THE METHANE BOMB

It was probably more hope than expectation, but in the early years of the 21st century, it looked as if atmospheric concentrations of the hyper-greenhouse gas, methane had pretty much stabilised. This was good news as the gas has the capability of sending planetary heating into overdrive. In the short term – say a decade or two – methane is capable of warming the planet up to 86 times more rapidly than carbon dioxide. The gas doesn’t hang around in the atmosphere for much more than ten years or so, but then it breaks down into carbon dioxide and water – both greenhouses – which means that its warming influence continues. Even after 100 years, in fact, the global warming potential of the gas is still more than 30 times that of carbon dioxide.

 

Now, both the hope and expectation seem short-sighted as new research reveals that methane levels in the atmosphere are on the rise again. A new open access paper published by the American Geophysical Union (1) provides evidence for atmospheric methane levels starting to climb once more in 2007 and accelerate significantly for the period 2014 – 17. Such a hike is unexpected and was not factored into the calculations that came up with the emissions reductions framework for the Paris Climate Agreement. Consequently, the probability that global average temperatures will rise far above the 2°C dangerous climate change guard rail is now even greater.

 

A big concern is that it is not clear where the methane is coming from. There seems to have been an especially significant increase in the gas across the tropics and sub-tropics and at northern mid-latitudes, and more intensive farming and the warming of methane-hosting swamps and bogs have been fingered as possible culprits. Far more worrying is the possibility that chemical changes in the atmosphere, as it warms, might make it more difficult to break down methane. If true, this would be very bad news indeed, because it would mean that this extremely potent greenhouse gas would hang around for longer, thereby significantly increasing its global warming potential.

 

And there could be plenty more methane to come. Trapped beneath the vast tracts of permafrost at high latitudes are colossal quantities of the gas. The geographic region of most concern is probably the submarine permafrost that floors the East Siberian Continental Shelf, where an estimated 1400 billion tonnes of carbon, in the form of methane, is lurking beneath a frozen carapace that is thawing rapidly. According to one research team as much as 50 billion tonnes of this is available for sudden release at any time, which would – at a stroke – hike the methane content of the atmosphere 12 times. A discrete methane ‘burp’ on this scale could, it has been estimated, advance global warming by 30 years and cost the global economy USD60 trillion – a figure close to four times the US national debt. The occurrence of such an outburst is far from certain and there are other issues to consider, including how much methane is absorbed by the ocean as it bubbles upwards. Nonetheless, this cataclysmic scenario provides yet another reason – if more were needed – why we must slash our own emissions to zero as soon as we can.

 

(1) Very strong atmospheric methane growth in the four years 2014‐2017: Implications for the Paris Agreement

https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1029/2018GB006009

 

Bill McGuire is Professor Emeritus of Geophysical & Climate Hazards at UCL and author of Waking the Giant: How a Changing Climate Triggers Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Volcanic Eruptions. He was a contributor to the IPCC 2012 report on Climate Change & Extreme Events and Disasters.

 

 

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Trees

I am any forest or woods, and I am under threat.

Not just the big threats. All the little threats, thousands and thousands of them.

I welcome visitors. I enjoy their enjoyment of everything I have to offer.

But I am still under threat. Day by day I lose some of my inhabitants as they get disturbed by humans. Sometimes I lose lots of hectares for the greed of humans. I get fragmented by any activity like this, and of course the damage footprint is much, much larger then the actual development area.

It’s any concentration of people that cause the damage, and especially when they don’t go home at night.

I can’t recover if they don’t go home at night.

They don’t really know they’re doing it, but if some of my wildlife has to scatter because the quiet bit of forest they’ve found is discovered by walkers, riders, mountain bikers, joggers, runners, dogs, cars, motorbikes and lots more.Everyone has access to everything for all the hours in a day, for all the days in the year, and the number of visitors continues to grow by leaps and bounds. I sometimes have quite rare flora and fauna come to the forest to set up home but it’s very difficult for them.

I’m not trying to blame anyone. Every one has their priorities, from those who own, those who manage, those who protect, those who use, and of course those who damage.

I do get a bit upset though when some people say they are protecting me but they aren’t. And of course, I can’t protect myself from threats. I’m just a forest after all.

So, I need anyone that’s interested to become my friend. No axe to grind.

If people could just work together to get the balance right, I could give so much more. They might have to give up some access for the short term, but I would multiply that for the long term, for your children’s children.Humans seem to act weirdly when they become part of organisations. They start to write things and believe things that really aren’t true. Do they really believe their statistics and graphs and asset banks are telling the truth?

I gave up my wood to support your conflicts and your industry and you’ve planted lots of the wrong kind of trees, and you’ve learned a lot so that you now try to plant broad leafed deciduous trees now instead of conifers, and if you can restore me towards what I used to be, Ancient Woodland, I would repay that many fold. That will take hundreds of years, but that’s how far ahead you have to look.

Remember if you clear fell on top of a hill, more water will flow down the streams because the water will flow with less impediment and my trees aren’t taking up the water. Just don’t blame me when it goes wrong for you.

By the way, if you clear felled some small areas and created more rides and verges with mowing done at exactly the right times, not to suit you, I would really show you what biodiversity is all about. The clear felled areas create many pockets of micro climate, sheltered and private, and the verges will be a haven for plants liked by butterflies, moths and insects. Think about joining up fragments of forest to create corridors and larger areas.

It’s not rocket science, though sometimes I think it might as well be. After all, I take in carbon, give you oxygen, store water, support biodiversity and give shade, to name but a few things. They say everyone should plant trees in their lifetime for the next generations to enjoy, and it’s more true now than it ever was, given the precarious situation. In my undisturbed areas I hold the memories of centuries.

It’s your choice. How on earth are you going to do it?

Scotland Needs System Change, Not Climate Change, by Ian Paterson

We are a proud people, in Scotland. To what extend varies from person to person, but it’s a common Scottish characteristic and one that, at times, is a hindrance when addressing political issues.

There are sections of Scottish society who will not accept any criticism of the Scottish Government and this prevents a healthy level of scrutiny over much of its policy.

We have developed a narrative that plays into our desire to be seen as a modern and progressive nation, but we need comprehensive political system change badly in Scotland, of the type described by XR Founding member, Stuart Basden recently.

After staging our mock Citizens Assembly and occupying the Scottish Parliament, the BBC sought comment from a Scottish Government source and true to form the response came back that:

“The UN has praised the Scottish Government for our progress in dealing with Climate Change”.

Let’s just take an unbiased look at that record.

The fairest measurement is CO2 per capita – this way small countries can be compared to large ones, in a robust and fair way.

Scots output net 4.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per person, per year, according to the cited data sheet (one page) from the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (2016).

So, is Scotland in the top-ten least polluting countries per capita?

No.

Is it in the top 100?

No.

Scotland lies at 147th out of 217 bespoke countries or territories.

The UK as a whole is 170th

If Scotland is in the worst third of countries for CO2 pollution, why does it get so much praise?

It is true that Scotland’s pollution levels used to be higher and it has reduced somewhat over the past two decades.

In doing so however, the Scottish Government have adopted an approach of providing much of our energy needs from green sources, whilst still supporting tax-subsidised North Sea oil drilling and sale of oil to foreign countries, so the pollution is attributed elsewhere, when the oil is burned.

We live in a relatively unpopulated country, meaning we have large swathes of natural land that contribute to CO2 mitigation and reduce our figures in a net carbon model.

In Scotland’s plan for Independence, prepared for the 2014 referendum, known as the ‘White Paper’, written by the Scottish Government, the document mentions oil 80 times. It was made clear that oil was central to any plan for Independence.

The plan was narrowly rejected 45% to 55% because it wasn’t comprehensively convincing, not because it was based on the destruction of our environment.

Whilst the SNP are the party of government in Scotland currently, it has to be said that if either of the two potential alternatives were in power – the Scottish Conservatives or Scottish Labour – that any deviation from a pro-oil stance would be highly unlikely.

The tone might differ, with the SNP claiming oil is vital to Scottish autonomy, the Tories voicing their support for oil business and Labour stating their support for oil-sector workers and jobs – but support would remain.

It is currently the policy of the Scottish Government to abolish Air Passenger Duty. This policy will make it cheaper for airlines to fly in and out of Scotland, and will reduce demand for greener forms of transport, along with reducing motivation for airlines to use less-polluting aircraft.

This is a clear statement of intent, to put the Scottish economy before environmental concerns.

It begs the question, does the Scottish Government value money above all else?

After reviewing how many lobbyist meetings have taken place in recent years, I would challenge every MSP to address their clear and obvious corruption.

Value does not come from how we are viewed on the world stage or by others but how we evaluate ourselves. For that reason, we cannot accept false praise, generated because we are gaming the system. We must not defend our government blindly, when it is not working in the interests of its people, but for commerce.

This is why a Citizens Assembly in Scotland is an imperative, to discuss climate inaction (and indeed to fairly tackle lingering questions of Independence and devolution too).

Holyrood must become the people’s parliament, which it emphatically is not, right now.

We must challenge our rose-tinted view, for our own health as much as for the sake of others. We are already beginning to see huge devastation in Global South countries, which are less polluting but more vulnerable than we are.

That’s on us.

To deny it is to condemn huge swathes of the global population to perish, at our expense.

For more information on the latest published statistics (38 pages), from 2016, please see here.

This Great Force For Change

By Matthew Tehanu

I feel despair daily. Across from my flat, a new row of flats is being built. The workmen are at it from early in the morning. I will glad when it’s done for then the lorry depot will be hidden from view. If I make millions I will buy that lorry depot and end its life in this village. On the other side, through my back windows I can see crumbling old mill buildings half overgrown with ivy. Let them be that way till Nature takes them back.

I feel despair because of the various catch-22’s and hypocrisies I find myself in. I’m too intelligent and too unqualified to find suitable regular paid work, yet too privileged for that to matter. I am very well connected online, yet lonely as soon as I turn off the computer. I am full of love yet often painfully unable to express it, or find people who can receive it without attaching to me or misunderstanding the nature of my gift.

I am sexually liberated and yet celibate, because society in general is not refined enough for my sexual fulfilment, and would sooner ‘slut-shame’ me. Those rare individuals who ‘get me’ sexually, I very rarely encounter, and then don’t have more than a couple of minutes to practice my social skills with them.

I also feel despair because there is so much ignorance in the world, especially ignorance amongst so-called authorities -authorities on mental health, the environment, politics, economics, and so little readiness or opportunity for me to offer my knowledge and healing to so many people that could do with it.

I am isolated, but there is an advantage to leading this lonely life. It gives me perspective. Perspective on myself, on this country I live in, on Earth. With this perspective, carefully supplemented by reading and studying, I have come to the same old conclusion that many others have come to: the collapse of contemporary globalised industrial capitalist civilisation is inevitable, probably this century. It is up to us whether or not we choose to make this collapse more, or less, painful.

Human-caused climate breakdown has become the linchpin issue of the collapse, or ‘The Event’ as the world’s wealthy elites call it. Climate breakdown is the linchpin issue for two reasons. Firstly, it is a matter of timescale. There are many ecological catastrophes afflicting this Earth, but in the case of the climate, we are obliged to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to near zero within ten years to avoid a high probability of disastrous climate change, meaning the loss of billions of human lives within decades.

The necessary scaling back and re-designing of industrial civilisation (more is required than just the simple ‘conversion’ to renewable energies) will also have great potential to address the other ecological pressures that we are putting upon this Earth, in terms of for instance, pollution, soil exhaustion, deforestation and biodiversity loss.

The second main reason, as I see it, that climate breakdown can be seen as a linchpin issue for global civilisation collapse and / or transformation (if we’re careful and lucky), is that a change in our political and economic orders will be necessary in order to reduce carbon emissions to zero and kick our global addiction to fossil fuels. The necessity of global collapse or transition to a different form of civilisation (or more realistically, a different ‘civilisation mesh’ demonstrating various political and economic local alternatives) is driven by the finiteness of natural resources being fundamentally at odds with the perpetual economic growth that is demanded to keep the current economic system from crashing.

Economic growth is a function of the system, not just a desirable outcome for people who want to make money. The global economic-political system itself depends upon economic growth. It’s like a balloon that you can’t stop blowing up, or it will deflate entirely.

Governments have shown that they are consistently not powerful enough to challenge large fossil fuel companies. These companies have between them pledged to burn five times more fossil fuels than the planet’s atmosphere can handle. Five times more than would keep us safely below 2 degrees of global warming above pre-industrial levels. The only way to respond to this reality is to change our economic and political systems to make them more accountable to the planet and the billions of people that may otherwise die.

This means complete ‘system change’. Either this will happen in a very painful, destructive way, pressured by failing stock markets, failing crops and billions of climate refugees, or it can happen by ‘controlled revolution’, employing the mass civil disobedience, from now onwards, that leading social scientists say is vital for us to ‘save civilisation’ in any recognisable form i.e. to save the globe from runaway climate breakdown. Our governments have failed us.

This is why I have whole-heartedly joined Extinction Rebellion. Ironically enough, XR has given me a renewed passion for life. If I can survive on government benefits for now, so much the better. I am learning just as many work skills, if not more, as part of XR than I have done in any paid job. These include founding and developing a local branch of the campaign, conference calling, mentoring newcomers to the campaign, delivering the XR talk, organising and promoting talks, general marketing skills, innovating subcampaigns and subgroups, time management, and making links with others nationally and internationally who share the Extinction Rebellion campaign aims and values.

As for my loneliness, the online connections I am making with many XR members are starting to be reflected in face to face meetings and gatherings. Everyone is worthy of love, although it is not always easy to give. But in XR I may have found some people who I can show my love and friendship to more freely than the average. When catastrophe comes, as it must to some degree, if I am still alive at that point I hope I can count amongst my Tribe, many members of this great force for change that is Rising Up! and Extinction Rebellion.

All my virile energy is channelled into this great force for change.

For more of my writing, feel free to visit my blog: www.epictomorrows.com