“In a world where the dead have returned to life, the word ‘trouble’ loses much of its meaning.”
The opening lines of a recent New York Times article by Justin Gillis may appear to many readers as if they were part of a big budget film treatment:
“A bubble rose through a hole in the surface of a frozen lake. It popped, followed by another, and another, as if a pot were somehow boiling in the icy depths. Every bursting bubble sent up a puff of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas generated beneath the lake from the decay of plant debris. These plants last saw the light of day 30,000 years ago and have been locked in a deep freeze — until now.”
More from the Times article: “Experts have long known that northern lands were a storehouse of frozen carbon, locked up in the form of leaves, roots and other organic matter trapped in icy soil — a mix that, when thawed, can produce methane and carbon dioxide, gases that trap heat and warm the planet. But they have been stunned in recent years to realize just how much organic debris is there.”
One estimate of the methane stored in the west Siberian bog alone has it equivalent to emitting 1.7 trillion tons of CO2, which is more greenhouse gas than has been emitted by humans in the past 200 years.
Are you on the edge of your seat yet?
Please allow me to introduce the inconvenient truth that, as a greenhouse gas, methane is 20-30 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. It is, as Gillis explains in the Times, “especially potent at trapping the sun’s heat, and the potential for large new methane emissions in the Arctic is one of the biggest wild cards in climate science.”
Another inconvenient truth is, well…human culture has done its damnedest to cultivate the ideal environment for considerable amounts of methane to be released via permafrost melting.
Translation: It’s already happening.
Steve Connor writes in The Independent of a Russian research team who, while recently surveying the seabed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf off northern Russia, found methane being released at “never before witnessed” scale and force.
“Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of meters in diameter. This is the first time that we’ve found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures, more than 1,000 meters in diameter. It’s amazing,” said Igor Semiletov of the Russian Academy of Sciences. “I was most impressed by the sheer scale and high density of the plumes. Over a relatively small area we found more than 100, but over a wider area there should be thousands of them.”
How does this relate to climate change? As detailed by the Times: “When organic material comes out of the deep freeze, it is consumed by bacteria. If the material is well-aerated, bacteria that breathe oxygen will perform the breakdown, and the carbon will enter the air as carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas. But in areas where oxygen is limited, like the bottom of a lake or wetland, a group of bacteria called methanogens will break down the organic material, and the carbon will emerge as methane.”
FYI: Once the decomposition begins, (cue the ominous music) It. Cannot. Be. Reversed.
What can be reversed is the way humans choose to live as part of a finite ecosystem. A culture that runs on petroleum, animal exploitation, and the mantra of infinite growth (among other nightmares) is doomed, by definition. All other forms of life are also put into severe peril by such human hubris and denial.
This is why we must continue to occupy and never surrender the goal of fashioning an alternative form of human society—as soon as possible. As a small contribution towards creating such change, I’d like to once again offer my “Seat Belt Supposition,” and it goes a little something like this:
While some of us fasten our seat belts to avoid getting a ticket, many more do so as a safety measure. We don’t wait until we see another vehicle spinning out of control to snap the seat belt into place. We fasten it upon entering a car. It can sometimes be a little uncomfortable to wear, but if we arrive at our destination without having needed that seat belt, we typically don’t regret using it.
By applying this same preventative mentality to climate change—and to live unconcerned whether or not the human role in global warming is accurate or overstated—we’d be living with a prudent vision for the present and our shared future. The only players with a vested interest in the homicidal/suicidal status quo are those who earn short-term profits off of our conspicuous consumption…and our indifference.
So why not alter our lifestyle as if our very existence were hanging in the balance? (News flash: It is.) To accept this challenge not only has the potential to downsize the global damage but would also teach us how to overcome corporate propaganda—a compelling and crucial step of its own.
I repeat: There is no down side to living your life as if we are at the environmental point of no return and we humans are almost entirely to blame. If we do so, our culture could become a little less violent, daily life might grow a touch simpler, the eco-system would get at least a temporary reprieve, and corporate profits will plummet precipitously.
Sounds like #winning to me.
We are the 99%. Expect us. Join us…
#De-OccupyPermafrostMelting. #OccupyUrgency. #OccupyChange.