Dangerous global warming is here

After an attack of pessimism by BilB I thought this post at Climate Progress was timely. Methane is just one of 10 issues to worry about.

The last year or so has seen more scientific papers and presentations that raise the genuine prospect of catastrophe (if we stay on our current emissions path) that I can recall seeing in any other year.

As Elizabeth Kolbert says:

“It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.”

I’ll leave you to read the full post and follow up the copious links as you please. Here I’ll just list the headings so that you can overview them:

1. Nature: “Global warming blamed for 40% decline in the ocean’s phytoplankton”

2. Science: Vast East Siberian Arctic Shelf methane stores destabilizing and venting

3. Must-read NCAR analysis warns we risk multiple, devastating global droughts even on moderate emissions path

4. Nature Geoscience study: Oceans are acidifying 10 times faster today than 55 million years ago when a mass extinction of marine species occurred and “Geological Society: Acidifying oceans spell marine biological meltdown “by end of century”

5. Sea levels may rise 3 times faster than IPCC estimated, could hit 6 feet by 2100 [see figure] and these related findings and studies

6. Royal Society: “There are very strong indications that the current rate of species extinctions far exceeds anything in the fossil record.”

7. Science: Drought drives decade-long decline in plant growth

8. Nature review of 20 years of field studies finds soils emitting more CO2 as planet warms

9. Global Warming: Future Temperatures Could Exceed Livable Limits, Researchers Find.

10. UK Met Office: Catastrophic climate change, 13-18°F over most of U.S. and 27°F in the Arctic, could happen in 50 years, but “we do have time to stop it if we cut greenhouse gas emissions soon.”

On that last one I think they are talking 10C at the equator and 15C at the poles.

Each one of these should have generated an emergency meeting of the G8, the G20, the UN, the World Bank, the IMF the WTO and every other damned thing.

Joe Romm blames the effect of Climategate. On the positive side the NYT has just done an extensively researched report on sea level rise, picked up by Dot Earth and RealClimate

The direct link is here.

I seem to remember also a significant article at the Washington Post recently, so perhaps things are changing.

I’ll conclude this post with a very measured quote from Barry Brook at BraveNewClimate:

What of the future? There is no doubt that climate predictions carry a fair burden of scientific ambiguity, especially regarding feedbacks in climatic and biological systems. Yet what is not widely appreciated among non-scientists is that more than half of the uncertainty, captured in the scenarios of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is actually related to our inability to forecast the probable economic and technological development pathway global societies will take during the twenty-first century. As a forward-thinking and risk averse species, it is certainly within our power to anticipate the manifold impacts of anthropogenic climate change, and so make the key economic and technological choices required to substantially mitigate our carbon emissions. But will we act in time, and will it be with sufficient gusto? And can nature adapt?

Only if we take aggressive action on mitigation. Soon.

65 thoughts on “Dangerous global warming is here”

  1. Depressing collection Brian. Problem is that that the skeptics science arguments have diverted our attention from the great big big lie – We can’t afford to do anything about it.

    Consider some Australian facts:
    1. Our per capita power consumption is 10,000 kWh/year. So a one cent/kWh price increase costs us each 27 cents/day.
    2. Converting to combined cycle gas would be justified by a price increase of less than 2 cents/kWh or 52 cents/day per person. Gives a 60% reduction in emissions compared to black coal. (75% compared to brown coal.)
    3. MRET data suggests that investment in wind power would be justified by a price increase of about 4 cents/kWh (Carbon price of $40/tonne CO2.) – Provided that there is gas back-up for low wind days. (Important argument for building gas fired first.)
    4. ABS 2007 figures gave an average fuel consumption of 11 litres/100km for cars. We could halve car related emissions and reduce our import bill by using smaller cars or fuel efficient hybrids.

    There is no doubt that zero net emissions will be hard. But we could at least halve our emissions at a per capita cost below $1/day – If only the skeptics weren’t able to tell their great big lie about how much it will cost.

  2. Thanks Brian. Its a wake-up call. And we’ve only got a few left.

    Incidnetally, if anyone’s wondering why I joined the Greens *despite* sharing many of the reservations held by typical lefties like myself – this is exhibit A.

    All that other shit is contingent on averting dangerous climate change. And thus, frankly, secondary.

  3. Let me add to the pessimism. Last night on The Movie Show there was a review of a new film called Gasland. It’s about the poisoning of large parts of the US by the natural gas industry. If anyone says that natural gas is a legitimate part of the solution to global warming, they should see this film. Margaret Pomeranz said she regretted having just installed a natural gas heating system in her home, and wished that she had gone solar instead. Fossil fuels of all types are hazardous to local environments and the globe as a whole, but the solution is shining down from heaven. The UN needs urgently to adopt a mechanism that punishes nations (I’m looking at you, America) that shirk their commitment to adopting renewables. A global price on carbon is the answer, and this should be backed up by tariffs against nations without the carbon tax.

  4. Incidentally, this is why I often urge fellow Greens to recast our politics as a small-c ‘conservative’: ultimately, we seek to keep things -basically- as they are.

    The rest are rushing headlong to destroy your way of life. Most unintentionally, but surely.

    This is of course the key to future Green mainstreaming, so I shouldn’t really share it too widely.

    But WTF – its later than you think :p

  5. As the rain pelted down again here today as a result of the El Nina event etc., with knowledge of some dire predictions outside of the assembled above,and getting a little bit pissed off with only Government can save the Day.This time, some time, in the future some of these Green new Members are just a bit slow.If the new members could solve Australia’s diabetes problem with emission reduction,then we all could go on holidays to Russia.To see the problem,and listen to their scientists who believe the world is cooling.But first a word from our Sponsors.Does your Solar Panel for electricity do enough!?Why not trade it in for something else!? Say a Airline to go see all the problem areas of the world,knowing full well you cannot solve the problem yourself! Yes!You can!?After all Bob Brown knows his feet are tough,Freddie Flintstone is proud of him.Why not get rid of those Security Booths first,and be a real humdinger of a social doer!

  6. I like BilBs comparison of the Methane bomb with the Atom bomb. Only this time all us consumers are collectively pressing the red buttons not some Stanley Kubric figure. Each time we start the car, flick the switch, open a tin of tomatoes we come closer to critical mass and its consequences.

    It all started with only a band of roughly 1500 Homo sapiens doing it tough through the changes of the second last ice age. A new species that over nearly a hundred thousand year grew and evolved to inhabit the whole globe. Currently the population of this species is growing exponentially (iirc) and parallel energy and resource consumption per capita are growing at unprecedented rates.

    Consider me a concerned citizen. Citizen because there is not much other choice since they rounded up all the natives. Concerned because in my basic science understanding, where for every action is a reaction, and where everything that goes up as sure as your foot will come down. Thus I find it not hard to understand that we Homo sapien are involved in some gigantic collective uncontrolled geophysical experiment of which no one knows the exact outcome.

    Alas, I’ll tend to my orchard!

  7. silkworm @ 4, over at Just Grounds (formerly Agmates) Dale Stiller has a post giving links on the film, plus another on the topic.

    Last night there was an item on Deutsche Welle without the negative cautions of the online version:

    According to geologists, Poland could become the largest gas supplier in Europe after Norway and Russia. It would make the eastern European country rich – much richer than previously assumed, said energy expert Pawel Nierada from the Sobieski Institute in Warsaw.

    All they need is the you beaut US technology.

    As I’ve said elsewhere, in Australia I gather there isn’t as much fracking. The gas is in a coal seam rather than rock. But here the process of “dewatering”, ie. extracting salty and chemically contaminated water from the coal seam, is a problem, especially since the coal seam lies below the aquifers of the Great Artesian Basin.

    Plus other problems.

  8. Thanks for highlighting this Brian and for the ClimateProgress link. Sadly it seems that no-one in government reads any of this information.

  9. Gregory Benford gave two or three presentations at Aussiecon about geoengineering in the Arctic to stop the methane release. I’m pretty much sold that we’ve got no choice but to try throwing sulphur into the stratosphere in the arctic if we’re going to have any hope of doing this and if it works we’ll probably need to keep doing it for a couple of hundred years. Climate change mitigation is going to be like Dutch water defense or the great wall, we’re going to spend a long time building things that will have to last a very long time.


  10. Lefty E@5: a small cost to everyone for keeping things more or less the same is all very well for you to say. But for some people that small cost means a huge cut in income. Think of the CEO of BP, who could see his income drop by $10M a year or more. That’s not a small cost in anyone’s book.

  11. I was just musing to myself how should we perceive these warnings such as the Climate Progress warning. Should we think of them as cautionary road signs, barely noticed and known to be conservative so never adhered to, or maybe we should see them as a rising to code red type of alert. I tend to think of them as the escalating procession of warnings that one might get for unpaid taxes. A
    procession that starts out as

    you have been assessed
    you owe this much
    you still owe this much
    you now this much plus late payment penalty
    you now this much plus interest and are required to pay now
    you have been summonsed to court

    The thing with the environmental warnings is that we are completely numb to them because there is no compulsion to take notice. There is no penalty….that we believe will ever affect us.

    And I really don’t think that when we get the final notice

    “get your affairs in order you have 2 decades to live”

    that we will take notice of that, simply because it is too sureal.

  12. Brian I wish I could agree that things might be changing but I fear not. The recent election outcome in the US has put back any effective action there for at least another two years.

  13. Ken, I was noting perhaps a change in the mainstream media in the US. Overall the situation politically there seems dire.

    tigtog, when we looked at CSG last May this comment appeared:

    compressors stations (working at 120 decibels 24/7 in a flat uninterrupted environment)

    Should go well in Sydney!

    BTW the comments on that thread seem to have spontaneously doubled up. Strange.

  14. If anyone here’s interested in how a Steady State/sustainable economy will be achieved and operate, there is a summary of a report on ideas here.

    It is a report of the first conference on the Steady State Economy which was organised by two non-profit organisations, Economic Justice for All and CASSE(Centre for the Advancement of a Steady State Economy)

    We can never solve any of the environmental problems Brian has listed, or the many not, under the current paradigm of Growth and Consumerism.

    There is an interesting piece at The Drum about forming a Green bank as competition to the Big 4.

  15. I’m pretty resigned to the fact that other people don’t give a shit. I think we just need to cut back our own consumption as much as possible to reduce our footprint and those of our neighbours.

    ie Nieghbour buys a big screw you 4wd? Instead of nagging him consider just getting rid of your own car and switching to public transport.

  16. lefty E @ #5 said:

    Incidentally, this is why I often urge fellow Greens to recast our politics as a small-c ‘conservative’: ultimately, we seek to keep things -basically- as they are.

    Funny, I say the same things to my “fascist” friends and colleagues. But they don’t want to know.

    Politics, as Obama* recently remarked, is about “punishing ones enemies and rewarding ones friends”. Good policy comes a distant second.

    * former Chicago ward heeler

  17. The solution is radical ecological equalitarianism within a democratic framework.

    Otherwise we can wait for the cult of the market to produce ecological collapse.

  18. Great article, Brian (ditto for the one on the MDB).

    It is indeed quite scary stuff, but it seems to me that the ‘business as usual’ mob have the upper hand at the moment, and will do for the forseeable future. Given that I live in the bush, like tssk I’m also pretty resigned to the fact that my neighbours are either full-on AGW denialists or just don’t care, so I just get on with being the ‘only greenie in the village’ (almost) and try and set a good example.

    Lefty E makes a good point about us Greens recasting ourselves as ‘small c’ conservatives, particularly in the bush. I’ve found that if I can distance myself from the ‘communist’ BS rhetoric that seems to dominate rural perceptions of the Greens, then people are far more receptive to real information, as opposed to lunar right spin.

    BTW Brian, that ‘Just Grounds’ site seems to have become quite extremely redneck since it morphed from Agmates. I got myself banned from there for calmly and very politely disagreeing with the AGW denialist groupthink that prevails there.

  19. CJ Morgan, on Just Grounds, the farm demographic is by definition small and I think they were worried about being overrun by city greens. They are trying to cultivate a more sensible discourse from their POV. I don’t think of them as rednecks.

    We’ll see how it develops.

  20. akn, so AGW is a socialist plot after all! Vandana Shiva would probably agree with you (see item in Climate clippings 4).

    The next post I’m planning is on a conference that took place in Cochabamba, where the philosophy underlying the conference was incompatible with capitalism. The point is, these guys need to sign up if there is to be a binding deal at Cancun. They won’t be bought.

  21. Brian @17: Noisy compressors are enclosed to avoid noise pollution. So this particular claim is a furphy even though it may encourage Nimbies.

  22. I don’t know what to say about this, except its still, as always, scary as hell. Its one of the reasons I don’t comment much on climate change threads. (The other is I’m not sure I’m scientifically competent despite having done part of a year of Environmental Studies. The stats buggered me.)
    We are talking about 50 to 100 years here. That is not that long before the end of the world as we know it. It is enough to sink one into despair.

  23. 50 years is irrelevant to most people, however we don’t have even a tenth of that time before the effects of our civilisation come crashing down upon us. I know a fair few on this list live in Brisbane so get along if you can to UQ for these speakers. Peak Oil is upon us and Peak Energy is only a few years behind, that is what is driving this insane coal seam gas mining push. Fracking indeed, I think we should adopt this as a new adjective for all things climate wrecking. Look at this link for the flyers

    Monday 22 November 2010: Environmental Implications of Coal Seam Gas and Coal-to-Liquids Projects – A Public Forum

    Speakers and panellists include:

    – Professor Ian Lowe, President & Forum Chairperson of ACF.
    – Emeritus Professor Clive Bell, UQ and former Executive Director of
    the Australian Centre for Minerals Extension and Research
    – Dr John Standley, OAM, formerly of Dept Natural Resources and Mines
    – Mr John Hillier, former Dept Natural Resources hydrologist
    – Friends of Felton, Jimbour Action Group, Caroona Coal Action Group
    Basin Sustainability Alliance
    – Government and Industry representatives

    6:00 pm to 7:30 pm Monday 22 November 2010
    Abel Smith Lecture Theatre, The University of Queensland
    (Blg 23, St Lucia Campus – Located at top of Campbell Rd.)
    RSVP Peter.Dart@acfonline.org.au

    Thursday 25th November 2010: Peak Energy – Professor Kjell Aleklett –
    Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas – Public Lecture

    Peak Oil may be past. Peak Coal is sooner than you think. Are we ready for the descent?

    5.30pm for 6:00 – 7.30pm, Thursday 25 November
    Abel Smith Auditorium, The University of Queensland, St Lucia Campus (Building 23, Located at the top of Campbell Rd.)
    $5 entry fee
    Enquiries: wwight@gil.com.au

  24. I once thought that CSM was a panacea.
    The problem, it seems, is that Capitalists are greedy – oh does a bear shit in the woods.
    CSM does not have to be polluting; it is simply that the most profitable way to get more is to frack etc.

    We are really up against the wall.

  25. talk, warnings, important organisations giving us straight fact, anecdotal everyday evidence and still the humans buzz around in the cars buying the latest techno toy and wondering where they can holiday overseas. This stuff isn’t getting through to people because the vast majority seem to prefer denial over what action they might personally have to take. Of course they are encouraged by the capitalists to continue consuming ignorance and distraction but one suspects when the shit hits the fan there are going to be a lot of people wondering “why weren’t we told?”

    They were, they just choose not to listen.

  26. I am a very strong supporter of the gas transition option (using CCGT (Combined Cycle Gas Turbine)as part of any realistic action plan. Reasons for supporting this option include:
    We could go close to replacing all coal fired power with CCGT by 2015 if we got on with it now – Would at least halve power related emissions per kWh.
    The technology is there now.
    CCGT is not going to cause any grid stability problems.
    Renewables such as wind and solar cost a lot less if they have gas back-up for low wind/cloudy days.
    50/50 mix of CCGT plus renewables would give an 80% reduction. By contrast a black coal fired plus renewables mix would have to be 20/80 to give the same result – important when CCGT or coal fired are used as back-up for renewables.
    In the longer term we are not going to be able to use gas and may need to change our social and economic systems if we are to save the planet. However, what really counts is the amount we emit over the next forty years, not just our rate of emissions by this time. It is much easier to minimize what we emit in the next forty years if we get on and do the easy things we can do now instead of waiting for the longer term actions to happen.
    Given the importance of the items in Brian’s list you might try to understand why all this talk about the evils of gas irritates me just a bit?

  27. Dave 31,

    You are right. But people will also say “why didn’t our government protect us”. This is a valid argument, particularly in Australia. Once a community gives up self protection in favour of collective protection then the collective managers (government) have a RESPONSIBILITY to perform against all threats. Equally important is that such performance must be proportional to the threat. What we are not seeing form our Australian government is a


    and it past the time when we should be demanding it from this government.

    What governments have shown determination to act on climate change?


    is all that I have so far.

  28. quokka @ 34, that David Archer piece dates back to March this year. There is no doubt that Archer has specialised scientific knowledge on the topic. But there seems to be sharply divided scientific opinion on this issue. The ‘alarmists’, who appear to be respectable scientists, are dismissed almost with derision by some pretty impressive scientists.

    I started working on a post on the issue and hope to return to it some time. My initial take was that the risks are perhaps low, but there are unsettling signs with the probability of tipping-point type feedbacks cutting in if it reaches a critical threshold.

    Given the seriousness of the risks my feeling was that the alarmists should not be lightly dismissed.

    BilB sent me some references which I’ll have to dig out. He’s had a pretty close look at it in coming to his conclusions.

  29. Brian said:

    But there seems to be sharply divided scientific opinion on this issue. The ‘alarmists’, who appear to be respectable scientists, are dismissed almost with derision by some pretty impressive scientists.

    I do wonder at times about this phenomenon. When there is room for very significant uncertainty — and this area (outgassing and feedbacks) is certainly one such area, I suspect there is a good deal of political pressure to err, if one must, on the optimistic side of inferences. Very few people are comfortable being cast in the role of Henny Penny, and certainly not scientists, whose reputation is very much more at risk if pessimistic predictions cannot be quickly verified than if optimistic ones quickly prove optimistic. The latter failure tends to underpin their credibility amongst those who would sooner believe everything is fine and we need do little serious on the matter.

    We have seen with each successive iteration of Assessment Reports a revision of IPCC projections in the direction of being more pessimistic, and given the lead times between reports and the actual data on which these are based appearing, virtually every IPCC report is somewhat more optimistic than the latest data suggests.

  30. Brian @ 34

    I hear what you say. Being without expert knowledge, I tend to place a lot of weight on opinions published on RealClimate because of the exceptional credentials of the contributors. I also think that this sort of opinion piece is likely to represent the consensus view of the RC team.

    Whether we risk a methane tipping point or not really doesn’t change the urgency of of the need to drastically reduce CO2 and other GHG emissions.

    I think another poster here suggested that the methane issue may be cause for adopting geo engineering techniques presumably for solar radiation management. There are very good reasons to be very cautious of this. If such techniques were to be used, we need to be very certain of the scientific assessment leading to their deployment.

  31. Quokka said:

    I think another poster here suggested that the methane issue may be cause for adopting geo engineering techniques presumably for solar radiation management. There are very good reasons to be very cautious of this. If such techniques were to be used, we need to be very certain of the scientific assessment leading to their deployment.

    I suggested that it might be time to explore the technical and environmentla feasibility of a range of geoengineering solutions. I agree that we should be very alert to uninteded consequences and be very careful that we don’t end up adding new problems to the one we are trying to abate.

    That’s why I feel we should start actively investigating the matter now, so as to have thew scope to evaluate and reject serveral options before having a plan B available on an adequte timeline.

  32. Fran, I think the reference was to Darryl Rosin @ 10.

    quokka @ 37 said:

    Whether we risk a methane tipping point or not really doesn’t change the urgency of of the need to drastically reduce CO2 and other GHG emissions.

    My recall is that there was concern that spending time and money on research on methane was a distraction and wasteful when the main action was CO2.

  33. Brian @39

    My recall is that there was concern that spending time and money on research on methane was a distraction and wasteful when the main action was CO2.

    I doubt that they would be arguing against expenditure on research on methane or on reduction of emissions. For the RC people, it’s always a case of placing emphasis on a informed and balanced view of the science. They place a very high value on this – over and above their own views on policy.

  34. From The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.
    How many more warnings do we need, like this one from a former Brazilian Minister for the environment, responsible for the Amazon rain forest?
    “Modern industrial society is a fanatical religion. We are demolishing, poisoning, destroying all life systems on the planet. We are signing IOUs our children will not be able to pay..We are acting as if we are the last generation on the planet. Without a radical change in heart, mind and vision, the Earth will end up like Venus, charred and dead.”
    That was 18 yrs ago now and we have as much chance of all getting on board for change, as we have of all getting a conscience.

  35. quokka, what I said in my draft post was this:

    A recent post at Climate Progress is scary, but Martin Heimann of the Max-Planck-Institut für Biogeochemie in Jena reviewed at the same evidence and found in the grand scheme of things and found the changes “negligible”. A similar view was taken in a post at RealClimate, though both admit that we simply don’t know whether what’s happening up there is the start of something bigger.

    And you are right, Archer says that they can’t find a mechanism whereby the methane would be released fast enough to cause a problem.

    In comments at the RealClimate post Archer says if it were released at 10 times current rates that would be catastrophic, and the area should be monitored. I think it was either Heimann at Max Planck or one of the blokes at Potsdam (perhaps Rahmstorf or Meinshausen) who said it was a waste of money, but I can’t find the reference so I’d best let it go.

    This paper is an indication of Archer’s credentials.

  36. Does the realclimate article mean we drop burping cows from the fright list as well? It is only part of a short term natural cycle and makes no net contribution to airborn fossil carbon. Ditto methane from rice paddies and similar?

  37. I didn’t think they were absolutely sure!

    I thought they were basically very suspicious that the problems could be close to being impossible to imagine and that a simple change to renewable energies was prudent!



  39. John D @ 43:

    Does the realclimate article mean we drop burping cows from the fright list as well?

    I don’t read it that way. I think they are saying that the marine methane is only a very small percentage of annual methane emissions and as such isn’t significant.

    I think there is an argument about the transience of methane. It’s usually considered as about 20 times more powerful than CO2 on the basis of it’s effect form 100 years on. My understanding is that the CH4 ends up basically (in the main) as CO2 and water. But even the amount of carbon involved over the long term seems to me a worry, remembering that it’s the emissions over the longer term that count.

    But I think its potency should be considered as a continual pulse, in which case it’s more than 100 times as potent as CO2, which makes it a huge worry.


    KeiTHy, we along with Canada and the US (are there any others?) have significant representation of denialists/sceptics amongst the political class.

  41. Brian,

    Don’t take just one person’s

    “Heimann at Max Planck or one of the blokes at Potsdam”

    opinion on the subject. Consider the opinion and reputation of this guy who sadly can no longer speak on the subject.


    , but here is some of what he has said


    I happen to know that he was extremely concerned about methane releases in the Arctic and of the apocolyptic potential. There are more of Sir Ian Axfrods writings on the subject, but they are a little hard to track down.

    As for the RealClimate article where it concludes

    “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.”

    It is quite wrong to say that here is no proposed mechanism to unlock Artic hydrates. The Atlantic Conveyor is the mechanism. This current normal sinks before it enters the Arctic ocean, and recently has been weakened by huge volumes of freshwater coming from rivers in Russia as the thawe sets in there, and possibly also from Antarctic meltwater pinching the current at the horn of Africa. But once these influences have have run their course and the body of heat carried from the Indian ocean builds the conveyor has the ability to push higher into the arctic ocean and as it sinks to return to the Indian Ocean carry unnaturally warm water to the depths where the hydrates reside. Already the Berring Sea is warming and methane is percolating from the sea floor.

    From articles that I read some years ago in Scientific American on observations from ice and sea floor cores there is evidence that these hydrates have been released in the past causing massive climate change in just a few years. The heatwave that Russia has just endured (linked I believe with the flooding in Pakistan) should be seen as an early warning sign.

  42. BilB, for now I’m sitting on the fence. Certainly Joe Romm at Climate Progress takes it very seriously:

    Research published in Friday’s journal Science finds a key “lid” on “the large sub-sea permafrost carbon reservoir” near Eastern Siberia “is clearly perforated, and sedimentary CH4 [methane] is escaping to the atmosphere.”

    No climate model currently incorporates the amplifying feedback from methane released by a defrosting tundra.

    It is increasingly clear that if the world strays significantly above 450 ppm atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide for any length of time, we will find it unimaginably difficult to stop short of 800 to 1000 ppm.

    Here’s a link to what you said back in March. I haven’t had time to follow up the Scientific American references.

    James Hansen says inter alia:

    Methane hydrates are likely to be more extensive and vulnerable now than they were in the early Cenozoic.

    He says that having blasted off in the PETM incident 55mya the methane gun is again well and truly loaded. He sees the potential for a Venus syndrome effect if we have methane on top of fossil fuel warming. On the Venus syndrome possibility:

    While it is difficult to say based on present information, I’ve come to conclude that if we burn all reserves of oil, gas and coal, there is a substantial chance we will initiate the runaway greenhouse. If we also burn the tar sands and tar shale, I believe the Venus syndrome is a dead certainty.

    That was from Storms for of my grandchildren, p236.

    So, no, I’m not just listening to one person.

  43. Thanks for the Joe Romm link, Brian, There is a lot of well qualified infromation in there. Reading down through some of the comments there is a link to a times on line article in which we find some quantification of the release from the Arctic

    “Using Russian icebreakers to sample methane concentrations at various different water depths and above the surface at more than 5,000 locations, the team showed that methane was being released far faster than estimated.

    They found that almost seven teragrams of methane, each equivalent to 1.1 billion tonnes of carbon, were being released every year from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. A similar figure had previously been estimated to be the total for all world oceans.

    “This is a little alarming,” said Dr Shakhova. “We do not know how massive or sudden this outburst was. We don’t know how many there were. We don’t know how close to the equilibrium we are. A lot of questions are still open.” ”

    So if the worlds total CO2 emissions (2007) were 29 billion tonnes, and the Arctic is now releasing 1.1 billion tones of methane with a 25:1 heat trapping effect (but with a decay life of 25 years) yielding a CO2 equivalence of 27.5billion tonnes then we are looking at a doubling of the atmospheric heat absorption from a source totally beyond human control. And if these Arctic releases have the ability to increase, then any CO2 management we do when it is in terms of minor percentages over decades simply amounts to deckchair rearrangement.

    So at this point where the Real Climate article states

    “CO2 is plenty to be frightened of, while methane is frosting on the cake”

    is a glossing over of reality rather than accepting it. I would not call a doubling of heat trapping “frosting”. If Shakover’s evaluations of Arctic methane release quantities are correct then we are very much on the edge.

  44. Brian@49

    Hansen’s book is called: Storms for of My Grandchildren: […]

    Substantively, while I won’t comment on the clathrate gun hypothesis, from what I read about the condition of the Arctic Permafrost I’m quite as concerned as BilB is about its integrity in coming years. The usual quoted figure on CH4 is 23*GWP of CO2.

    Better equipped people than I are of course examining this question, but I do get a sense that it is being de-emphasised in part because the implications of attaching greater weight to it would tempt many to believe it is too late to avert catastrophic warming and/or that the measures we are taking will prove futile in practice — and are therefore worth abandoning in favour of adaptation or that they are being excessively “alarmist” or “irresponsible”.

    I utterly reject these conclusions of course — and favour aggressive mitigation and exploration of the feasibility of geoengineering measures.

  45. Fran, BilB, I simply don’t have time to get my head around it all. Last year I did a post which I need to revisit, but it involves restoring all the images.

    Dessus et al is worth a look on the warming effect of methane (see Figure 4 and table 2).

    I think the annual emissions are just under 400 teragrams (=400 million tonnes), say 380. The CO2 equivalent of that during the following year is 100 times that, which I get to 3.8Gt, whereupon it is replaced by another 380 teragrams.

    That sounds like a significant problem to me, but I’m neither a mathematician nor a climate scientist. But it’s not catastrophic unless it ramps up multiple times.

    I’ve got to go out to work now, so if someone could check my figures I’d appreciate it.

  46. Yes, Brian, I overstated it to some degree, I realised after hitting the print button and THEN checking what teragram was, because it is unclear what Natalia is refering to with the 1.1 billion tonnes of carbon. It does not easily match any calcualtion that I am familiar with and the report is behind a paywall. The most important issue is that this is not steady state, it is accelerating and accumulative. And there is the other issue of oxygen depletion in the entire Baring sea area. If oxygen scavenging Methane is at 80% saturation then oxygen must be taking a hit threatening sea life in the area.

  47. BilB@33 I think there is a good argument that the capacity for governments to act in the interests of their constituents has been systematically attacked and undermined by the forces of capitalism and the net consequence of these actions can be seen in a variety of examples of which the environment is but one.

    Destructive climate change may be the net result of human behaviour, consumptive exploitation of carbon and inappropriate land use are but two examples however such behaviour is clearly encouraged by the capitalist system under the guise of enabling individual freedoms which has exploited these tendences because they generate extraordinary profits.

    I think your pessimism is understated. The very idea of collective action be it as a means of dealing with dangerous climate change or a range of egalitarian ideals is to be set against the capacity of governments to act contrary to the interests of the rich and powerful. The mining tax is just one recent example, public transport is another, housing (in this country), public health, gambling and so on. Either the government is constrained by the threat of a media orchestrated wave of anti-government sentiment (and who can argue that the media does anything more than serve the interests of the capitalist system?) or it is bedeviled by other persuasive and powerful lobby groups who can easily adopt and exploit the ready tendency of the media to attack the government.

    The argument that we must somehow find economic solutions to the problems confronting us seems to me to be a recipe for accelerating the division between rich and poor while preserving the capacity of the elites to enjoy the fruits an orderly world. The vast majority might be condemned to eating soylent green and cowering in low energy ghettos but the rich will still be dining out on sirloin steaks and french champagne in their fortified mountain retreats.

  48. Brian: As the methane is released from the permafrost the insulating layer above the clathrates gets thicker and thicker. Double the thickness and the heat transfer halves and the rate of methane generation halves.
    It is also hard to transfer heat down through water because the warmer water is more buoyant. So water above submerged clathrates is going to warm very very slowly. As someone said above the methane we see in the oceans north of Siberia probably are part of something that has been slowly happening since the ice ages.

  49. BilB @ 33
    We certainly are doomed if anthropopogenic climate change is driving us to a climate that is out of control; especially if you believe China is having an impact on reduced carbon based emissions.
    Here are the figures for China, India ,developiong Asia and Total African coal use . The units are million tons oil equivalents:-
    1989 790.5
    1990 797.1
    1999 988
    2002 1058.6
    2005 1429.9
    2006 1569.9
    2007 1836.5
    2008 1959.6

    You still don’t get it, that it isn’t going to make any difference what Australia does, our efforts, whatever they may be, are equivalent to near enough to zero on a world scale. China and the US will thumb their noses at the rest of the world, Australia doesn’t count. Basically they have trebled in 20 yearsand increasing exponentially.

    From Reuters AlertNet, the International Energy Agency gets it:

    Fatih Birol, of the IEA, said “the gains from the tougher EU reduction target would roughly equal only two weeks of China’s emissions.”

    “The United States and China are essential for combating climate change globally. We estimate extending Europe’s plan to cut emissions from 20 to 30 percent would roughly equal China’s two-week gas output,” Birol said in an interview.

  50. Brian,
    After reading the doom above I can’t help but quote Dr. Hans Labohm

    “For decades the climate debate has been obfuscated by cherry-picking, spin-doctoring and scare-mongering by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other climate alarmists, including the environmental movement and mainstream media. Their massive effort to overstate the threat of man-made warming has left its imprint on public opinion.”

    I just wonder how people see the continued predictions of impending doom. I think it probably makes people very anxious, especially when you consider it isn’t going to make a bit of difference to the climate, no matter what we do in Australia.
    I’ve become so anxious I’m digging a hole in the ground, its cooler down there. Of course you can take that statement two ways.


    Let us demand the government protect its citizens by pushing baseload solar power!

  52. It does matter what Australia does: research and development is an extremely powerful tool!

    Markets don’t do an awful lot of it if they can help it so you can’t rely on them!

    I thought we had mineral wealth….!! I thought we were a clever country…!!

  53. “You still don’t get it, that it isn’t going to make any difference what Australia does…”


    You’ll find that countries responsible for 2% or less of world emission together are responsible for 50% of the world’s CO2.

    If they all take the attitude you recommend for Australia – and why wouldn’t they, on your prize logic – we’re screwed.

    I know the logic of collective action can be complex, but try to keep up. This is a global problem.

  54. John D @ 55, that makes sense to me wrt to permafrost. In relation to marine clathrates, I guess that heat transfer relies on water movement, as in currents, churning from storms etc.

  55. I have to agree with Keithy on this – we should be trying to develop the model others will follow.
    If you can establish a system that is robust and market based the world will use it.
    Setting the standard is the way we should be going.
    The chinese and indians will be the largest customers.

  56. Quokka@37

    “I think another poster here suggested that the methane issue may be cause for adopting geo engineering techniques presumably for solar radiation management. There are very good reasons to be very cautious of this. If such techniques were to be used, we need to be very certain of the scientific assessment leading to their deployment.”

    Very late getting back to this, sorry. Benford’s arguments for stratospheric aerosols in the Arctic are:

    1. if the Permafrost melts, it’s probably game over. There’s 100s of Gigatonnes of Methane locked up in the arctic, with a global warming potential about 25 times greater than CO2. If that’s released over the next 200 years, its probably a civilisation ending event. And its already coming out. He had a photo from some colleagues who were in the arctic on an unrelated research trip and they observed bubbles coming up in a lake they’d cut an ice hole in. On a whim, someone put a match to the bubbles and they lit up. They left it burning when they packed up camp.

    2. Even *if* we could embark on radical emission reductions today, that will not save the Arctic sea ice, with all the warming feedback that entails (and the rest of the problems).

    3. Adding the necessary sulphur to the Arctic stratosphere is an increase of ‘only’ 1% on current levels, which are very high due to pollution from Russian mining activities.

    4. The Sulphur precipitates out quickly, in a matter of weeks, so it provides a low-risk opportunity for active research and might buy us time.

    5. It’s cheap and politically achievable. The stratosphere is close to the surface at the poles so you only need to release the aerosols at around 12km up, which could be done by aerial refuelling aircraft. Someone like Bill Gates could fund it himself (and he’s already spent $5m on private studies) and you’d only need the approval of the Arctic Council, which is eight nations.

    There’s an awful lot of uncertainties and ‘moral hazards’ around the proposal, but I’m just about sold that it’s our only hope to stop the methane release.


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