The Arctic is defrosting as warm Atlantic waters rush through the Fram Strait instead of skirting the southern coast of Greenland. This is an important event, regardless of the deafening silence exhibited by the mainstream media.
How important? First consider the background, from the perspective of long-time climate scientist James Hansen and colleague Makiko Sato, who report the disaster awaiting us at 2 C warmer is truly catastrophic (although they downplay the likelihood we’re already committed to this outcome): “We conclude that Earth in the warmest interglacial periods was less than 1°C warmer than in the Holocene and that goals of limiting human-made warming to 2°C and CO2 to 450 ppm are prescriptions for disaster” (the paper is titled “Paleoclimate Implications for Human-Made Climate Change: Draft paper for Milankovic volume”, as described on Hansen’s website). Currently, Earth’s atmosphere contains about 390 ppm carbon dioxide, and simply including methane (one of many greenhouse gases) brings the atmospheric equivalent of carbon dioxide up to about 460 ppm.
At the same time Arctic ice is melting, the planet is losing its lungs. Catastrophic drought in the Amazon has it emitting carbon dioxide more rapidly than the United States. Simultaneously, permafrost is thawing and methane stored in eastern Siberia is venting into the atmosphere at an alarming rate. Methane, by the way, is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Against this background, it is easy to foresee a rapidly and profoundly warming Arctic as a trigger for positive feedbacks such as release of methane hydrates and reduced albedo. These extremely dangerous feedbacks, which forecasters did not expect until the planet becomes 2 C warmer than the baseline (vs. the current level of ~0.75 C warmer), could trigger runaway greenhouse. In other words, any of these event — never mind all of them at once — could lead directly and quickly to the extinction of Homo sapiens.
Is that important enough for you?
If you’re among the mainstream media, the answer is no. If you’re any politician in the industrialized world, the answer is no. If you want to continue the process of human-population overshoot on an overshot planet, the answer is no. If you’re one of the kingpins of capitalism — or even a defender of capitalism — the answer is no. I’ll go further: If you’re a defender of western civilization, your answer is no. But if you’re among the few people working to terminate western civilization before it terminates our species, it seems we’ve lost this most important of battles.
Like economic collapse, extinction is a process that leads to an event. The last human on Earth will not die today, tomorrow, or even next week. But it clearly could happen within a generation. Indeed, the odds grow with every passing day while we continue to deny our role in our own demise.
What will it take for the people to act? For that matter, what will it take for the people to notice?
Nothing to see here. Move along. This time is different. It can’t happen here. I’m just another purveyor of negativity to be ignored by a world full of
happy optimists hedonists.
I am routinely accused of being an insane terrorist because I want to terminate the industrial economy, thereby giving our species an opportunity to persist a few generations longer. At this point, with our knowledge of the adverse consequences of civilization for non-industrial cultures, non-human species, and even the persistence of our own species, how can any sane person want to keep the industrial age alive?
In the race between collapse of the industrial economy and climate chaos, it seems climate chaos won. Words are no match for the sadness I feel. I can only imagine the agony of parents as they comprehend the horrors we have created for them, and especially for their children. Or perhaps this childless atheist — as I am labeled by every writer who pens me into a story — cares about the future of humanity more than most parents. After all, nearly every parent with whom I speak — failing to notice the dependence of the industrial economy on the environment — is far more interested in growth of the former, for their child’s sake, than with protection of the latter (for their child’s sake).
We traded in future generations of human beings — all of them — for a few dollars more. We worshiped at the heavenly altar of economic growth, and triggered hell on Earth.
Alas, it’s too little, too late. The American Dream long ago morphed into the American Nightmare. It’s too bad George Carlin couldn’t be here for additional commentary. Rationalist voices are hard to come by. Rationalist voices with a sense of humor are vanishingly rare.
The response remains the same, at least for me. As a society, we will continue to value financial profit over life. Therefore, as individuals we should prepare and maintain durable living arrangements in light of ongoing energy decline and ongoing climate change. And, of course, we must keep fighting to bring down the omnicidal beast that is civilization.
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