Skip to main content

It turns out we haven't been playing with fire in regards to climate change, or even atom bombs...we're playing with a hydrogen bomb stockpile.  Because as we're about to get serious about climate change, Earth is set to be still far less forgiving:

The vast amount of carbon stored in the arctic and boreal regions of the world is more than double that previously estimated...

So notes Super-size Deposits Of Frozen Carbon In Arctic Could Worsen Climate Change in Science Daily last month.  

"We now estimate the deposits contain over 1.5 trillion tons of frozen carbon, about twice as much carbon as contained in the atmosphere", said Dr. Charles Tarnocai, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Ottawa, and lead author.

And so it's the amplifying natural feedbacks that will do us in.  Our global overdose on carbon has ignited a fuse...and at the end of the fuse is something uncomprehendingly bad.  One can only conclude that the U.S. security analysis reported by John Broder in today's NY Times is implicitly optimistic.   Joe Romm rightly enlarges the perspective to note that while global security risks will multiply, military power will be the least significant asset, referencing The Real Roots of Darfur.

Not just the security risks, but life in general, will be unimaginably awful if the amplifying feedbacks are allowed to accelerate unabated.   With permafrost we have 1.5 trillion tons of carbon sitting there, and as reported by the University of Alaska last December:

The new data indicates the underwater permafrost is thawing and therefore releasing methane. Permafrost can affect methane release in two ways. Both underwater and on land, it contains frozen organic material such as dead plants and animals. When permafrost thaws, that organic material decomposes, releasing gases like methane and carbon dioxide. In addition, methane, either in gas form or in ice-like methane hydrates, is trapped underneath the permafrost. When the permafrost thaws, the trapped methane can seep out through the thawed soil. Methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, is thought to be an important factor in global climate change.

Throw in Permafrost threatened by rapid melt of Arctic sea ice:

The team finds that, during episodes of rapid sea-ice loss, the rate of Arctic land warming is 3.5 times greater than the average 21st century warming rates predicted in global climate models. While this warming is largest over the ocean, the simulations suggest that it can penetrate as far as 1500 kilometers (about 900 miles) inland. The simulations also indicate that the warming acceleration during such events is especially pronounced in autumn. The decade during which a rapid sea-ice loss event occurs could see autumn temperatures warm by as much as 5 degrees C (9 degrees F) along the Arctic coasts of Russia, Alaska, and Canada.

So we have faster melting than thought possible of soil containing twice as much carbon than previously thought.  It's now an acceleration of existential danger exceeding even nuclear holocaust.  It's a game changer.

While permafrost melt is the granddaddy of feedbacks, other amplifying feedbacks in Earth's arsenal include:
Polar Ice Sheet Melt and Polar Amplification
Ocean Saturation
Wetlands Destruction

Perhaps we could have the military conduct a strategic review to recommend how best to avoid these catastrophic feedbacks?  I bet the Pentagon would argue for something much stronger than Waxman-Markey.  As they surely understand, this arms race with Earth cannot be negotiated away.

In the meantime do what you can to reduce your footprint:   Checklist Toward Zero Carbon.  Download it. Edit it. Make it your own. Pass it on.

Originally posted to bklynarch on Sun Aug 09, 2009 at 03:06 PM PDT.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site