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Apocalypse, Schmapocalypse
October 10, 2005 9:24 AM   Subscribe

Global warming -- the upside: the entrepreneurs poised to make millions from new ports and shipping lanes in the formerly ice-bound Arctic circle. A fascinating New York Times article on the international land-grab following the news (reported here, discussed here, whitewashed here, et. al.) that the polar ice caps and Siberian permafrost are melting. Goodbye Gulf Stream, hello Club Med Santa-style -- first SUV to the North Pole wins!
posted by digaman (53 comments total)

 
And all those species endangered by the climate change? If they die, that's just more room for condos! Awesome!

Heck - maybe there's even oil at the North Pole! Wouldn't that just beat all?

The future is a bright, sunny, natureless wonderland!
posted by ToasT at 9:30 AM on October 10, 2005


Meanwhile, it might be time to start looking into building beachside resorts in Arizona.
posted by digaman at 9:33 AM on October 10, 2005


The age of irony not only isn't dead, it appears to have reached some demented new apex - a mad rush for oil under the polar ice cap that's melting because of all the oil we burned.

This isn't rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic; this is sitting down on the deck and starting to build a few new chairs out of the wood that splintered off the hull when the boat hit the iceberg.
posted by gompa at 9:48 AM on October 10, 2005


First SUV to the North Pole wins!

If the polar ice cap is melting, hadn't that SUV better be amphibious?
posted by alumshubby at 9:51 AM on October 10, 2005


no, this is using the deck chairs as axe handles to further cut holes in the hull...
posted by inthe80s at 9:51 AM on October 10, 2005


> amphibious?

We're talking global hottening, baby.
posted by digaman at 10:03 AM on October 10, 2005


Look, if this "ice", or whatever it is, can't adapt and change with the times, then the hell with it!

PROGRESS, baby!
posted by wakko at 10:08 AM on October 10, 2005


There are vast stores of frozen methane on the ocean floors.

When these melt it is game over. Period. There is no surviving it.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:20 AM on October 10, 2005


There are vast stores of frozen methane on the ocean floors.

When these melt it is game over. Period. There is no surviving it.


That's OK, because Jesus will come back long before then.
posted by mullingitover at 10:32 AM on October 10, 2005


Couldn't we just light a match?
posted by wakko at 10:32 AM on October 10, 2005


More irony.. old people from the northern states migrate south to retire where its warmer.. animals and species are migrating northward to stay within their normal range as global temps increase.. humans evolved in the warm African coastal regions.. consciously as individuals, or through unconscious collective group action, we are terraforming the world to our native comfort zone.
posted by stbalbach at 10:33 AM on October 10, 2005


Reminds me of people who say destruction caused by hurricanes is good because it stimulates construction business.
I enjoy hammering nails into my skull because it feels so good when I stop.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:38 AM on October 10, 2005


There are vast stores of frozen methane on the ocean floors.

When these melt it is game over. Period. There is no surviving it.


The artic has melted before.
posted by delmoi at 10:42 AM on October 10, 2005


The destruction of the hurricanes is more or less the fallacy of the broken window. It is even debatable as to whether that fallacy applies as the new construction actually is a true improvement (as far as building materials, standards and other technological improvements of the last century) or just replacing the old.

This is an increase of natural resources, which along with other qualifiers (innovation, man power, etc.) propels the economy forward. More resources being availabe for extraction at reduced prices and more habitable land are good for the economy. Of course we all know what's good for the economy is not always good for the evironment.
posted by geoff. at 10:49 AM on October 10, 2005


Hmmm. http://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en-us&q=frozen+methane+on+the+ocean+floor+we're+all+going+to+die

Ah what the hell. Where the hell is that waiter? The service here on the passenger deck is getting awful.
posted by jokeefe at 11:06 AM on October 10, 2005


Churchill, half way down the west coast of Hudson Bay with a small population, no rail, secondary roads at best, to become a major port? Nonsense.
posted by wrapper at 11:41 AM on October 10, 2005


The artic has melted before.
posted by delmoi at 1:42 PM EST on October 10 [!]


That's true, but the last time the artic melted was (as near as scientists can place it) 50 million years ago, before humans and human civilzation were around.
posted by Rothko at 11:42 AM on October 10, 2005


Frankly, since the development of agriculture and language, humanity has dug itself a hole so deep that the only way out is through.

I see our only salvation is in the development of an intelligent artificial ecosystem capable of recycling and reusing the remains of human waste. Epigenetic evolution has left us, as a species, without a milieu, we have no context, there is virtually no species(save the cockroach, rat, and domesticated animals) that depend on us for survival and are capable of transmuting our detritus and waste into useable raw materials. We have no fungi that can decompose plastic.

We are, however, on the verge (I know the "flying cars and awesome robots" future has always been and always will be fifty years away) of developing an artificial fungi, bio-mimicry on a systemic, pervasive, and intelligent level. We have to build the equivalent of our own god damned carbon cycle, a krebs cycle for out interaction with the world. The problems of living things has been solved, but we, with our culture, our words, our literally lightening speed adaptation to environments that are both foreign and the product of our own artifice, which we were neither evolved to inhabit nor capable of managing in accord with the truly Macro-Level economics of the environment (where energy and matter are the currency, and genetics are the agents) have advanced beyond the support structures that nature provides.

We are an alien species, and as such, we have but two options, either, wax and wane, subject to the availability of energy and matter, and the earth's overwhelmed ability to refresh it's stores for our plundering, or we build our own ecology, with our own producers, consumers, decomposers, miniature minions, a host of nanobots, mimicking our mono-cellular friends, filling niches that nature is simply too slow to fill.

The problems have been solved by nature. Some small subset of humanity, concerned, concentrated, intelligent and driven to survive can create the necessary tools. (I would argue that some currently are, though perhaps they don't know it yet)

What won't change, and what hasn't largely changed, is the mindset of the masses. Culture, while the fastest means of evolution yet, left to it's own devices and in the aggregate, moves astonishingly slow with respect to it's behaviors and attitudes, relative to it's capabilities to vastly alter the world around it. Most of humanity still behaves much like they did in when the species first graced the globe: The more you consume, the more likely you are to pass along your genes. The types of consumption have changed radically, the nature of that consumption, but the basic principle remains the same.

So given the options, and the various rates of change in technology versus the rate of change of aggregate behavior with respect to material and consumption, I'm going to have to say, with some trepidation, technology is our only hope.
posted by Freen at 11:42 AM on October 10, 2005


Our only salvation is to bioengineer cockroaches with human brains. Our weak human bodies will likely not survive drastic climate changes, but the roaches will probably make it through in some evolved, if disgusting fashion.
posted by Rothko at 11:49 AM on October 10, 2005


This has the chance of a snowball in hell. No, wait...
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:49 AM on October 10, 2005


Our only salvation is to bioengineer cockroaches with human brains.

There are so many different ways to go with this . . . I can't decide. Never mind.
posted by ToasT at 12:01 PM on October 10, 2005


If these deposits of methane are reachable, we should be developing them as fuel, not fretting them as our demise... natural gases burn much cleaner than heavier hydrocarbons and coal. Granted, it's not solving the problem in a "Green" friendly way, but it does solve the problem...

If the deposits are reachable. Which, I might add, we develop methane deposits daily where I work. There'd be a lot of people freezing in the winters without natural gas heat... Again, that's not doing much to resolve any existing long term problems, but it's what we have right now.
posted by DuffStone at 12:16 PM on October 10, 2005


"We have to build the equivalent of our own god damned carbon cycle, a krebs cycle for out interaction with the world."

That'd be great. Although we've let a lot of good ideas and efficient concepts slip past us in the name of greed before. Why should this age be any different simply because our survival as a civilization depends on it?
I suppose we'll have to work harder at it.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:17 PM on October 10, 2005


If these deposits of methane are reachable, we should be developing them as fuel, not fretting them as our demise... natural gases burn much cleaner than heavier hydrocarbons and coal. Granted, it's not solving the problem in a "Green" friendly way, but it does solve the problem...
posted by DuffStone at 3:16 PM EST on October 10 [!]


Using methane as a fuel:

CH4 + 2O2 -> CO2 + 2H2O + energy

If you're still releasing the same molar content of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, it wouldn't seem to make much of a difference.
posted by Rothko at 12:22 PM on October 10, 2005


Rothko, methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, so it would be better to burn it than to let it melt and get into the atmosphere.
posted by atrazine at 12:50 PM on October 10, 2005


Good point. How much oxygen would be consumed in burning the large deposits of methane ice and where will the waste heat energy go?
posted by Rothko at 1:05 PM on October 10, 2005


You'd have to figure in the rates of which the methane melted and the rates it was absorbed into the atmosphere and the rates it can burn. There's way too many variables as methane will not all at once go *poof*.

There's a lot of methane out there, I don't know how it compares to oil deposits as far as the ability to exploit it -- but it is several times more expensive to extract hydrogen from methane than converting oil into something usable.
posted by geoff. at 1:21 PM on October 10, 2005


Wrapper, while I agree that Churchill isn't going to magically become a major port, Churchill does indeed have rail access, and hooks into Canada's coast to coast VIA rail lines at Winnipeg. It's not a -completely- insane idea for goods to move from Churchill to points all over Canada, and even to the U.S. via Buffalo or Detroit, if the price is right.
posted by Pufferish at 1:54 PM on October 10, 2005


Churchill, half way down the west coast of Hudson Bay with a small population, no rail, secondary roads at best, to become a major port? Nonsense.

Tell that to the Hudson's Bay Company.
posted by gompa at 2:08 PM on October 10, 2005


"The ice caps are melting, tra-la-la-la!,

all the world is drowning, tra la la la la!,

the ice caps are melting, the tide is rushing in;

here comes the water to wash away our sins ... ."


By Tiny Tim, from "God Bless Tiny Tim", 1968.



Depending on the speed of the transition, we may not succeed in touching off vast superstorm/z ( which are hypothetical creatures currently anyway ) but temporary Thermohaline cessation is guaranteed. Without that heat transport, regular 'ol weather will become a bit more exciting :

England, The Nordic countries, and parts of Europe - as well as New England, Nova Scotia, and the Canadian maritime region, would become quite a bit colder.

But not the whole Earth ( unless we set off a really nasty climate flip, whatever causes those - superstorms or stampedes of ice monsters ) and so the heat diffential between - say - Ohio and New England would be considerably greater. I guess storms would move faster and be more energetic. Hurricanes would get a lot bigger too.

I think all of those speculators should read up on the latest Thermohalinen current research before they start salivating over plastering the far north with cookie cuttered suburbia.

Warning - I am not a meteorologist, and I am only correct approximately 97.529858394575 % of the time. But I know a lot of pointless things and used to play a mean 12 string slide guitar before I stepped on it.
posted by troutfishing at 2:27 PM on October 10, 2005


> Depending on the speed of the transition, we may not succeed in touching
> off vast superstorm/z ( which are hypothetical creatures currently anyway )
> but temporary Thermohaline cessation is guaranteed. Without that heat
> transport, regular 'ol weather will become a bit more exciting :

Sounds like a whale of a lot of fun. Different from boring mundane everyday life, anyway. Bring it on.
posted by jfuller at 2:45 PM on October 10, 2005


Tell that to NO, jfuller. Sheesh.
posted by jokeefe at 2:50 PM on October 10, 2005


Sounds like a whale of a lot of fun. Different from boring mundane everyday life, anyway. Bring it on.

What are you, retarded? Or just a huge smart-ass?

What message could you possibly be trying to convey here?
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:56 PM on October 10, 2005


jfuller doesn't care about people who don't live in concrete re-inforced structures.
posted by Freen at 3:29 PM on October 10, 2005


> What message could you possibly be trying to convey here?

Message: nobody has established that changing weather conditions will be a bad thing, overall and considering everyone and everything affected. In fact I expect that the benefits to some people (and some life forms) will completely balance the costs to other people and life forms--and thus, overall, the world's agony/ecstasy ratio will not be affected. That, after all, was true of all previous thermal maxima (and minima, now you mention it.) Why should this one (assuming one occurs) be different? So far we've only heard from those who expect to lose in the exchange.
posted by jfuller at 3:36 PM on October 10, 2005


bah, you're missing what I'm saying and not seeing things in the context I was trying to use. The O&G industry, my company specifically, drills specifically for natural gas. "Natural Gas" is a broad definition for many types of gaseous and some liquid hydrocarbons. Methane is one of them, as well as ethane, propane, etc... These exist naturally as part of the decomposition process for organic (carbon based) life.

We drill, we burn, we release greenhouse gasses. I'm not arguing this point. The context I was trying to put forth, was that we drill for this now, if vast deposits exist in frozen land and in the ocean, why are we not exploring and developing these resources.

I understand your opinions on global warming, and although I have my own opinions that differ, the context which I was stating I believe is valid. IF these deposits are as vast as has been stated, I'd think that some Major or mid-major company would be working on ways to develop these resources. Especially if they're already frozen or in liquid form. (Liquid Natural gas, or LNG is hard as hell to deal with when pulling from the ground, if it's already in that form, it should be easy to keep that way when not dealing with the heat of the earth at depth.)

Anyway, sorry to derail the Global warming love fest here. I was just offering up an alternative to your "methane to kill the world" conundrum. If it's there, we should be developing it and using it before it can explode and cause a global event. Especially given that Natural Gasses burn MUCH cleaner than standard light & heavy crudes, and coal.

Zero petrocarbons might be the ultimate goal. However, migrating to cleaner fuels in the interim isn't necessarily a bad ideal.
posted by DuffStone at 3:43 PM on October 10, 2005


jfuller, shifting minima and maxima of all kinds of environmental conditions (food, temperature, oxygen content, acidity, etc.) faster than organisms can adjust causes population crashes (not just humans). We're already seeing species extinctions accelerate in line with upwards temperature range shifts.

While you might argue rhetorically that the earth will survive fine in the long run, I might ask if you think it would be bad that humans were extinct. Some people find that's a rational tack to take. However, I'm not sure many in this thread would agree, however, out of simple self-preservation instincts.

I would be in that same group, and would ask if you can clarify what you mean by good thing in the context of your comment above, and the knowledge we have about how sudden ecosystem changes cause mass extinction events that we may have a difficult time surviving.
posted by Rothko at 3:51 PM on October 10, 2005


Well, Even if GW is a real and present danger within the span of a few generations... or even preventable at this point... There's no way we as humanity can stop the cycle of species becoming extinct.

Contrary to popular belief, Humans have not caused the majority of extinction that have occurred. We have caused many, i'm not disputing that. But we have by no means been the great murder that some might portray.

Species will come and go, and creating a committee or volunteer action group to preserve that species can be just as bad as overtly killing them in the first place. to hold the belief that we can preserve the earth as it is today forever is completely unrealistic. Afterall, we ourselves are just a species, and one tiny little virus could wipe us out for good in a heartbeat...
posted by DuffStone at 4:11 PM on October 10, 2005


Message: nobody has established that changing weather conditions will be a bad thing, overall and considering everyone and everything affected. In fact I expect that the benefits to some people (and some life forms) will completely balance the costs to other people and life forms--and thus, overall, the world's agony/ecstasy ratio will not be affected. That, after all, was true of all previous thermal maxima (and minima, now you mention it.) Why should this one (assuming one occurs) be different? So far we've only heard from those who expect to lose in the exchange.

What a load of crap. I'm sorry but if you are trying to spin Climate change as something that might not be so bad, this is the worst possible way it could be done.

Yah, the worlds been warmer before. Yah, the Earth didn't have polar ice caps in the distant past. But y'know humans didn't live here then much less the humans that have some god awful huge percentage of their population living at 0-10 feet above sea level.

Sure the world will go on and most likely life on it will persist as well. But what we are heading for is like nothing the world has seen before so don't dress it up as if it were.
posted by aaronscool at 4:45 PM on October 10, 2005


I'm glad I don't have kids: I think the next generation of humans is going to be among the last. The suffering as the ecosystem collapses into an unstable configuration that's hostile to all that we take for granted is going to be a literal hell on earth.

I should probably take on the "fuck it all" attitude the naysayers appear to have. No skin off my ass if humans are extinct in a hundred or so years: I'll be dead and I'll have no surviving kin.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:26 PM on October 10, 2005


FFF: I plan to be a computer program, "living" in a global network. Perhaps on a satellite. Perhaps both. Either that or dead. Meatspace can be left for the meatheads.
posted by Freen at 5:44 PM on October 10, 2005


So given the options, and the various rates of change in technology versus the rate of change of aggregate behavior with respect to material and consumption, I'm going to have to say, with some trepidation, technology is our only hope.

Technology cannot help as long as humanity insists on stupidly measuring progress according to the relativistic terms of money, rather than the absolute terms of energy and work.

/ All the fancy accounting in the world can't beat out the laws of physics.
posted by PsychoKick at 5:49 PM on October 10, 2005


Freen: I'm with you. Planning on using nanobots to convert the core of the moon into a giant computer to support a few million superhuman consciousnesses. I'll set aside a slot for you.
posted by arjuna at 6:34 PM on October 10, 2005



Contrary to popular belief, Humans have not caused the majority of extinction that have occurred. We have caused many, i'm not disputing that. But we have by no means been the great murder that some might portray.


Well that's a difficult one to prove or disprove, considering we don't know how many species there are, or any quantitative tracking of extinction, but even so...

Presuming you're only talking about the holocene period, there is very considerable evidence of a recent increase in the aggregate number of extinctions (despite my earlier disclaimers). Humans are very heavily implicated in the loss of lots of fauna, and we simply cant guess the magnitude of the additional impacts of anthropogenic climate change on already highly fragmented and stressed populations.

So yeah, your above statement, while it may have some argument 'outs', it's a crock.
posted by wilful at 7:13 PM on October 10, 2005


Whoops, my bad. Thanks pufferish.
posted by wrapper at 9:07 PM on October 10, 2005


84° 40' or Fight!

Seriously, there's a lot going on here, and jfuller does have a point -- regardless of whether climate change is human-caused or controllable, it's happening, and while there's definitely been a lot of discussion of the aspects which are potentially bad, such as higher sea levels threatening coastal cities around the entire globe, there are also aspects which are at worst neutral. Agricultural production will migrate north, which will be good for Canada (even if bad for unspoilt wilderness). California and Florida will say goodbye to the occasional citrus frost disasters. If the permafrost problem can be dealt with, vast regions of the Arctic will become habitable. If the Arctic Ocean becomes annually navigable, there's doubtless going to be a pricey cruise business there. And as the article notes, new fishing grounds may open up. This isn't so much dancing on a grave as riding a wave.

I'm not arguing the Fallacy of the Broken Window -- that there's a net good here. There probably isn't -- which I see as a matter of entropy and an ultimately closed system. The costs of coastal relocation, the continuation of fossil fuel use, the stave-off of any social constraint requiring conservation, the open questions of what will happen to equatorial regions when things get hotter there (much more slowly than in the Arctic, at least), all point to at best an overall no-win scenario. But there are definitely going to be localized gains, and most profit is some kind of arbitrage anyway. Somebody's going to take advantage of that, and retire rich to Kamchatka.

What I find perhaps most fascinating is that this is changing the consensus over the Law of the Sea, to where the US opponents are an increasingly isolated faction.

Funny, more than one sf novel has had World War III related to jockeying for position in Antartica. And in those cases it was about resource needs trumping the dangers and challenges of the region. Here, the region is going to open itself to us whether we "need" it or not. And after this article, doesn't a Bering Strait Bridge sound just a tad less ridiculous?
posted by dhartung at 9:46 PM on October 10, 2005


I don't think I'm needed here any more. wilful does it better than I ever did. What a blessing. Yay.
posted by troutfishing at 9:47 PM on October 10, 2005


dhartung - Hi.

Thermohaline cessation : a factor missing from your analysis. Global climate does indeed "flip"........ ?
posted by troutfishing at 9:52 PM on October 10, 2005


> I should probably take on the "fuck it all" attitude the naysayers
> appear to have.

Being sanuine about whatever the future throws at me is hardly "fuck it all." Just the opposite, I should think. But if sanguine doesn't appeal to you, your other choices are phlegmatic and bilious. Lots (and lots and lots) of bilious folk around here, cocoon with them and you won't be lonely.


> I'm glad I don't have kids: I think the next generation of humans is going
> to be among the last.

fff is a believer in the Last Days. Who knew?
posted by jfuller at 4:02 AM on October 11, 2005


This FPP sounded familiar, and then I realized why: The fabled, long-sought Northwest Passage.
posted by alumshubby at 7:10 AM on October 11, 2005


Our only salvation is to bioengineer cockroaches with human brains.

Judging by the posts of certain MeFites, I'd say it's already happened.
posted by fandango_matt at 9:18 AM on October 11, 2005


I think they're actually humans with cockroach brains, fandango_matt.
posted by MrMustard at 9:51 AM on October 11, 2005


Our only salvation is to bioengineer cockroaches with human brains.

Judging by the posts of certain MeFites, I'd say it's already happened.


No that was the morals of cockroaches.
posted by wilful at 4:45 PM on October 11, 2005


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