When Arctic methane scientists disagree
October 16, 2014 8:54 AM   Subscribe

Ignoring the Arctic Methane Monster: Royal Society Goes Dark on Arctic Observational Science. "The exclusion also highlights a large and what appears to be growing rift between those who observe the Arctic system and some that model it. Concern for larger carbon release from the Arctic system appears to be steadily rising among Arctic observational specialists, while some modelers appear to have retreated into silos in an attempt to defend previous understandings that were based on earlier work." posted by Wordshore (65 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
Dammit, hit post before including another link. From examiner.com.
posted by Wordshore at 8:56 AM on October 16, 2014


This is the sort of thing that should terrify everyone - a potential tipping point for global catastrophe.

I wonder if the magnitude is why people are shying away from it - if a thaw is causing a runaway methane leak then we're all already dead.
posted by Artw at 9:05 AM on October 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


I personally shy away from it because I believe climate change is inevitable at this point. A shame, but.
posted by agregoli at 9:08 AM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


I feel like I ask this too often in these threads, but: Could someone explain in layman's terms the real implications of this? How bad is it?
posted by jbickers at 9:25 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


So, basically, the scientists on the ground are more freaked out than the modelers, and the modelers are the ones who are supposedly the "BIG EVIL SOCIALIST GOVERNMENT TAKEOVER DESTROY OUR WAY OF LIFE CONSPIRACISTS"? We are well and truly fucked.
posted by symbioid at 9:33 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Could someone explain in layman's terms the real implications of this? How bad is it?

Better than Waterworld, worse than Mad Max.
posted by compartment at 9:36 AM on October 16, 2014 [19 favorites]


I feel like I ask this too often in these threads, but: Could someone explain in layman's terms the real implications of this? How bad is it?

Most conservative projections posit that a 2 degree C rise is now unavoidable, and we are looking at a 4C-6C rise given current forecasts. 2 degrees means 5-6m sealevel rise, and widespread econsystem disruption. 3-6+ degrees is somewhere between a complete breakdown of global weather and farming patterns, to the ocean literally turning to hydrogen sulfide. It's "your grandchildren won't be able to farm if they're even born" bad.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:36 AM on October 16, 2014 [22 favorites]


Most conservative projections posit that a 2 degree C rise is now unavoidable, and we are looking at a 4C-6C rise given current forecasts. 2 degrees means 5-6m sealevel rise, and widespread econsystem disruption. 3-6+ degrees is somewhere between a complete breakdown of global weather and farming patterns, to the ocean literally turning to hydrogen sulfide. It's "your grandchildren won't be able to farm if they're even born" bad.

I'm starting to feel like climate denialism should be criminal for the same reason planting a bomb on a dam would be.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:38 AM on October 16, 2014 [21 favorites]


On the whole, I think I would have preferred death by global thermonuclear war like I was promised in the 80s.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:38 AM on October 16, 2014 [12 favorites]


I'm not quite sure why people in the US are still against decarbonization of the global economy. Rapid decarbonization will be an economic growth driver like never before.
posted by Talez at 9:42 AM on October 16, 2014 [9 favorites]


This is why it was nauseating to see Harper glomming all over the "One Warm Line" discovery of Franklin's ship when he seems to have defunded any sort of Arctic observation that could cause discomfort for the people that run our petro-state.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:44 AM on October 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


Because it will only be about the economy so long as the economy is geysering money upward to the lucky few and not washing it outward to the masses.
posted by Slackermagee at 9:44 AM on October 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


I feel like I ask this too often in these threads, but: Could someone explain in layman's terms the real implications of this? How bad is it?

From Wikipedia:

Current methane release has previously been estimated at 0.5 Mt per year.[12] Shakhova et al. (2008) estimate that not less than 1,400 Gt of Carbon is presently locked up as methane and methane hydrates under the Arctic submarine permafrost, and 5-10% of that area is subject to puncturing by open taliks. They conclude that "release of up to 50 Gt of predicted amount of hydrate storage [is] highly possible for abrupt release at any time". That would increase the methane content of the planet's atmosphere by a factor of twelve.[13]

So, at any moment, it is "highly possible" that, instead of the .5 megatons per year that we're accustomed to, up to 50 GIGAtons could be released "abruptly," which would entail methane levels skyrocketing (quite literally) by a factor of twelve.

If that does happen, it will basically be a global environmental catastrophe far worse, incomparably worse, than anything in human history. Food insecurity will cause mass rioting and intense geopolitical conflict. Governments in stronger states will become increasingly authoritarian while weaker states will fail completely. Many millions of people will die just from the primary effects of changes in arability and potable water distribution. Tens of or perhaps hundreds of millions will be displaced due to rising sea levels, creating desperate migrants just as food and resources become incredibly scarce; economic disruption from all of this will lead to a global economic disaster, further exacerbating resource scarcity. There will be, in other words, a disastrous cascade of humanitarian, economic, and political failures and disruptions that will create a feedback loop of insecurity and crisis, with no end in sight save for eventual equilibrium at some drastically different global ecology which itself might not be reached for several hundred years.

It's game over for life as we know it, basically. If this starts to happen, it's probably a good time to tell people that you love them and join a form of political organization that has a workable plan for growing food.
posted by clockzero at 9:55 AM on October 16, 2014 [24 favorites]


Jesus Christ. The reason I ignore the Arctic methane monster is that reading through worst case scenarios like the one linked upthread drives me stark raving mad.

We better pray that Lockheed Martin or someone comes up with practical fusion in the next five years, because it's becoming clear that we've going to have throw everything our civilization can produce at mitigation and atmospheric scrubbing.
posted by Iridic at 9:56 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Could someone explain in layman's terms the real implications of this? How bad is it?
Read up on the Permian Triassic Extinction Event. This may well be an analogue for what we (or at least our descendants) might be facing.
posted by Sonny Jim at 9:58 AM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


Just to show an example of what we're up against: the recent Tory Environment Secretary just gave a speech showing what he really thought whilst in office (viz. Environmental groups, decarbonisation and climate legislation are a bigger problem than the "wildly exaggerated" effects of climate change) - a speech that was factually incorrect in just about every way (PDF link). And this is from a government that has described itself as "the greenest ever"...
posted by sobarel at 10:01 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Holy shit. Why isn't the news all over this"?! This is an actual, real existential threat not only to American national security but to everybody's immediate future.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:10 AM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


I wonder if the magnitude is why people are shying away from it - if a thaw is causing a runaway methane leak then we're all already dead.

Well, the scale is so massive that any action I (or you) can take is meaningless. So, worrying about it helps nothing.
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:11 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Oh wait--on second thought, the press would probably just scare the crap out of everybody and then there'd be too much panic to respond intelligently to the problem. We don't need scaremongering but the facts need to be gotten out more widely.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:12 AM on October 16, 2014


Well, the scale is so massive that any action I (or you) can take is meaningless. So, worrying about it helps nothing.

Except there must still be ways to try to address the problem, and if not, then we all desperately need to prepare, not worry.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:12 AM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


Except there must still be ways to try to address the problem, and if not, then we all desperately need to prepare, not worry.

Sure. Rapidly decarbonize and pivot our entire society to redirect all available energies at reversing global warming.

Preparation for it basically involves "have a plan to humanely assist those you love in their suicide."
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:15 AM on October 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


"Would you say it's time for our viewers to crack each other's heads open and feast on the goo inside?"
posted by entropicamericana at 10:15 AM on October 16, 2014 [10 favorites]


I bet we could lower our energy-use expectations a lot and still be fairly comfortable if we were willing to actually treat energy as a scarce resource. We could transition first residential and eventually industrial energy production to distributed models with limited availability source point power generation for most day-to-day uses, with more stable, centralized power supplies preserved for vital industrial and infrastructure uses. We might only get to watch TV at certain times of day, or otherwise have to deal with personal inconveniences relative to current standards, but if we were serious about it, we could still survive and scrape out some creature comforts better than anything our forebears knew if we planned and acted with a common sense of mission and purpose. That's a gigantic "If" though. And it all depends on the pace of change and its impacts.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:24 AM on October 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


How bad is it?

PLANET LIKELY TO WARM BY 4C BY 2100, SCIENTISTS WARN bad.

"Catastrophic rather than simply dangerous" bad*

* in the words of Professor Steven Sherwood, Director of the University of New South Wales's Climate Change Research Centre

Why isn't the news all over this"?!

The "news"? A casual glance at the BBC, CNN, and NYT websites suggests Ebola is a much more pressing concern (spoiler: it's not). Meanwhile, MetaFilter was on this story back in 2008: previously and previously.
posted by Doktor Zed at 10:25 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Well, the scale is so massive that any action I (or you) can take is meaningless. So, worrying about it helps nothing.

So buy a Hummer and roll coal, amirite?

Why isn't the news all over this"?!

The corporate news conglomerate does not exist to inform anyone, but to drive eyeballs to ad sales. Best way of doing that is a) horse-race politics and b) fear, but only so much fear as to keep the viewer waiting around for tonight or tomorrow's latest dosage of "BE AFRAID!, ARE YOU AFRAID ENOUGH?", not so much fear that the viewers turn to despair and turn off the TV to spend precious time with their loved ones.
posted by T.D. Strange at 10:29 AM on October 16, 2014 [9 favorites]


Except there must still be ways to try to address the problem, and if not, then we all desperately need to prepare, not worry.

The lack of an ecosystem is pretty hard to prepare for.

This is not a mitigable event.
posted by PMdixon at 10:30 AM on October 16, 2014 [11 favorites]


So buy a Hummer and roll coal, amirite?

Well, in the sense that, you know, whatever car you drive is emitting the same order of magnitude of carbon, sure. I mean, a Hummer does produce more than a Civic, but not ten times more. Either is so infinitesimal next to the (growing) use of coal in China that, quite frankly, you might as well just burn all your garbage in a barrel in the back yard and drive a diesel semi-truck to work a hundred miles away, for all the difference it makes in the grand scheme of things.
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:48 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


This is not a mitigable event.

Homo sapiens returned from the brink of extinction after a super-volcanic eruption 70,000 years ago when there were fewer than 10,000 individuals, possibly as low as only 40 breeding pairs. I would not rule out the chance to preserve a nucleus of human specimens. It would be quite easy at the bottom of some of our deeper mineshafts. Nuclear reactors could provide power almost indefinitely. Greenhouses could maintain plantlife. Animals could be bred and slaughtered. Dwelling space for several hundred thousands of our people could easily be provided. Naturally, they would breed prodigiously (there would be much time, and little to do). But with the proper breeding techniques and a ratio of say, ten females to each male, they could then work their way back to the present gross national product within say, twenty years. I have a plan ... Mein Fuhrer, I can walk!

So buy a Hummer and roll coal, amirite?

The new après nous, le Déluge is a rise in global sea levels of 1.8m.
posted by Doktor Zed at 11:13 AM on October 16, 2014 [9 favorites]


I wonder if the magnitude is why people are shying away from it

Well, let's see what's top trending at this exact moment to see what the zeitgeist is. Ah. There you have it. Now, if you can convince people that a runaway climate change effect will result in a breakdown in the telecoms and internet infrastructure, with no Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Tinder, no candy crush saga, no selfies and no Netfix, and no online porn, then there may be mass realization and panic.

Not before.
posted by Wordshore at 11:21 AM on October 16, 2014


I hope humanity lives long enough to enter a new Ice Age so that we can dig up the corpses of every single climate change denialist and burn them for winter fuel.
posted by longbaugh at 11:24 AM on October 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


It is still an open question as to whether or not a "methane bomb" might occur.

At the same Royal Society meeting, Gavin Schmidt gave a talk (links to audio and slides) where he showed that the ice core records show no indication of being sensitive to a warming Arctic. That is, whenever the Arctic has warmed (even warmer than today) and stayed warm, over the past several hundred thousand years there has been no spike in atmospheric methane. He also showed that there does not appear to be enough shallow hydrates to actually produce a "methane bomb".

In some ways the methane bomb idea is a distraction. The real culprit, and the thing we can actually do something about, is carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels. As David Archer shows on RealClimate, CO2 is much more important to the climate system than methane now, and will be even more important in the coming decades. Worrying about a bogeyman who may or may not become important in the future is foolish when there is a real and present danger staring us in the face.
posted by plastic_animals at 11:48 AM on October 16, 2014 [11 favorites]


Potentially related news from a couple of days ago: American scientists unearth lost 1960s polar satellite images worth billions.

Interesting tidbit:
It was worth the wait. What Gallaher and his NSIDC colleague Garrett Campbell had discovered was both the largest and the smallest Antarctic sea ice extent ever recorded, one year apart, as well as the earliest sea ice maximum ever just three years later; it was an inexplicable hole in the Arctic sea ice even while the overall extent agreed with modern trends; it was the earliest known picture of Europe from space; it was a picture of the Aral Sea with water still in it.

It was, as Gallaher puts it, like looking at “the Precambrian of satellite data.”
posted by JoeXIII007 at 12:16 PM on October 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


I think anybody who really looks into these issues has come to realize that we're screwed by 2100, if nothing changes. But for most people (even the very young) that's far enough away in a Jetsonsesque future to not be relevant at the moment. They can put the thought up on a mental shelf somewhere and acknowledge that it's true without worrying about it.

But ask them to think about the possibility that the same collapse might happen in their lifetimes, and those people will immediately reject the idea. It's not real like today's weather or the price of gas. We've lived under so many threats for so long (like nuclear war, overpopulation and pollution) and survived, that this feels like one more alarm we can ignore. We're wired to react to short term dangers and forget about everything else, so when alarms keep going off and nothing immediately happens we stop listening.

I don't know if there's anything to this Clathrate Gun business or not. I sincerely hope that Gavin Schmidt there is right, and it's not an immediate worry. But then, I have no real idea. It seems like he's got one view and the scientists observing the Arctic have another. The thing I do know is that issues like this make it harder to get skeptics to believe in climate change (even if the issues are real) because they just write it off as a false alarm. They won't believe there's an immediate danger if they can't see burning horses running down the street.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:20 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


We've lived under so many threats for so long (like nuclear war, overpopulation and pollution) and survived, that this feels like one more alarm we can ignore. We're wired to react to short term dangers and forget about everything else, so when alarms keep going off and nothing immediately happens we stop listening.

But there's just nothing we can do about this, so there's no point in worrying.

It's like fretting if the Sun might explode. If it does, we die, so why worry about it?

When hope isn't possible, learn to accept death. We'll all be happier.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:28 PM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


There's always things we can do. Like plastic_animals said above, reducing CO2 emissions is the most important (and achievable) goal we can strive for. Support politicians who make climate change a priority, and if there aren't any of them around currently, support interest groups who are trying to change the public conversation. Massive positive changes can happen as swiftly as negative ones. For example: same-sex marriage came out of nowhere and went from being widely unpopular to a reality in twelve years. Half the population used to be dedicated smokers, but thirty years later it became one in ten. Mitigation and reduction measures like a carbon tax and mass conversion to renewable energy can happen the same way. It takes patience and stubbornness to get past most people's instinctive "ignore the alarm" reaction, but it can be done. And when that happens progress suddenly leaps forward.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:48 PM on October 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


There's things we can do, sure, but the ending is the same. We can't stop this. The examples you give are about social change - no social change can stop this extinction.
posted by agregoli at 12:51 PM on October 16, 2014


At the same Royal Society meeting, Gavin Schmidt gave a talk

That's the same Dr. Schmidt that bumped Drs. Shakhova and Semiletov, which the latter addressed in their letter to the Royal Society quoted in the FPP: "To our dismay, we were not invited to present our data at the Royal Society meeting. Furthermore, this week we discovered, via a twitter Storify summary (circulated by Dr. Brandon), that Dr. G. Schmidt was instead invited to discuss the methane issue and explicitly attacked our work using the model of another scholar, whose modelling effort is based on theoretical, untested assumptions having nothing to do with observations in the ESAS. While Dr. Schmidt has expertise in climate modelling, he is an expert neither on methane, nor on this region of the Arctic. Both scientists therefore have no observational knowledge on methane and associated processes in this area."

The methane bomb, or clathrate gun hypothesis aside, the larger epistemological issue for how we can plan for Climate Change is how much weight we can give to theoretical models and how much to observational data when the issue so complex and vast. Put another way, while we have the "known knowns" of what's happening right now and the "unknown knowns" of where we might be going, we have the "unknown unknowns" of what's rapidly (in geological terms) turning into the biggest problem modern humanity has ever faced. When faced with an unprecedented situation with every potential for surprising us in the worst ways, it's a bad idea to deliberately overlook or exclude anything.

But there's just nothing we can do about this, so there's no point in worrying.

It's like fretting if the Sun might explode. If it does, we die, so why worry about it?


Ah, so you've heard That Mitchell and Webb Sound's Environment sketch, then?
posted by Doktor Zed at 12:55 PM on October 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


There's always things we can do. Like plastic_animals said above, reducing CO2 emissions is the most important (and achievable) goal we can strive for.

Yeah, but there's nothing we can do about the methane explosion. CO2 emission reduction, no matter how great, would be utterly meaningless if the worst case happens.

Everything you suggest can make life better, sure, and I support measures like that, I'm just saying there's no point worrying about this particular scenario. If it happens, that's it, and nothing we can do can change that.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:56 PM on October 16, 2014


There's things we can do, sure, but the ending is the same. We can't stop this. The examples you give are about social change - no social change can stop this extinction.

There ARE things we can do. This sort of feeling of helplessness is understandable, I know, in the face of denialist governments and oil company propaganda, but it's not over yet. I have to believe that there's hope.
posted by jokeefe at 12:57 PM on October 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


2100 is no magic date, global warming will be a in-your-face issue much sooner, possibly by 2030. Not to say we are all going to die by 2030, but the denialists will be dinosaurs, few will put up with them. Every year the evidence mounts, not just science but actual human disruption.

Could someone explain in layman's terms the real implications of this? How bad is it?

This really depends on what we do about it. I don't think there is much chance of a bomb going off the science doesn't support that. It's a slow train wreck, if we do nothing to halt the warming it will get worse. Really we need to focus on cutting back CO2, get that done and Methane won't be a problem. And the biggest source of CO2 is coal. The world depends on killing coal.
posted by stbalbach at 1:01 PM on October 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


2 degrees means 5-6m sealevel rise, and widespread econsystem disruption.

Disruption is how entrepreneurs grow the economy. Building new cities inland from the drowned coastal areas is going to be the biggest job-creating process ever. And if there's a massive human die-off, it'll ensure Full Employment for whomever is left. Seriously. Economics hates stability and sustainability, and if something were to cause 50+% of the economy to crumble to the ground, well, that's just a new baseline to start growing from. Of course, no corporation that Wall Street will put any value on has Long Term plans beyond a few years, and the new emphasis for those that are looking forward is Reactive Strategies, not Proactive ones. And then there's the argument that whatever 'earth-saving' actions the U.S. may do, China will NOT, as it leapfrogs over us into World Economic Domination. That is the country that already has urban pollution levels higher than the 'worst case scenario' the EPA was created to prevent.

no social change can stop this extinction
Extinction is the biggest social change of all, and near-extinction may be the only way to motivate serious change. Humanity does (sometimes) learn from its mistakes, but not until the full consequences come down; it has to get a lot worse before we can honestly start to make it better and by then, momentum will be on the side of getting even worser. Many of us probably will survive and maybe build a better society. But if we're going to have a better society, if I may rephrase Shakespeare's great quote, don't kill all the lawyers, kill all the economists.

the denialists will be dinosaurs
The true denialists are expendable; the ones to worry about is those who use denialism to hide the fact that they are quietly investing in the future disaster. Because disasters are major profit opportunities for those who play it right.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:08 PM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


I don't feel helpless, I've just seen enough data to convince me. There's no way humans as a whole can reverse this enough to stop our own extinction.

I also am a little curious that this makes people feel hopeless at all. Humans were going to go extinct sometime, right? That it will happen a teensy amount sooner than we might have expected is surprising, maybe, but. I love a lot of this world too, but worlds grow and die. We live in a lucky age.
posted by agregoli at 1:14 PM on October 16, 2014


I also am a little curious that this makes people feel hopeless at all. Humans were going to go extinct sometime, right?

You're curious why people aren't looking at themselves from the POV of aliens? Funny, because what makes me curious is why so many people seem to want to pretend they can see the world as God or from some other inhuman POV.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:42 PM on October 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


Cockroaches have lived through multiple mass extinction events and are older than most other large living land animals. I really don't understand why people want to be so fatalistic or pessimistic as to think we couldn't be just as successful as they've managed to be. And personally, I try not to be certain about any possibilities that haven't happened yet as I don't trust my own judgment better than reality.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:46 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


The like what third extinction (mentioned upthread) with the volcano explosion releasing elements that caused a single organism to render the planet inhospitable is so completely terrifying. It was lille a Walter White declaration of I am the danger as applied to a single organism. And, of course, humans today. Hey, we're responsible for the latest mass extinction. Yay us. Sorry planet.
posted by angrycat at 1:48 PM on October 16, 2014


saulgoodman - what I find unreasonable is how so many people appear to have assumed humans would NEVER go extinct. That's just silly. As for cockroaches - they're a bit more adaptable than us, but don't worry - they'll go extinct too.
posted by agregoli at 1:50 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also, I am not "pretending" to see the world any such way - I see it the way I see it. Please try to be more charitable towards those with a different viewpoint.
posted by agregoli at 1:52 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


the denialists will be dinosaurs, few will put up with them.

I posit that the denialists will double down against science regardless. Either they will claim that the scientists who warned about global warming actually DID warm up the climate by handwavey means because the truthers resisted their socialistic agenda, or they will claim that it was science/human hubris that is responsible for the global warming, and not the good-hearted God-fearin' Real Americans.
posted by chimaera at 1:58 PM on October 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


I think the most likely reaction among fossil fuel interests will be that it's pointless to reduce dependence upon fossil fuels since so much damage has already been done, so we should keep burning them and throw some money into carbon capture to store the new CO2 underground. In other words, they will resist measures that would directly cost them money (like a carbon tax or subsidies to encourage alternative energy) and support measures that would let them make money storing the waste products.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:06 PM on October 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


Of course, no corporation that Wall Street will put any value on has Long Term plans beyond a few years, and the new emphasis for those that are looking forward is Reactive Strategies, not Proactive ones.

Do you know who's all about the proactive planning? Militaries. We might see some surprisingly practiced coups as the world gets hotter.
posted by Iridic at 2:23 PM on October 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


Chuck Hagel in 1997: The US won't cut emissions unless China does the same, and fie on the rest of you.

Chuck Hagel in 2014: Climate change might hurt the military? Holy cow, this stuff is serious!
posted by Kevin Street at 2:38 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Time to record that long apology video to my great grandchildren.
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:23 PM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Disruption is how entrepreneurs grow the economy. Building new cities inland from the drowned coastal areas is going to be the biggest job-creating process ever. And if there's a massive human die-off, it'll ensure Full Employment for whomever is left. Seriously.

You are kidding, right? Please tell me that you're kidding. Because all the gung-ho free enterprise fantasies in the world are not going to cure or even mitigate a true societal collapse. The "entrepreneurs" are no class of saviours. As for a "massive human die-off": are you volunteering to go first? Or is it just everyone else who gets to die off and leave the world for the laissez-faire miracle which will save the survivors?
posted by jokeefe at 4:25 PM on October 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


It's an inherently inhuman viewpoint, though, isn't it? I don't mean that offensively believe it or not. I used to view the world in much the same way (or at least, think I did) until I realized how absurd and presumptuous and impossible it is to really claim to see things as if one isn't human. I don't know, but I suspect it may be more an expression of a particular social orientation than what it seems to be (subjectively) to view things that way, an expression of a kind of alienation from one's own humanity. I think that's what it was for me anyway. YMMV.
posted by saulgoodman at 4:36 PM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Study Finds Ice Caps Very Normal, No Need To Come Visit
Don’t come to where the north ice is, don’t come to where the south ice is. You can trust us. We’ll tell you where the ice is: the same place it’s always been, just like normal.
posted by BungaDunga at 5:28 PM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


There's this to be said for perishing in a continent-scouring methane firestorm: it's a pretty definitive answer to "what's the worst that could happen?" If ever I'm bilked out of my life savings, or paralyzed by a stroke, or diagnosed with late-stage esophageal cancer, I'll be able to reflect with perfect accuracy that things could be a lot worse.

It was a productive day, on balance. I wrote my way to the middle of one short story, and I jotted down the promising beginnings of another. I just polished off a New Glarus Spotted Cow and a two ounce bag of Jay's potato chips. Presently I'll go to bed, and when I wake up I'll commence to live a life like a blazing brand. If I must burn, I will damn well burn.
posted by Iridic at 9:16 PM on October 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


I also am a little curious that this makes people feel hopeless at all. Humans were going to go extinct sometime, right?--agregoli

what makes me curious is why so many people seem to want to pretend they can see the world as God or from some other inhuman POV-- saulgoodman

Also, I am not "pretending" to see the world any such way - I see it the way I see it. Please try to be more charitable towards those with a different viewpoint.--agregoli

Well, you did say "Humans were going to go extinct sometime" instead of "We were going to go extinct sometime". You are talking about Humans in the third person, which means, in a literary sense, you are taking a non-human point of view. In a way, he's answering your question. If it is just 'those humans', then, sure, why do people feel hopeless? Those humans are all going to die off anyway, so, in the words of Alfred E Neuman, what, me worry? But if it is 'us' then "OH MY GOD, WE'RE GOING TO DIE A SLOW TERRIBLE DEATH!"

It's all in the point of view.
posted by eye of newt at 12:46 AM on October 17, 2014


Meh. We had a good run. Not as long as the dinosaurs, but when you gotta go, you gotta go.
posted by mikelieman at 5:38 AM on October 17, 2014


Well, I do kind of consider it offensive to call someone's viewpoint inhuman when they are only stating the obvious. Humans will become extinct, like all life. It's not like I'm cheering it on. You've stated several times that I am appearing alien or not human, which IS fucking rude, especially after I asked you to be kinder. So please stop.
posted by agregoli at 5:48 AM on October 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


eye of newt - that's a pretty tiny quibble to call me inhuman on, don't you think? I stated humans because WE are the only creatures to realize/pretend not to comprehend our demise, not cause I'm a space alien observing earth. Sheesh.
posted by agregoli at 5:52 AM on October 17, 2014


You're probably right agregoli--I'm probably just overthinking beans again. If it helps, by "inhuman" I only meant the POV seems to me to be a POV that is not sympathetic to humans, not that it's an inhumane or cruel POV, but that it seems to frame the problem from a position somehow distanced from humanity, watching and considering events as-if from a distance removed.

Either way, of course you're right that humans could go extinct. But I don't think that's really something we humans haven't acknowledged or been able to admit to ourselves in the past (most of us in the 80s, growing up under threat of MAD, seemed to think it was pretty likely, actually), though I do think you're right that most people aren't walking around every day with a keen awareness that extinction might be just around the corner. And I'm sorry for offending you--I think I get what you're saying, I really do. It's just my narrative hangup.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:29 AM on October 17, 2014


saulgoodman: I bet we could lower our energy-use expectations a lot and still be fairly comfortable

Why the hell not? The reaction from denialists and their ilk is "you socialists want us to return to the Stone Age!" What would be wrong with the 18th C.? No one's saying we can't have modern medicine, computers, or Industry. What they're saying is, "We need to reduce CO2 emissions by giving up things like personal automobiles, large-scale concrete manufacturing, and coal-fired electricity generation." We may need to develop economies that aren't built on the need for 3% annual growth. "Can't be done!" Seriously? How important is having a habitable planet with functioning ecosystems?

We still have options, but the media and the petroleum industry have tried to paint this as an all-or-nothing transition, which people tend to believe because dammit! they want to keep their cars and their consumer lifestyle. It's a propaganda strategy, and its effective. That the specter of Global Socialism is raised as a counter-argument in many discussions of the effects of climate change tells you a lot about the mentality of those arguing that any deviation from business as usual is a threat to Capitalism and Everything America Stands For!! But this is a human obstacle, not a physical one.

There are people and organizations out there trying to help us educate ourselves about exactly how we could make a series of energy conservation and alternative energy choices to buy more time before climate change causes irreversible social unrest and/or agricultural failure. The Rocky Mountain Institute, for example. Buying more time would give us time to plan and implement longer-term, sustainable strategies for human economies and energy structures. This requires, at minimum, the ability to plan beyond the next election cycle, which is also a human obstacle.
posted by sneebler at 1:38 PM on October 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


I should say that I'm also worried about the Methane Bomb concept, but there is, to say the least, lots of controversy about what the actual risks are. Here's a video of Dr. Richard Alley trying to put this in some kind of context.
posted by sneebler at 10:36 AM on October 18, 2014


My point is, that...there is no "could." Humans WILL go extinct, eventually. Everyone always seems to say, "could" or "may," and in the context of geological time, that seems outlandish to me. I also am not cheering on the extinction of our species, but at the same time, why is anyone required to couch facts in "sympathy?" I don't lament the idea that our planet will eventually become a cold rock. At some point, it may spring up life again. It may have done so before we were even aware of it. I find that beautiful and fascinating. Hardly anyone seems to agree with me though, so I guess I should keep my thoughts on it to myself.
posted by agregoli at 7:49 AM on October 21, 2014


Continent scouring methane firestorm would probably be one of the better cases, since it would covert the methane to carbon dioxide, which is less of a greenhouse gas.
posted by Artw at 7:57 AM on October 21, 2014


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