Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Methane: The real environmental time bomb.

Forget carbon dioxide. Here’s a story regarding what could potentially be the final kicker in global warming and climate change.

Gas locked inside Siberia's frozen soil and under its lakes has been seeping out since the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago. But in the past few decades, as the Earth has warmed, the icy ground has begun thawing more rapidly, accelerating the release of methane — a greenhouse gas 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide — at a perilous rate.

Some scientists believe the thawing of permafrost could become the epicenter of climate change. They say 1.5 trillion tons of carbon, locked inside icebound earth since the age of mammoths, is a climate time bomb waiting to explode if released into the atmosphere.

Most climate scientists, with a few dissenters, say human activities — the stuff of daily life like driving cars, producing electricity or raising cattle — is overloading the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, methane and other gases that trap heat, causing a warming effect.

But global warming is amplified in the polar regions. What feels like a modest temperature rise is enough to induce Greenland glaciers to retreat, Arctic sea ice to thin and contract in summer, and permafrost to thaw faster, both on land and under the seabed.

There are huge amounts of methane trapped in a frozen state in both the earth’s permafrost and underneath the ocean’s floors. If we ever reach a point where massive amounts of methane are released into the atmosphere, that would most likely mean the end of human society as we know it. Oh, a number of individuals and even groups would survive. But whatever society might finally result from the remnants of our current society would have more in common with the stone age tribes than our current cities which are totally dependent upon cheap energy, plentiful food, clean water, a very complex infrastructure, and a division of labor among our current populace that allows very intense specialization. You think there will be much need for investment bankers, designers of video games, or changers of lubricants in automobiles? I seriously doubt it, as the survivors will be scrabbling in order to remain so.

But we are all too wrapped up in our little insanities to care. Global warming is a myth. Scientists are elitists. Opinions matter much more than facts. Hate thy enemy and smite him before he smites you, even metaphorically. That's all that matters these days.

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