
posted by mek at 8:10 PM on December 13, 2011


stop trying to talk us down from our death fart panic, dammit

Wikipedia: "a methane emission will have 25 times the effect on temperature of a carbon dioxide emission of the same mass over the following 100 years. Methane has a large effect for a brief period (a net lifetime of 8.4 years in the atmosphere), whereas carbon dioxide has a small effect for a long period (over 100 years). Because of this difference in effect and time period, the global warming potential of methane over a 20 year time period is 72."
posted by Serf at 8:12 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


The amount of global warming caused by methane in the atmosphere is like 4% or so

I got that wrong. Methane accounts for 20% of global warming. Big difference, sorry. Frozen hydrates account for 4% of methane emissions. Humans account for 55% of methane emissions.
posted by stbalbach at 8:21 PM on December 13, 2011


Was it a Stephen Baxter novel in which melting methane clathrates were the tipping point that led to the end of civilization?

It was John Barnes, in the underrated and hilarious Mother of Storms.
posted by sixswitch at 8:21 PM on December 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


So I don't need to worry about insulating my old Canadian house.

Just trying to find the bright side.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:29 PM on December 13, 2011


Methane accounts for 20% of global warming. Big difference, sorry. Frozen hydrates account for 4% of methane emissions. Humans account for 55% of methane emissions.

Right, but if the clathrate gun hypothesis is correct, and 50Gt of methane releases in a short timespan, total atmospheric methane increases 1200%. 20% contribution before abrupt release, sure, but such a release would dwarf all previous methane releases... back of the hand math indicates its total contribution would be something more like 75% after abrupt release, and the rate of global warming would double, moving us from a 3C-by-2100 (already the "far worse than IPCC expected) scenario to 6C. 6C puts us into the most terrible scenarios anyone's bothered to model.
posted by mek at 8:33 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


.
posted by alms at 8:39 PM on December 13, 2011


It was John Barnes, in the underrated and hilarious Mother of Storms.

I don't think he was going for hilarious.

Anyway, Mother of Storms would certainly be classified as "Bad Barnes" under the RASFW Pete McCutcheon Barnes Classification System. But I still liked it.
posted by Justinian at 8:45 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Arga warga
posted by everichon at 8:58 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Was it a Stephen Baxter novel in which melting methane clathrates were the tipping point that led to the end of civilization?"

"It was John Barnes, in the underrated and hilarious Mother of Storms."

Baxter did it too, in Transcendent. Though in that story, imminent catastrophe is the stimulus that forces humanity to finally get its collective shit together.

I hope this isn't what it looks like, and it probably isn't. Most of the time extraordinary claims turn out to be unsubstantiated. But even if it turns out that these methane plumes aren't so bad, they underline the very real risk that we're still facing, and that no one in power is doing anything about. Ghostride The Whip's comment about being strapped into the back seat of a hurtling car is very apt.
posted by Kevin Street at 9:02 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hm. Well, I'm 44 and childless, and broke(ish) so this may just be a welcome release from worry.

I'll tell my bride to plan on hot-climate veggies in the garden. I suppose this means the giant centipedes start marching north from the rain forest, but so be it. On the plus side, we'll be much closer to the Salish Sea.
posted by maxwelton at 9:04 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am curious to know what sort of hedges and bets the richest of us are making -- what plans, if any, the top .0001% are putting in place as a contingency.

I have a friend with a particular interest in climate change, who mentioned as an aside that many longer-horizon and larger institutional investors had been changing their investments to take into consideration the predicted effects of climate change. The thing is that this was in a conversation we had ten or fifteen years ago.

So whatever hedges and bets the ε-% have, they made them a while back. In my bleaker moments I wonder if all the climate-denialism and FOX-news chaff is just a strategy to keep everyone else out of the market long enough for them to maximize the return on inland waterfront real estate, armored underground grain silos, and studded leather codpiece futures.
posted by hattifattener at 9:06 PM on December 13, 2011 [8 favorites]


if the clathrate gun hypothesis is correct, and 50Gt of methane releases in a short timespan

Well, keep an eye on the atmospheric methane levels. So far not too worrisome, in terms of a clathrate gun going off, though the last 3 year or so are seeing a slight uptick. Most of the increase is human caused, mostly livestock and energy, not clathrate which is estimated around only 4% of total.
posted by stbalbach at 9:12 PM on December 13, 2011


I am curious to know what sort of hedges and bets the richest of us are making -- what plans, if any, the top .0001% are putting in place as a contingency.

I'm sure it's on the next Bilderburg Group meeting agenda.
posted by hippybear at 9:29 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


The thing about being rich is, you get that way by investments and exploitation of the world as it is. The concept that the world you're (quite literally) invested in could change beyond recognition is an unwelcome one, so I bet most of the really rich people don't even think about climate change. It's too disturbing.
posted by Kevin Street at 9:33 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


mefi: trying to talk us down from our death fart panic
posted by exphysicist345 at 9:36 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm gonna take one of these and one of these, bolt them together and I'm sorted. Also: Spikes. Also: Skulls motif.
posted by Artw at 10:05 PM on December 13, 2011


Gallows humour and all that, but damn, this thread would have actually been interesting without 99% of the comments focussed on cheap lolz. There's some real information hiding out in a couple of comments, but you guys certainly make it hard to find.
posted by smoke at 10:22 PM on December 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


You gardener/greenhouse types - start breeding a new generation of foodcrop, artificially selecting for resilience to both drought and flood.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:55 PM on December 13, 2011


Don't know if this has been posted yet, but this article from 2008 (also from the Independent, also by Steve Connor) provides context.

Exclusive: The methane time bomb

>> However, since 2003 he reported a rising number of methane "hotspots", which have now been confirmed using more sensitive instruments on board the Jacob Smirnitskyi.

Sounds like the "hotspots" were not as readily apparent in 2008 as these kilometer wide plumes in 2011. The pace of this is intimidating.
posted by Lon Mem at 11:11 PM on December 13, 2011


There's some real information hiding out in a couple of comments, but you guys certainly make it hard to find.

Let's make it easy. zomg is an oceanologist.
posted by Wolof at 11:11 PM on December 13, 2011


I will admit that climate change exists when...

1) The arctic starts farting
2) Polar bears cannibalize each other
3) I forget the third




/sarcasm.

On preview, what The Whelk said.
posted by arcticseal at 11:18 PM on December 13, 2011


The Monkey People of Earth suck.

August, 2012: "Oh, shit! There's life on Mars!"

September, 2012: "What's that smell?"

October, 2012: silence.

The Immutable Law of All Things: "He who smelt it, dealt it."

That's the Higgs, people.
posted by Lon Mem at 11:27 PM on December 13, 2011


Google the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). It pretty much describes the exact level of fuckedness we should expect. Time scale? 100 years, maybe.

Zomg, could you please expand on the 100 yr timescale? I've googled PETM, but it apparently happened over 20000 yrs...
posted by c13 at 11:44 PM on December 13, 2011


After the tsunami, there was a handy website someone showed me that told you how high sea levels would have to rise before your house was underwater. Even though I live in Japan, I've got about 19-22 meters or so before I need to worry. At least we'll be dry while we starve.

The Sheep Look Up (and Shockwave Rider, and Stand On Zanzibar) is down right prophetic, as far as I'm concerned. See also Make Room, Make Room. Ignore the movie, Soylent Green was a new brand of soy and lentil paste in cake/biscuit form. Nuclear subs converted to giant fake whales/baleen sifters to make krill cakes. Should be required reading.
posted by Ghidorah at 11:47 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Sheep Look Up does kind of tip over into self parody towards the end when someone uses a *gasp!* microwave oven and microwaves leak from it and cook thier unborn child - Look what you've done, mankind! You've gone too far! You've played god! This is what your love of convenience food hast wrought!

OK, yeah, it was 1972, and in genral it's an excellent book that still stands up.
posted by Artw at 11:53 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


smoke, it's a discussion board. I don't know what to tell you.

I can't wait for the right-wing spin on this one.
posted by JHarris at 12:20 AM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


@curious_nu:

link to the poster by Semiletov et al at AGU

Earlier they have said April-ish is when the full report with analysis will be ready.
posted by lastobelus at 12:51 AM on December 14, 2011


[Deleted a bunch of comments, because seriously, if anyone did want to actually discuss the post, it was going to be impossible to wade through about a hundred jokes first.]
posted by taz at 2:00 AM on December 14, 2011


I'm in the 'i'd like to see the science' camp, not because I have any especial climate science training, but because people trying to scam me always kick off with claims that sound big. "Thousands of computer users get phished every hour - mcaffee", "cellpone radiation limits exceeded by double", and whatever. I don't know if kilometer wide methane plumes of unspecified concentration are serious or not.
It sure sounds apocalyptic, but it wouldn't surprise me to find out it was 0.1% of Australia's global warming gas output. I'm in no way denying AGW, and I support all sane measures to counter greenhouse gas emission, but I'd like to know just how big a deal this is before hunkering down in my mountain retreat (fooled you - already hunkered down).
posted by bystander at 2:08 AM on December 14, 2011


if anyone did want to actually discuss the post, it was going to be impossible to wade through about a hundred jokes first

That's some serious question-begging, there.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:49 AM on December 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


[Deleted a bunch of comments, because seriously, if anyone did want to actually discuss the post, it was going to be impossible to wade through about a hundred jokes first.]

:(
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:05 AM on December 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


Wait til Newt gets ahold of this.
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 3:44 AM on December 14, 2011


Bystander wrote: I'm in the 'i'd like to see the science' camp [...]

Me too, but there have been reports of this on a smaller scale going back a few years. The difference with this report is that the release of methane is apparently massive. Clathrates are kept stable by temperature and pressure. We can presume that the pressure hasn't been changing, so the fact they're breaking down means that warming has been going on. And if released methane can significantly affect temperatures - especially local temperatures - then you get a runaway process that might not stop until all the clathrates are gone. So it's scary for two reasons: it's scary because it's happening, when it shouldn't be happening at all, and it's scary because the potential consequences are massive.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:32 AM on December 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Didn't anybody read The Swarm?

It's obviously ice worms.
posted by From Bklyn at 4:38 AM on December 14, 2011


Yes, what's scary is that while any methane released today will be gone in 10 years, the methane could keep escaping for quite some time, each "burp" with its own 10 year window. We might be able to handle 10 years of weird weather, but what other processes would that weird weather trigger, which could have consequences far longer than 10 years?
posted by gjc at 6:15 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm glib about them because I'm seat-belted in the back seat, ....

Occupy the Front Seat!
posted by benito.strauss at 6:22 AM on December 14, 2011


Well the worst would be over in 10 or 20 years, but then you still have all the extra CO2.

And Florida being underwater and all.
posted by empath at 6:23 AM on December 14, 2011



Can't think of anything glib to say. This scares the everloving shit out of me.


It reminds of Richard Feynman's post bomb daze, during which he claimed he'd witness workers building a bridge or a skyscraper and think to himself, "Those fools, don't they know that we're doomed."

I have given serious thought to how the hell you shrug off that sense of doom, and the best I can come up with is keep on truckin'.

This is really damn bad, and it should motivate us to do everything we can to fix the world, fix our consumption levels, and be the best people we can be. Even the most pessimistic understanding of climate change doesn't include human extinction. It's never hopeless. If nothing else, there will still be pieces to pick up later, and like Richard Feynman we might look forty years from now and realize that the world is still turning. We need to act out of a sense that we can improve that future, not in a desperate frenzy of grief stricken doom and self flagellation.
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:38 AM on December 14, 2011 [3 favorites]



I can't wait for the right-wing spin on this one.
posted by JHarris at 12:20 AM on December 14 [1 favorite +] [!]


Atmosphere richer with methane than previously thought:

Russian scientists discover unprecedented supply of methane gas under the arctic sea ice. With proper harvesting techniques we could have enough methane to last us forever.
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:41 AM on December 14, 2011


There's a good article from RealClimate last year (when methane hit the news then).


A couple of salient snips:
Is now the time to get frightened?


No. CO2 is plenty to be frightened of, while methane is frosting on the cake. Imagine you are in a Toyota on the highway at 60 miles per hour approaching stopped traffic, and you find that the brake pedal is broken. This is CO2. Then you figure out that the accelerator has also jammed, so that by the time you hit the truck in front of you, you will be going 90 miles per hour instead of 60. This is methane. Is now the time to get worried? No, you should already have been worried by the broken brake pedal. Methane sells newspapers, but it’s not the big story, nor does it look to be a game changer to the big story, which is CO2.
&
Could this be the first modest sprout of what will grow into a huge carbon feedback in the future? It is possible, but two things should be kept in mind. One is that there’s no reason to fixate on methane in particular. Methane is a transient gas in the atmosphere, while CO2 essentially accumulates in the atmosphere / ocean carbon cycle, so in the end the climate forcing from the accumulating CO2 that methane oxidizes into may be as important as the transient concentration of methane itself. The other thing to remember is that there’s no reason to fixate on methane hydrates in particular, as opposed to the carbon stored in peats in Arctic permafrosts for example. Peats take time to degrade but hydrate also takes time to melt, limited by heat transport. They don’t generally explode instantaneously.

For methane to be a game-changer in the future of Earth’s climate, it would have to degas to the atmosphere catastrophically, on a time scale that is faster than the decadal lifetime of methane in the air. So far no one has seen or proposed a mechanism to make that happen.
I'd suspect what it could do, however, is reduce the amount of time before certain repercussions and levels become locked in and irreversible.

Also: Setting fire to a frozen lake from the BBC Earth Power of the Planet series.
posted by titus-g at 7:45 AM on December 14, 2011 [7 favorites]


On the plus side, this gives humanity the unprecedented opportunity to set the Arctic Ocean on fire.

Although I favourited this as excellent gallows humour, after 24 hours of dwelling on the story it really does seem like the most pragmatic, cost-effective action we could take to buy us some time (assuming that we like Venice and peacetime and stuff). Send a bunch of ships around the Arctic Ocean to set the plumes on fire.

What an awful realisation.

I got that wrong. Methane accounts for 20% of global warming. Big difference, sorry. Frozen hydrates account for 4% of methane emissions. Humans account for 55% of methane emissions.

Just did some rough calculations on the basis of this. If we call the level of global warming pre-hydrates-melting G, then

Contribution of methane = 0.2G
Frozen hydrates = 0.04 x 0.2G = 0.008G
Everything else = 0.992G

Apparently "forcing from methane and nitrous oxide is proportional to the square root of concentrations", so if the concentration of methane emitted by melting hydrates increases by a factor of 100 ("the concentration was a hundred times higher than normal"), their overall contribution increases to 10 x 0.008G = 0.08G, almost matching the human-derived methane output of 0.11G, and the total level of global warming goes to 1.072G.

Not quite the bang of the clathrate gun, maybe, but still pretty terrible. Judging by those NOAA graphs, it took about 20-25 years for CO2 concentrations to increase by that proportion.

But until we know whether that "factor of 100" is really 10 or 100 or 1000, we can't be sure. If it's 1000 we're talking a doubling of previous levels of warming overall. All aboard the flamethrower ships!
posted by rory at 7:49 AM on December 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


This ain't my thing, Wolof, but thanks anyway ;)

c13, yeah, that's right. The point is (as another really perceptive poster observed above) we're not going to experience the worst of this personally. It is for future generations to experience. But I would say they'll have to evacuate some major coastal cities and minor tropical islands in 100 years. That's what some of the so-called "worst case" scenarios have forecast (and we know now that the worst case is in fact worse than the scenario, ha ha).

The PETM is the best analogy in the fossil record to what is happening today with a rapid, out-of-equilibrium increase in CO2 coupled with a lot of warming. Currently people who study this stuff (not me!) are taking pains to point out the differences, so it's not a perfect analogy. But the increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases occurring now is way faster than it was at the beginning of the PETM so there is really no fossil record precedent for this.
posted by zomg at 8:25 AM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Even the most pessimistic understanding of climate change doesn't include human extinction.

Cultural extinction is more than enough to worry about.
posted by rory at 8:31 AM on December 14, 2011


Meta.
posted by Dasein at 8:33 AM on December 14, 2011



Cultural extinction is more than enough to worry about.

How many languages disappear every day again?
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:48 AM on December 14, 2011


How many languages disappear every day again?

I'm not sure what you're getting at. Should we be pleased if Dutch and Flemish join the list? How about Amsterdam and Bruges? Or central London? Or any number of beaches and coral reefs?

The human population could fall by 99% and we still wouldn't be extinct. Good luck getting a cellphone signal, though.
posted by rory at 9:04 AM on December 14, 2011


Sorry, I'll clarify.

I want to imply that we're already seeing cultures vanish at an unprecedented rate. As with global warming and the level of species extinctions we're seeing, the bad stuff is already happening, we're just watching it get worse. It's a reality that we live with, and yeah, it's really horribly troubling.

I'm not suggesting that this is a good thing at all. I'm saying that there will be something left when it all settles down, and that we may want to organize with an awareness of that, and not a sense of utter hopelessness.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:12 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]



The human population could fall by 99% and we still wouldn't be extinct. Good luck getting a cellphone signal, though.


Maybe I just don't understand your argument Rory. All I'm really reading is, "lots of people dying is a bad thing," which is indisputably true.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:13 AM on December 14, 2011


Is it possible to harvest the methane for fuel? Sorry if it's a dumb question.

Human ingenuity needs to ramp up and deal. The US head-in-the-sand policy is bad capitalism. In the free market, people who steal resources (clean air, clean water, stable ecosystem) are supposed to be held accountable. The insurance companies, who have to pay tornado and hurricane claims, and lots more, should be re-thinking their stance.
posted by theora55 at 9:14 AM on December 14, 2011


Human ingenuity or not, the human race is going to die out. Anyone who denies this, or thinks we can stop it, is wrong.
posted by agregoli at 9:16 AM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


The human population could fall by 99% and we still wouldn't be extinct. Good luck getting a cellphone signal, though.

You say that like it's a bad thing.

I'm not suggesting that this is a good thing at all. I'm saying that there will be something left when it all settles down, and that we may want to organize with an awareness of that, and not a sense of utter hopelessness.

I like this sentiment a lot. I'd put in an admonishment about complacency, but those who are inclined to be complacent are going to be so no matter what so that would be unhelpful.

The insurance companies, who have to pay tornado and hurricane claims, and lots more, should be re-thinking their stance.

I can assure you they are way ahead of all of us. But like the rest of the 1% their strategy is centered around getting rich now so they can assure their survival in the future.
posted by zomg at 9:17 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sounds like a potential bonanza for methanotrophs (methane-eating bacteria). The Arctic ones I am most familiar with are aerobic ones living in tundra/wetlands. However, there are definitely plenty of methanotrophs that are happy in the ocean - there are anaerobic ones like the species found in the Black Sea, and there are aerobic, like the ones that helped clean up the methane emissions associated with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. I would be shocked if there weren't psychrophilic (cold-loving) methanotrophs of either or both varieties in the Arctic Ocean as well.

There's a surprisingly decent Scientific American article on the possibility of Arctic methanotrophs addressing emissions from methane clathrates. Depending on the scale of the methane emissions, one researcher suggests that the bacteria might actually run out of certain resources (e.g. copper or iron, which respectively are thought to be in the active sites of the two alternate methane-oxidizing enzymes in aerobic methanotrophs) - that would imply a pretty amazingly vast methanotrophic bloom. Such massive depletion of stuff like oxygen or nitrates or copper or iron would have serious and unpleasant effects for any other organisms in the area... though arguably a regional disaster might still be better than the world-wide disaster of methane-aided climate change.

I wonder what these huge methane "torches" mean for a non-methanotroph-related theory mentioned in that article - the theory that a layer of cold, dense (comparatively) fresh water on top of the warmer brine might help contain methane emissions.
posted by ubersturm at 9:24 AM on December 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


You say that like it's a bad thing.

Yes, I do. I could equally have said "good luck finding a book to read", or "good luck finding modern medication". If the day comes when our descendents can't hear a recording or performance of Beethoven's 9th, we'll have become the equivalent of an octogenarian with dementia. There's not much solace in that.
posted by rory at 9:34 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe I just don't understand your argument Rory. All I'm really reading is, "lots of people dying is a bad thing," which is indisputably true.

In the words of a famous jedi that "depends greatly on your point of view". Yeah sure for the majority of the human population it's a bad thing. From the perspective of the small minority which actually runs the show; a large portion of humanity dieing off may not sound like such a bad idea.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 9:46 AM on December 14, 2011


> From the perspective of the small minority which actually runs the show; a large portion of humanity dieing off may not sound like such a bad idea.

This is just conjecture. You don't know that the ranks of billionaires are eager to have a massive die-off. Their wealth and power derives from having so many layers underneath them.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:50 AM on December 14, 2011


You say that like it's a bad thing.

Yes, for all its faults I'm going to come down on the side of the collapse of our highly abstract global civilization back to a pre-industrial level with a vastly reduced human population being a net bad thing.
posted by Naberius at 9:50 AM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


That said, consider the Black Death. If you were one of the third of Europe that died, that was probably a bad thing. If you were one of the survivors, or their descendants, who effectively got the modern world as the legacy of all that death, maybe not so bad.
posted by Naberius at 9:51 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is just conjecture. You don't know that the ranks of billionaires are eager to have a massive die-off. Their wealth and power derives from having so many layers underneath them.

True. That is why I said "may not sound like a bad idea".
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 9:55 AM on December 14, 2011



That said, consider the Black Death. If you were one of the third of Europe that died, that was probably a bad thing. If you were one of the survivors, or their descendants, who effectively got the modern world as the legacy of all that death, maybe not so bad.


It was a bad thing for centuries.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:00 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Those interested in possible solutions to the problem of CO2 emissions might want to look at the recent conference, "Towards Global Artificial Photosynthesis."
posted by No Robots at 10:22 AM on December 14, 2011


FWIW I specifically meant cell phone signal, but seriously: if we continue to base our economies around "growth" then, well, a correction (meaning a humanitarian disaster that will make the black death look like the common cold) would seem to be inevitable. Ain't y'all read Malthus? ;)

Sounds like a potential bonanza for methanotrophs (methane-eating bacteria)

Yes! As was the Deepwater Horizon spill. I saw some great talks recently about the fate of dissolved gases such as methane originating from the spill. They disappeared remarkably quickly, and oxygen anomalies suggested the gases had been consumed by bacteria. This remains controversial.
posted by zomg at 10:29 AM on December 14, 2011


Boggles my mind that anyone could seriously consider killing off, say, 90% of the population as a Good Thing. We're not talking about numbers on a pie chart here. Assuming you survive, we're talking your parents, your children, your spouse/lover, your friends... most of them dead, by violence, disease, or starvation, with you helpless to prevent it. How can any non-sociopath possibly be okay with this, much less tout it as a Good Thing, even in an intellectual argument??
posted by LordSludge at 10:36 AM on December 14, 2011


LordSludge, maybe to some the survival of the biosphere and flora and fauna are more important than the survival of the majority of the humans currently inhabiting said biosphere.
posted by schyler523 at 10:41 AM on December 14, 2011


Only a barbarian sees mass die-off as a solution. So, what, the survivors get to continue in the life-style to which they have become accustomed?

A scientist seeks a solution that maximizes the quality of life of all biota, including humans.
posted by No Robots at 10:46 AM on December 14, 2011


We already know that the last time atmospheric CO2 was at today's levels was 15 million years ago, when "global temperatures were 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher than they are today, the sea level was approximately 75 to 120 feet higher than today, there was no permanent sea ice cap in the Arctic and very little ice on Antarctica and Greenland." This kind of positive feedback--Arctic warming leads to methane release, which leads to more warming--can cause really drastic changes.

There's a possible emergency solution: simulate a continuous Mt. Pinatubo eruption, using sulfur dioxide emissions. An Atlantic Monthly article from July/August 2009: Re-Engineering the Earth.
As the threat of global warming grows more urgent, a few scientists are considering radical—and possibly extremely dangerous—schemes for reengineering the climate by brute force. Their ideas are technologically plausible and quite cheap. So cheap, in fact, that a rich and committed environmentalist could act on them tomorrow. And that’s the scariest part.
It'd be a last-ditch solution, like trying to stave off the effects of one poison by taking another.

A more rational solution would be to use a carbon tax to reduce emissions:
If you look at the most recent report of the International Energy Agency, the 2011 World Energy Outlook, they lay out a policy pathway for their 450ppm scenario - the scenario which they say equates to a 50/50 chance of keeping global climate change below 2 degrees C. Their policies define a pathway to 2020 based on carbon price equivalents, or shadow values, which measure the stringency of regulations on a common footing with carbon taxes or cap-and-trade policies by looking at the net costs imposed on firms. Most importantly, they impose similar actions rather than similar reductions on all industrialized countries. Their pathway? Make sure that all emissions reduction opportunities costing less than about $40/ton in industrialized countries are realized by 2020, and all of those costing less than $120/ton are realized by 2050.
Unfortunately, it seems that a lot of people aren't able to imagine that we're really facing catastrophic changes to the climate. They'd rather believe that climate change is a Big Lie.
posted by russilwvong at 11:16 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]




LordSludge, maybe to some the survival of the biosphere and flora and fauna are more important than the survival of the majority of the humans currently inhabiting said biosphere.


Do you imagine an outcome where humans quietly vanish, while other species and their habitats are miraculously preserved?
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:28 AM on December 14, 2011


Nope, but I also don't imagine an outcome where humans remain and species and their habitats are preserved...it's pretty much a lose lose situation.
posted by schyler523 at 11:35 AM on December 14, 2011


German Climate Change Jokes

Q: Why did the polar bear mama eat polar bear baby?
A: The early thawing of the seasonal ice shelf meant that she was unable to hunt, and was starving.

Q: Why was the Eskimo* mad about climate change?
A: Because the Earth became an uninhabitable apocalyptic hell.

Q: What did the researcher do when the methane geyser started spraying into the air?
A: Wept, because he knew these findings meant that even the most pessimistic predictions given by current models were woefully conservative.


*Germans aren't up on the correct terminology yet.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:49 AM on December 14, 2011 [15 favorites]


LordSludge, 90% population reduction doesn't necessarily mean "killing" 6+ billion people in a decade or two, it may mean a 2~3% global population decline over a century or so, a very long time for any individual person but a blink of an eye in a geological (and, to a much lesser extent, even historical) timescale. Some developed countries are already experiencing such a decline, and it's not exactly hell-on-earth. Think 20th century in reverse, the population didn't jump from 1.5 billion to 6 billion within a generation.
posted by Bangaioh at 11:55 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


And let's face it, climate change is going to hit developed countries worst. And also history shows us that people in inclement conditions breed less, resulting in a natural lowering of the population. Yes, this is the case.


So, anyway, as an addendum to the doomsday clock of our 80's nightmares... the PPM clock: http://co2now.org/

Not that a linear indicator is a much use in a non-linear system, but until it reaches the much vaunted and anodyne 450ppm we can at least pretend it's all OK.
posted by titus-g at 12:11 PM on December 14, 2011


That said, consider the Black Death. If you were one of the third of Europe that died, that was probably a bad thing. If you were one of the survivors, or their descendants, who effectively got the modern world as the legacy of all that death, maybe not so bad.

And if you weren't European, well, sheeeeeeeit.
posted by mek at 2:30 PM on December 14, 2011


Unfortunately, it seems that a lot of people aren't able to imagine that we're really facing catastrophic changes to the climate. They'd rather believe that climate change is a Big Lie.

Don't worry about whether "other people" are living righteously or not. Worry about your own actions first.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:46 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's a relevant thread in Metatalk for you to launch your dopey invective, Lon Mem.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:59 PM on December 14, 2011


KokoRyu: Don't worry about whether "other people" are living righteously or not. Worry about your own actions first.

Sensible advice in many contexts, but not when it comes to climate change. This is a problem requiring collective action. As long as it's free to dump CO2 into the atmosphere, voluntary measures aren't going to work. (Jaccard and Rivers review the dismal record of Canadian policy between 1990 and 2005.)

There's a huge gap between the scientific understanding of what we need to do to prevent catastrophic climate change, and the actions that our political systems are capable of. Why does this gap exist, and what can we do to close it?

If we don't figure this out, my prediction is that pretty soon (within one or two generations), we're going to be fighting wars over whatever's left.
posted by russilwvong at 4:01 PM on December 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


[Comments removed. Metacommentary goes in Metatalk, Lon Mem; take it there if you need to.]
posted by cortex at 4:13 PM on December 14, 2011


Andrew Revkin (at the NYT Dot Earth blog) provides some reassurance that this isn't a tipping point. He refers to an earlier post, from 2010: The Heat Over Bubbling Arctic Methane.
posted by russilwvong at 4:38 PM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


>KokoRyu: Don't worry about whether "other people" are living righteously or not. Worry about your own actions first.

Sensible advice in many contexts, but not when it comes to climate change. This is a problem requiring collective action.


Well, focus on actions and habits instead of people. Creating this "most people don't think" or whatever bugbear is needlessly provocative. People are basically decent and want to do the right thing. Talk about behaviour, not individuals or groups.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:54 PM on December 14, 2011


Why does this gap exist, and what can we do to close it?

Rigorous, mandatory high school curriculum in:

...Scientific method

...History of science

...Philosophy of science

...Critical thinking skills

...Logic

...Argumentation

...Statistical methods and analysis

...Computational / computer skills


In other words, we're all fucked.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:13 PM on December 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Reading those links of Russilwvong's, was the first time I was able to breathe since first reading this thread. I don't know why Utter Choking Apocalypse is somehow more panic-inducing than Slow Drowning Except In Starving Dustbelt Apocalypse, but I'm glad to know that I'm not certain to perish from rampantly accelerated Venusification of the planet.
posted by mittens at 6:14 PM on December 14, 2011


90% population reduction doesn't necessarily mean "killing" 6+ billion people in a decade or two, it may mean a 2-3% global population decline over a century or so, a very long time for any individual person but a blink of an eye in a geological (and, to a much lesser extent, even historical) timescale. Some developed countries are already experiencing such a decline, and it's not exactly hell-on-earth. Think 20th century in reverse, the population didn't jump from 1.5 billion to 6 billion within a generation.

Hang on - exactly which developed countries are experiencing 2-3% population decline per year? And, more to the point, pain-free? Because on a global scale, that would be in the order of 150-200 million people per year. So, Eastern US next year, Western US the year after?

I'm as disturbed that people still expect limitless growth as many of us are here, and mourn plenty of things we might not have lost if the world population was still what it was when I was born (exactly half of today's). But when I contemplate what we could lose on the way back down to it, "not exactly hell-on-earth" isn't what springs to mind.

Our population spike, which is what it ultimately has to be one way or another, has brought us amazing riches in science, technology, medicine, communications and the arts - it hasn't all been fat cats swanning around in gold-plated Hummers. The riches that all that coal and oil bought us were ultimately cultural: we know so much more about the world than we did two hundred years ago. And we know more and more each year because there are more and more of us each year. We're tapping into knowledge economies of scale we didn't even know existed before. That's true even of countries whose populations are currently declining, but won't be if all countries start to decline.

Somewhere out there, people who couldn't possibly have met and worked with each other a century ago are working together now, on science or technology or international agreements or resistance movements that might conceivably get us out of this mess - and the most terrifying prospect is that we'll hit the wall before they reach their potential. The brownouts will start, flights will be cancelled, global trade routes will shrivel up, crops will fail, Moore's Law will stall, today's high tech will become tomorrow's scarce antiques, and all while countries everywhere deal with waves of refugees with all the tact and sensitivity we've come to expect.

The rational response to that sort of global existential crisis should be to go on the R&D equivalent of a war footing until we've addressed it or gone down fighting. But nobody wants to do that until there's an actual war. When that happens, it will indeed be hell-on-earth for far too many people, and the survivors won't be a Platonic elite of geeks and boffins living in an evergreen glade with access to free WiFi.
posted by rory at 6:17 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Rigorous, mandatory high school curriculum in:

[...]

...Philosophy of science


Would that it were so.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 6:20 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Would that it were so.

Popper, Kuhn, et al...
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:25 PM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


We already know that the last time atmospheric CO2 was at today's levels was 15 million years ago, when "global temperatures were 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher than they are today, the sea level was approximately 75 to 120 feet higher than today, there was no permanent sea ice cap in the Arctic and very little ice on Antarctica and Greenland."

Speaking of Greenland: Greenland rose faster as 100 billion tons of ice melted away
posted by homunculus at 6:50 PM on December 14, 2011


Speaking of Greenland: Greenland rose faster as 100 billion tons of ice melted away

Who knew it was only the weight of the ice that was keeping Greenland from flying off into space?

(I wonder if that will be deleted.)
posted by hippybear at 7:05 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


> Hang on - exactly which developed countries are experiencing 2-3% population decline per year?

I stand corrected, I thought that was about the rate of decline in Japan and some European countries but I was wrong by a more than a order of magnitude!


Our population spike, which is what it ultimately has to be one way or another, has brought us amazing riches in science, technology, medicine, communications and the arts - it hasn't all been fat cats swanning around in gold-plated Hummers

Absolutely. I never implied the decline will be a walk-in-the-park, just that the more important issue is how it will unfold, and what will society look like during and by the end of it. I'm sorry for the derail, though, since this thread isn't about population.

posted by Bangaioh at 9:18 AM on December 15, 2011


ZenMasterThis: I don't think the issue is understanding the science. The science is pretty simple: by digging up and burning fossil fuels, we're steadily injecting more CO2 into the atmosphere, which traps additional heat. Like being in a parked car on a hot day.

Some diagrams:
Temperature record for the last 20,000 years (source). Climate changes naturally (angle of the sun, volcanic activity, weathering of rocks), but it's been stable for the past 10,000 years, which as far as we're concerned might as well be infinite--that's 100 lifetimes.

Greenhouse effect (source).

Carbon cycle (source).

CO2 emissions: current (source), historical (source).

CO2 levels: current (source), historical (source).

Estimates of climate sensitivity to doubling CO2 (source).
What's much more difficult to understand is what to do about it. It's a policymaking problem. We depend heavily on fossil fuels for transportation and power generation. If we cut down on fossil fuels, are there substitutes that we can use instead? How expensive will it be to make this transition? Why should one country take on these costs, when there's no way to force other countries to do the same?

As I said earlier, I think the most promising answer is to use a gradually rising carbon tax, offset by corresponding cuts to income taxes, to switch over to carbon-neutral alternatives (carbon capture and storage, renewables, nuclear, conservation). Paul Krugman. William Nordhaus. But we don't have much time. Jaccard and Rivers, writing in 2006:
The growing consensus of scientists and governments around the world is that to reduce the damage from climate change to an acceptable level, the atmospheric concentration of CO2 should be stabilized at 450 to 550 ppm, which is about one and a half to two times the pre-industrial concentration. Since global energy demand is projected to grow at least threefold over the next 100 years, stabilization at this level implies that energy-related CO2 emissions must fall by 75 percent to 90 percent from current levels in the course of this century. Given the inertia of long-lived capital stocks (transportation infrastructure, energy distribution networks, buildings, electricity generating stations, large industrial plants, petroleum refineries and mines), GHG emissions must be reduced during the next three decades if the longer-term goal is to be reached.
posted by russilwvong at 12:25 PM on December 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


KokoRyu: People are basically decent and want to do the right thing.

In everyday life, sure.

But without wanting to be inflammatory or provocative, I would contend that when there's a conflict of interests (and any significant policy will impose both costs and benefits), people will often become combative. See the comments on this Australian government website, for example.

Also, when faced with a looming catastrophe of this magnitude, escapism is a natural reaction. Escapism can take many forms: ignoring the problem; vehemently denying that it exists; giving up in despair; blaming; looking for magic solutions. These all serve as emotional substitutes for what seems unattainable: actually solving the problem.
posted by russilwvong at 12:39 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]




Another story on permafrost: Thawing permafrost could speed global warming, researchers warn.
The scientists say the carbon released from the permafrost will be an "important amplifier" of climate change, and is in some ways more problematic than fossil fuel emissions: "It occurs in remote places, far from human influence and is dispersed across the landscape."

"Trapping carbon emissions at the source — as one might do at power plants — is not an option," they say. "And once the soils thaw, emissions are likely to continue for decades, or even centuries."
posted by russilwvong at 7:26 PM on December 17, 2011


It’s important to keep these details—including the difference between terrestrial and oceanic permafrost emission—in mind, because they have direct bearing on the “list of scientific concerns about global warming” that Gillis mentioned, and on how we might prioritize various measures to address climate change.

For instance, the forty-one scientists writing in Nature emphasized that, “despite the massive amount of carbon in permafrost soils, emissions from these soils are unlikely to overshadow those from the burning of fossil fuels, which will continue to be the main source of climate forcing.”

Comments like that should make people think twice about proposals to geo-engineer a cooling effect in the Arctic, such as one recently presented at the American Geophysical Union and described in an article at New Scientist.

How problematic methane (and carbon dioxide) from Arctic permafrost will be remains a mystery. A useful 2010 overview in the journal Science, titled “How Stable Is the Methane Cycle?”, emphasized the importance of resolving lingering uncertainties. Thankfully, researchers are on the case, according to a December 19 article in Nature, which highlighted the fact “permafrost science is heating up in the United States.”


From the Columbia Journalism Review: Methane Mysteries - Coverage of permafrost melt creates confusion about level of worry

Keep Calm and Carry On.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 1:12 PM on December 21, 2011




Record Temperatures at South Pole
posted by jeffburdges at 7:48 AM on December 29, 2011


New RealClimate article on methane: It’s the CO2, friend.
posted by Bangaioh at 12:28 PM on January 4, 2012


And another one: An Arctic methane worst-case scenario.
posted by Bangaioh at 12:06 PM on January 7, 2012


« Older City of Fear   |   The Single Lane Superhighway Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post