by Subhankar Banerjee
August 1, 2013
from AlterNet Website
are turning North America into
a petro-imperial and petro-despot continent.
This doesn't bode well for solving the
On July 25 the journal Nature published an article about the "Economic Time Bomb" that is slowly being detonated by Arctic warming.
Gail Whiteman of Erasmus University in the Netherlands, and Chris Hope and Peter Wadhams of the University of Cambridge suggest - based on economic modeling that the,
The news should have sent a shock wave
through the media. But instead, predictably, the public were
encouraged to celebrate - again and again, and again - the birth of
the royal son.
Iñupiaq conservationist Robert Thompson and I were walking along the northwest corner of Barter Island when we came across a rather ghastly scene: an exposed coffin with human bones scattered around it.
The permafrost (frozen soil) had melted away and exposed the coffin. Robert speculated that a grizzly bear broke open the coffin and scattered the human remains. What we didn’t see, however, is the methane that was released from thawing of the permafrost.
Methane (CH4) is a greenhouse gas that causes global warming and is more than twenty times more potent than CO2.
Large amount of methane is stored in the Arctic - both terrestrial and subsea. It is released in two ways: when permafrost on land thaws from warming, the soil decomposes and gradually releases methane. In the seabed, methane is stored as a methane gas or hydrate, and is released when the subsea permafrost thaws from warming.
The methane release from the seabed can be larger and more abrupt than through decomposition of the terrestrial permafrost.
In 2007, the extent of summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean hit a record low - 30 percent below average. This event spurred a study by scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSID) in Boulder, Colorado.
The team used climate models to understand if the,
In 2008 they published results from their study in Geophysical Research Letters.
This was alarming news because Arctic permafrost holds,
In reality, the Arctic sea ice is continuing to retreat at a rapid pace. The August-September sea ice extent in the Arctic Ocean had set a new record low last year: 18 per cent below the previous record of 2007.
As permafrost thaws, ponds connect with the groundwater system, which lead to drying of streams, lakes and wetlands.
Permafrost thawing also accelerates rates of contaminant transfer that have toxic effects on aquatic plants, fish and other animals, and also increases transfer of pollutants to marine areas. This affects not only wildlife, but also indigenous peoples who depend on fish and other animals for subsistence resources.
The NCAR-NSID team found that the terrestrial permafrost was indeed melting in the real world:
In November 2007, Robert Thompson and I had seen large areas of "drunken forests" in Eastern Siberia, not far from where Stalin’s Gulag camps were, along the Kolyma River valley.
About the subsea methane release in the
Arctic, I’m aware of only two studies: the decade-long and ongoing
Shakhova-Semiletov climate science study in Eastern Siberia, and the
Whiteman-Hope-Wadhams economic modeling that was published last
week. Soon I’ll talk about both studies, but first a short journey
through dystopia in a climate ravaged Earth.
Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) is a good example.
But it doesn’t have to be literary imaginations only, it can be visual imaginations as well; and it doesn’t have to be about the future, it can also be about the present, as Spanish painter Francisco Goya made evident in his print series The Disasters of War (1810-1820).
Susan Sontag observed in Regarding the Pain of Others:
Art historians have suggested that Goya created the series,
Goya kept both his intentions and the 82 prints he created private during his lifetime. It was finally published in 1863, thirty-five years after his death, when it was deemed,
Is it possible that climate change
experts in the US are keeping their feelings private and not
speaking out with
Obama’s petro-imperial and
pro-coal energy policy - for the fear of…?
Eight contributors provided a more or less supportive view of the plan. The ninth contributor, however, a policy analyst from the Heritage Foundation, unsurprisingly took the discussion in the opposite direction,
Broadly speaking the comments on Yale
Environment 360 focused on emission reduction from coal-fired power
plants and natural gas as a good "bridge fuel." No one mentioned a
word about the "climate
time bomb" that Obama had set off with his "National
Strategy for the Arctic Region" in May. And no one said
anything about the grave eco-cultural and climate consequences of -
his support for expansion of fossil fuels extraction - across the
American land and the oceans.
In 2010, the phony cap-and-trade bill
had focused on emission reduction and was limping through the
dysfunctional US Congress, and then failed. To bring the focus back
to extraction, later that year, I wrote an
article on Common Dreams, "Another One Hundred Years of
Fossil-Digging in North America?"
Since there has been a lot of discussion about tar sands in Alberta, I’ll focus on a few others:
On July 9 I wrote,
And on July 25 Lynne Peeples wrote on Huffington Post that this coal project,
Leah Donahey of the Alaska Wilderness League shared with me similar concerns that Obama’s plan for drilling in the Arctic Ocean might have more environmental impact than the Keystone XL pipeline.
Last week she wrote to me in an email:
My intention here is not to start a
debate about which is the worst offender, but to point out that all
of these mega extraction projects will cause massive eco-cultural
devastations and contribute enormously to global climate change.
I wrote in a letter to the editors in the June 6 issue of The New York Review of Books,
I was wrong.
As it turns out, right now, instead of drilling, Shell is doing sonar surveys in the Chukchi Sea, using the Finnish icebreaker Fennica, to inspect "ice gouges" on the seafloor where Shell "might build pipelines to offshore oil wells," as reported by Alaska KTUU-TV on July 23.
With air guns and sonar equipments that
Shell is using, the Chukchi Sea is certainly not calm this summer.
On July 5 Robert Thompson, who lives in Kaktovik on Barter Island along the Beaufort Sea coast, wrote to me in an email:
Why are the climate change experts focusing only on emission reduction, and not on extraction reduction also, you might ask? It might seem paradoxical that while the US is trying to reduce emissions, it is also increasing extractions at the same time. I have a theory.
A significant part of the extracted fossil fuels would be sent to other places around the world (like coal from the Powder River Basin will go to Asia) - to make huge money. It will get burned somewhere and contribute to the global climate change.
Emissions statistics, however, would show that America is reducing emission and is solving the climate crisis - at home. It’ll all look good on paper. Not so fast though.
Two years ago Joseph Nevins pointed out on Truthout,
Now imagine: If the American military burns oil in a mission to Afghanistan, that was extracted from America’s Arctic Ocean, would that be included in the accounting of American emission? I think not.
If my theory of - emission vs.
extraction - proves true, it’d be yet another example of American
But instead, we’re living in a dystopian
For example, the Arctic sea ice is melting at a rate faster than what the models had predicted few years ago:
...are just a few examples of our current climate ravaged America.
The future for the whole Earth looks
much worse. This is what I’d call - ecological dystopia.
The unofficial Klimaforum, however, gave renewed energy to the climate justice movement. By fighting the political system, we had envisioned, it might be possible to move away from fossil fuels, and toward a clean energy future.
However, less than four years later, it
has now become clear that fossil fuels extraction is rapidly
increasing with government support in North America. It will
continue to be that way through the rest of this century, and
perhaps beyond. And globally - Russia, China, India, Brazil - the
story is the same. This is what I’d call - political dystopia.
Drought, heat, fires, water shortage - will make much of the American southwest uninhabitable.
People would be faced with two choices. Those who can afford would move away to more habitable places (from Phoenix to Portland, or from St. Pete to Seattle, for example). But for most people, particularly poor people won’t have a choice to move - to a better place.
The latter condition would be called,
"displacement without moving" that Rob Nixon coined in his
groundbreaking book, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of
the Poor (Harvard).
The US government is perhaps envisioning such a future scenario. I’d suggest that this is perhaps one of the reasons why America is spending tens of billions of dollars on - not only building a 700-mile long "Mexico-United States barrier," but also turning the border into a "War Zone," as Todd Miller recently pointed out on TomDispatch.
Globally the situation would be similar, as a South-North migration forced by climate change is inevitable. In the Arctic, communities are already being forced to move from their ancestral lands.
Here are a few recent books on the subject of migration and displacement forced by climate change:
The tremendous social chaos that will
arise from migration and "displacement without moving" is what I’d
call - sociological dystopia.
In the fall of 2003, Shakhova and her colleague Dr. Igor Semiletov took the study offshore - to the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Every year since then, they conducted annual research trips, mostly on ships during summer, but also one aerial survey in 2006, and one winter expedition on sea ice in April 2007.
They published their findings in the 5 March 2010 issue of the journal Science.
Their research, for the first time, brought attention to the East Siberian Arctic Shelf as a key reservoir of Arctic methane that,
Their findings showed that the,
Shakhova pointed out that the current
average methane concentrations in the Arctic is "about 1.85 parts
per million, the highest in 400,000 years."
Shakhova had warned at the time that the release of,
Shakhova and Semiletov now hold joint appointments with the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the Pacific Oceanological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Their research is ongoing, and Shakhova
is the lead scientist for the Russia-US Methane Study.
It is estimated that the Arctic Ocean
contains 13 percent of undiscovered oil and 30 percent of
undiscovered gas. These nations are also working to open up the
Arctic sea route for moving all that crude around. It’s a great
irony that the rapid melting of the summer sea ice is making the
Arctic Ocean accessible for extraction and shipping.
They took into account,
They ran the model 10,000 times under two emissions scenarios: low-emissions and business-as-usual emissions.
The result is a shocker: a $60 trillion price tag for the global economy. That’s just the beginning, because there is much more methane in the Arctic than what is in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf.
Furthermore, Whiteman, Hope, and Wadhams write,
The $60 trillion number is astounding, beyond the comprehension of most human minds. It has the capacity to cripple the economy of many small nations, that are already stressed from global economic crises.
This is what I’d call - economic
They also point out that oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean will make warming worse, as gas flaring emits,
Is Shell listening to any of this?
Certainly not! Is Obama listening to any of this? Certainly not!
There, I learned that singing and
dancing are not just for celebration, but also to heal from past
wounds, and to fight for a more just future - for "the diversity of
life" on Earth.
The article uses methane’s Global Warming Potential (GWP) over a 100-year horizon, which according to the IPCC is 25 times more than carbon dioxide.
But the 20-year horizon GWP for methane is 72 according to the IPCC 4th assessment report. This means methane is 72 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.
And according to Drew Shindell and his group at NASA, taking into account aerosol responses, the numbers are even higher, 105 for 20-year and 33 for 100-year.
We ought to be using the 20-year value because the short to mid-term is far more important than the 100-year horizon (it’s hard to even imagine what Earth would look like 100 years from now).