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NSIDC bombshell: Thawing permafrost feedback will turn Arctic from carbon sink to source in the 2020s, releasing 100 billion tons of carbon by 2100

By Joe Romm  

"NSIDC bombshell: Thawing permafrost feedback will turn Arctic from carbon sink to source in the 2020s, releasing 100 billion tons of carbon by 2100"

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Study underestimates impacts with conservative assumptions

Figure:  Carbon emission (in billions of tons of carbon a year) from thawing permafrost.

The thaw and release of carbon currently frozen in permafrost will increase atmospheric CO2 concentrations and amplify surface warming to initiate a positive permafrost carbon feedback (PCF) on climate…. [Our] estimate may be low because it does not account for amplified surface warming due to the PCF itself….  We predict that the PCF will change the arctic from a carbon sink to a source after the mid-2020s and is strong enough to cancel 42-88% of the total global land sink. The thaw and decay of permafrost carbon is irreversible and accounting for the PCF will require larger reductions in fossil fuel emissions to reach a target atmospheric CO2 concentration.

That’s the stunning conclusion from “Amount and timing of permafrost carbon release in response to climate warming” (subs. req’d), a major new study in Tellus by NOAA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).  As we’ll see, the figure above is almost certainly too conservative post-2080.

The permafrost permamelt contains a staggering “1.5 trillion tons of frozen carbon, about twice as much carbon as contained in the atmosphere, much of which would be released as methane.  Methane is 25 times as potent a heat-trapping gas as CO2 over a 100 year time horizon, but 72 times as potent over 20 yearsOne of the most conservative assumptions the study made, the lead author Dr. Kevin Schaefer confirmed in an email, is that all of the carbon would be released as CO2 and none as methane.

The carbon is locked in a freezer in the part of the planet warming up the fastest (see “Tundra 4: Permafrost loss linked to Arctic sea ice loss“).  Countless studies make clear that global warming will release vast quantities of GHGs into the atmosphere this decade.  Yet, no climate model currently incorporates the amplifying feedback from methane released by a defrosting tundra. Heck, the NSIDC/NOAA study itself doesn’t even incorporate the CO2 released by the permafrost carbon feedback into its warming model!

Even so, in their study, the permafrost is adding more than one billion tons of carbon a year to the atmosphere by the mid-2030s!

Here’s some background on the permafrost and the study from the NSIDC release, “Thawing permafrost will accelerate global warming in decades to come, says new study”:

“The amount of carbon released [by 2200] is equivalent to half the amount of carbon that has been released into the atmosphere since the dawn of the industrial age,” said NSIDC scientist Kevin Schaefer. “That is a lot of carbon.”

The carbon from permanently frozen ground””known as permafrost “”will make its impact, not only on the climate, but also on international strategies to reduce climate change Schaefer said. “If we want to hit a target carbon concentration, then we have to reduce fossil fuel emissions that much lower than previously calculated to account for this additional carbon from the permafrost,” Schaefer said. “Otherwise we will end up with a warmer Earth than we want.”

The carbon comes from plant material frozen in soil during the ice age of the Pleistocene: the icy soil trapped and preserved the biomass for thousands of years.  Schaefer equates the mechanism to storing broccoli in the home freezer: “As long as it stays frozen, it stays stable for many years,” he said. “But you take it out of the freezer and it will thaw out and decay.”

Now, permafrost is thawing in a warming climate and””just like the broccoli””the biomass will thaw and decay, releasing carbon into the atmosphere like any other decomposing plant material, Schaefer said.  To predict how much carbon will enter the atmosphere and when, Schaefer and coauthors modeled the thaw and decay of organic matter currently frozen in permafrost under potential future warming conditions as predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

They found that between 29-59 percent of the permafrost will disappear by 2200. That permafrost took tens of thousands of years to form, but will melt in less than 200, Schaefer said.

The authors note that of the dozen or so studies done to date on permafrost melt by 2100, “Our projections of permafrost degradation fall on the low side, but well within the range of other published projections.”  An earlier NCAR-led study found half the land-based permafrost would vanish by mid-century on our current emissions path (see “Tundra, Part 2: The point of no return“).

The NSIDC-led study acknowledges that it almost certainly underestimates the warming the PCF will cause.  As noted, it assumes all of the carbon released will come out as CO2, not methane.  It doesn’t attempt to calculate and incorporate the extra warming from that CO2.  And its land surface model excludes some permafrost areas.  In addition:

We use surface weather from three global climate models based on the moderate warming, A1B Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emissions scenario….

The A1B scenario has atmospheric concentrations of CO2 around 520 ppm in 2050 and 700 in 2100.  We’re currently on the A1F1 pathway, which would takes us to 1000 ppm by century’s end, but I’m sure with an aggressive program of energy R&D we could keep that to, say 900 ppm.

More to the point, the A1B is stabilization scenario, with concentrations constant at 700 ppm after 2100.  As the study notes:

The start of permafrost thaw typically occurred 25 or more years after warming started and 20% of the total thawing occurred after warming stopped in 2100. The models driven by the A1B scenario, none of which included the PCF, all stabilize at a new, warmer climate after 2100 when CO2 concentrations level out at 700 ppm. However, our simulations indicate that the global carbon cycle will not stabilize until at least 2200. Nearly all thawing of permafrost carbon occurred before 2100, but 46% of permafrost carbon flux occurred after 2100. Once thawed, the permafrost carbon can take 70 years or more to decay due to cold soil temperatures and periodic refreezing. This slow response means that once the PCF starts, it will continue for a long time.

So in the real world, where the PCF actually contributes to warming along with myriad other carbon cycle feedbacks, the defrosting will likely continue to increase past 2100.  Even with all these conservative assumptions, the basic conclusion is sobering:

Also like fossil fuels, the PCF is irreversible: once the permafrost carbon thaws and decays, no process on human time scales can put the carbon back into the permafrost. If any international strategy to reduce fossil fuel emissions does not account for the PCF, we will overshoot our desired atmospheric CO2 concentration and end up with a warmer climate than intended.

One last point.  This study only looked at the land-based permafrost.  Let’s remember the study from last year:

Science: Vast East Siberian Arctic Shelf methane stores destabilizing and venting:  NSF issues world a wake-up call: “Release of even a fraction of the methane stored in the shelf could trigger abrupt climate warming.”Methane and carbon release from the Arctic is the most dangerous amplifying feedback in the entire carbon cycle. This research finds a key “lid” on “the large sub-sea permafrost carbon reservoir” near Eastern Siberia “is clearly perforated, and sedimentary CH4 [methane] is escaping to the atmosphere.”

Again, the people out there who think R&D or an energy quest is going to stop us from multiple catastrophes are deluding themselves and others.  We need to start aggressive mitigation now as every major independent study concludes.

Related posts and amplifying feedbacks:

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137 Responses to NSIDC bombshell: Thawing permafrost feedback will turn Arctic from carbon sink to source in the 2020s, releasing 100 billion tons of carbon by 2100

  1. FredT34 says:

    Joe, some days ago you wrote “we’re not doomed yet”. Are you still sure?

    [JR: Not yet. Tick. Tick. Tick.]

  2. Prokaryotes says:

    Apparently there are people who want to go down in history with a whimper.

  3. and end up with a warmer climate than intended.

    Have they not learned yet that things are happening sooner than intended as well?

  4. catman306 says:

    Couldn’t some of the escaping methane be captured with large reflective sheets of plastic? Square miles of plastic sheeting might provide energy for a nearby factory or city. The captured gas could be piped into our energy system. It would still contribute to greenhouse warming but at least be more efficient than just venting to the atmosphere. The reflective sheets of plastic would raise the albedo and help things cool off a bit.

    This could be a job for energy companies to perform.

  5. Peter M says:

    Its all starting to unravel rapidly now. Its amazing really.

    Not yet doomed? Or semi doomed? Is there a difference anymore? Does this news put ‘black Thursday’ 2029- the 100 anniversary of the crash of 1929- too eerie a parallel? Perhaps, perhaps not.

  6. Crank says:

    Yet, no climate model currently incorporates the amplifying feedback from methane released by a defrosting tundra.

    Somewhat OT dumb question: where would I find information about commonly used climate models? Are there some readily available descriptions of what models are in use and what factors they take into account?

    I ask because I regularly hear arguments along the lines of “climate models don’t take into account X!” that I think are probably untrue, but I haven’t managed to track down any solid references.

  7. Gnobuddy says:

    Yup, FredT34, I’d say it’s all over bar the shouting. Even if humanity suddenly woke up to the disaster at hand and did everything possible to reduce human-made greenhouse gas emissions starting right now, greenhouse gas emissions from the rapidly thawing permafrost will ramp up far faster than humanity can lower its own contributions to the problem.

    Like it or not, we’ve pushed past the tipping point, and all we can do now is hang on and wait to see what follows.

    The results of this new research paper do not come as a surprise to me personally. After all we’ve been reading reports of methane bubbles fizzing off the thawing Siberian ocean floor for some time now. And long before that, there was the frighteningly quick ramp-up of disastrous climate-change events of the past decade, quite unambiguously clear after the killer heat wave in Europe in 2003.

    There has been so much dramatic climate change in one decade that it seems obvious to me that we are past the point of a slow linear change, and well into some sort of accelerating higher-order process – likely an exponential, as runaway physical processes tend to be until they approach their limits and start to slow down.

    As I read the research papers appear one by one this past decade, making cautious conclusions about predicted warming a century from now, I felt as though I was watching the Rodney King trial once again – lawyers arguing for days over the legal justification for each individual brutal blow and kick by the LAPD, while ignoring the big picture that was instantly obvious to anyone at a glance: there was a brutal, vicious gang attack going on, with the victim helpless on the ground. In the same way, the climate change research papers each seemed to painstakingly address one tiny blow to the earth’s climate system, while it seemed nobody was bothering to look at the gut-clenching speed with which global weather patterns (and other climate-related events) were changing. How could cautious predictions for the climate a century later be accurate when dramatic change was already occurring during a single decade?

    Right about now, James Lovelock is probably muttering “I told you so!” to himself. He’s right. He did tell us so.

    -Gnobuddy

  8. tst says:

    “We need to start aggressive mitigation now as every major independent study concludes.”

    Perhaps someone could enlighten me. I’m very familiar with the concept of environmental mitigation. But what is mitigation in this context? I’m not sure how you mitigate the impacts of climate change; especially on anything approaching a global scale.

    More specifically, how do you mitigate ocean acidification? Or ecosystem collapse? Or dust bowls?

  9. paul says:

    another beatup that i do not believe

    stevengoddard.wordpress.com/2011/02/17/1970s-global-cooling-panic-malaria-and-record-floods-ravage-pakistan/

  10. Prokaryotes says:

    If we can not stop this climate shift process we will have a sea-saw effect. First the Arctic and later Antarctica, each with unprecedented methane spikes.

    The Clathrate Gun.

  11. Prokaryotes says:

    Gnobuddy “Like it or not, we’ve pushed past the tipping point, and all we can do now is hang on and wait to see what follows.”

    Each single step to reduce emissions will influence the outcome.

  12. Prokaryotes says:

    For example “where would I find information about commonly used climate models? ”

    Climateprediction.net is a distributed computing project to produce predictions of the Earth’s climate up to 2100 and to test the accuracy of climate models. To do this, we need people around the world to give us time on their computers – time when they have their computers switched on, but are not using them to their full capacity.
    http://climateprediction.net/

  13. Prokaryotes says:

    “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”, Theodore Roosevelt

  14. David Gould says:

    tst,

    Mitigation refers to reducing our greenhouse gases. Aggressive mitigation would be doing this rapidly, with a target of near zero emissions within the life of most people alive today. (40 years, say). The ocean will acidify much less if we do this than if we do not; ecosystems are much less likely to collapse if we do this than if we do not.

  15. Prokaryotes says:

    Technologies which will be required a focus

    Carbon negative technology
    Artificial Photosynthesis
    Radiation Management
    Carbon sequestration
    Emission control
    Resource control
    Reforestation

    That’s some of our weapons

  16. Peter M says:

    The New Geologic Epoch as described by National Geographic

    http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/03/age-of-man/kolbert-text

  17. Sailesh Rao says:

    tst #9: ‎Re: “How do you mitigate ocean acidification? Or ecosystem collapse? Or dust bowls?”

    Stop consuming animals and animal products. This allows ocean life to recover, frees up billions of acres of land for forests to regenerate and sequester carbon and eliminates the greenhouse gas emissions from all those CAFOs and the associated transportation and refrigeration activities to feed the animals in the CAFOs. Estimated cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from this one lifestyle change ranges up to 51%. And, those estimates don’t even take into account the carbon sequestration that happens when Nature rebounds.

  18. ianash says:

    Joe

    I dont know if you know but here in Australia, the Heartland Institute is teaming up with local loonies to hold seminars. By itself this is unremarkable but conservative politicians have linked in with these groups and there is a concerted attack on the Bureau of Meterology (not dissimilar to the attack on your EPA).

    See
    http://watchingthedeniers.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/liberal-party-war-on-science-cory-bernardi-joins-deniers-in-attacking-bom/

    Any help would be appreciated.

    Jo Nova is their ‘expert’ so you can imagine how distorted everything is.

  19. Lou Grinzo says:

    I’ve been following the methane story very closely for a few years now, and it’s horribly depressing. The combination of inescapable facts, including the sheer amount of carbon locked up in the permafrost, the further warming we’re committed to thanks to past and current and near-future emissions, the high global warming potential of methane, and the potential for the mother of all feedbacks to kick into overdrive, are simply terrifying.

    It’s hard not to look at a map of the northern hemisphere without seeing it as the ultimate geographical ticking time bomb. The open ocean at the north pole creates the opportunity for a huge albedo feedback, while all that land surrounding the Arctic Ocean provides the perfect place for the formation of vast amounts of carbon-sequestering permafrost. On top of all that, we have the wild card of the Greenland ice sheet beginning to melt and dumping all that water into the ocean and jostling ocean currents.

  20. Mark S says:

    Again, science marches on. While the denier side is howling about how O’Donnell has been treated unfairly and the peer review process is broken and climategate was right after all and wah wah wah, science marches on.

    On top of the year-old science paper on methane destabilization we get this paper. Can anyone point to a paper that shows that we shouldn’t worry about methane destabilization? I’d like some good news occasionally.

    I’m going to have a drink. A double.

    And then tell my kids I’m sorry.

  21. ken levenson says:

    very, very, very bad – it is all starting to feel much less abstract…the fact is we have eaten our children.

  22. spacermase says:

    Well, hey, the one nice thing about the possibility of having the North Atlantic Drift shut off (and causing northern Europe to have a regional 10 degree plunge in average temperature) is that it would help keep a lot of the permafrost from melting.

    North America, Antarctica, and the eastern reaches of northern Asia are still problems, though.

  23. Aaron Lewis says:

    Why was Arctic Carbon/sea bed methane not in the IPCC models?

    We still do not have good ice dynamics modules in the climate models.

    We have no idea how fast we can expect the sea level to rise when all carbon feedbacks are included in the accounting.

  24. It was only in 2006 that the standard line was:

    “Arctic Ocean’s summertime ice fields will completely disappear by 2080…” Only 5 years ago we thought this was correct. Quite a radical adjustment.

    The chart at the beginning is only our most informed projections for right now.

  25. tst says:

    David Gould – Thanks. That makes far more sense. I’m not sure it’s the term I’d choose myself – “reduction” is probably a better fit, and “mitigation” has a different meaning in other situations – but at least now I know what Joe means.

    Sailesh Rao – I appreciate that you’ve shared your thoughts, but I find your numbers … well, let’s be polite and call them implausible. If we’re going to make significant reductions in atmospheric CO2, then we need to stop burning fossil fuels. If we stop burning fossil fuels, then we can eat as many, or as few, animals as we choose.

  26. Prokaryotes says:

    Changes recorded in the climate of Greenland at the end of the Younger Dryas, as measured by ice-cores, imply a sudden warming of +10°C within a timescale of a few years. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abrupt_climate_change

  27. Ominous Clouds Overhead says:

    Ironic as hell if the deniers (the tools of big oil and coal) are still alive when the crap hits the fan, I mean bigtime. I truly believe they don’t think any of this will effect them, even when they wake up enough to wonder if it might all be true. Bastards.

  28. johnatcheson says:

    #6 — Yes it has been an issue for some time — I had an oped piece in the Baltimore Sun on it in December of 2004, when the extent of warming in the polar region became evident.

    http://www.commondreams.org/views04/1215-24.htm

    I subsequently tried to get leading researchers at several places to model the potential warming from this phenomena while with Rand, but got no takers. The general attitude was that this was centuries away. As a geologist, I knew the geologic record had several examples where this feedback loop proceeded relatively rapidly.

    Not trying to toot my own horn — or maybe I am — but it is an example of an optimistic bias present even in the scientific community.

    A psychologist who has studied optimism — Peter Seligman at Penn State — says that optimists perform better than pessimists in all areas except one: predicting the future.

    This creates an extraordinarily high hurtle, but I don’t think it’s inevitably doom and gloom time yet. Maybe a minute before midnight. If we act, act now, and act with the urgency of WWII squared, we might make avoid the worst.

  29. Paul K2 says:

    Other than water vapor feedback, this is the most important positive feedback loop out there… Canceling out a major portion of the carbon sinks is extremely scary. The carbon sinks (oceans and soils) are the only thing keeping carbon levels in the atmosphere from climbing much faster, thus the time to doubling and tripling of CO2 levels will be much faster.

    Is there a site on the net where this NSIDC study is being discussed? Please post links.

  30. The Wonderer says:

    I think you mean “Study underestimates impact with conservative assumptions”

  31. Irv Beiman says:

    Thanks forever to JR for your blog. I read it daily, and send out key pieces to my network to spread the word. I’ve been working for several years to try to put a dent in China’s emissions [been in Shanghai for 18 years]. China, the US and other countries are just moving too slow. The data tell us where we’re going, and it is more than frustrating. There is a need to begin thinking about how to build a better alternative for Quality of Life that does no harm, and enables us to live in harmony with the biosphere. In that vein, I encourage all readers to begin checking out a site I have nothing to do with except my own interest [i.e. nothing to gain for me, other than good karma in sharing useful info] If you go to http://www.villageforum.com and explore it deeply, you will find an engaging alternative to the current global zeigeist. Claude Lewenz has been researching villages and village life for decades. He’s written a masterful book titled: How to Build a VillageTown. It covers virtually all aspects of designing a high quality of life village from the ground up, and getting it built for 5 – 10,000 people in 3 years. they’re looking at sites near SFO, north of Auckland NZ, near Melbourne down under, and elsewhere. I would appreciate anyone looking into this with interest sending me something as well to let me know of your interest, bec I’m beginning to shift direction from trying to do something on a grand scale to trying to do something on a local scale. Thinking globally [being mindful of what's happening], but acting locally [in a desirable area] is beginning to look more appealing. Irv Beiman at bu3690@gmail.com My own efforts in China for bringing solutions to the massive challenges here have not been successful [ http://www.globalisr.com ]

  32. ryan says:

    crap. 3.85 billion years of evolution and the first reflectively sentient form of life risks being farted into extinction. does anyone know if the planet has an “unfuck” button? ;)

    Prokaryotes – thanks for the biochar links on the other thread – i have been into spreading biochar in Costa Rica – here’s a piece from “the oil drum” on the project – http://campfire.theoildrum.com/node/6830. i am making the assumption that industrial civilization will significantly collapse due to global change circumstances and geopolitical factors over the next 10 yrs or so… this might give widespread, relatively small scale projects – if globally networked properly – the chance to reforest significant portions of the tropics and devote mass amounts of effort into creating biochar from fast-growing species – bamboo seems to have some great potential…

    “Knowing that there are no victorious causes, I have a liking for lost causes: they require an uncontaminated soul, equal to its defeat as to its temporary victories.” – camus

    “when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro” – hunter s

  33. Gnobuddy says:

    @12, Prokaryotes says:
    “Each single step to reduce emissions will influence the outcome.”
    ——————————————————————–
    Yeah, but will it affect the outcome any more than a flea jumping up and down on an elephants back will affect the elephants path?

    Did you look at the y-axis numbers on the graph heading this story? It shows that by roughly 2025 – barely fourteen years from now – carbon flux from thawing permafrost will hit 0.8 giga tonnes per year.

    Wikipedia lists current human-made global C02 emissions at roughly 30 gigatonnes. Part of that is “oxygen flux”, the carbon flux part calculates out to about 8.2 gigatonnes per year.

    So, unless I made an error, that graph at the top of this story translates as “within fifteen years, thawing permafrost will add a full 10% more to the current worldwide human-made carbon emissions. Within eighty years, it will add another 10% more on top of that.”

    This on top of the fact that man-made carbon emissions are actually increasing, even as our scientists try to warn us, because we as a species are too stupid to really understand the rate at which catastrophe is approaching us.

    I’m all for optimism in its place. I’d throw marshmallows at a charging tiger in the attempt to ward it off if that was the only “weapon” I had. So we might as well continue to replace our incandescent bulbs and try to fly and drive less and so on. If nothing else, we will spend less on energy, and we’re going to need that extra money to pay for food as food prices start to soar.

    I wouldn’t really expect those marshmallows to change the inevitable outcome, though.

    -Gnobuddy

  34. Gnobuddy says:

    Mark S says:

    “Again, science marches on. While the denier side is howling about how O’Donnell has been treated unfairly and the peer review process is broken and climategate was right after all and wah wah wah, science marches on.”
    ===================================================
    True enough. Unfortunately, the scientists conducting the science live on the same planet as the deniers. So, in the immortal words of the hysterically funny Tom Lehrer, “Oh we will all fry together when we fry. We’ll be french fried potatoes by and by. There will be no more misery. When the world is our rotisserie…”

    He wrote that about nuclear war, but we read here recently that the last time the earth hit C02 levels this high, temperatures were 30 deg F warmer than now. I think a 30 deg planet-wide average temperature increase certainly qualifies for “the world is our rotisserie”, don’t you?

    -Gnobuddy

  35. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I’m more certain than ever that we are stuffed. Not just this, which we all already knew, or the clathrates which this study doesn’t even consider, nor the decline of carbon sinks and their transmutation into carbon sources, in the tropical forests and in soils generally, or the dying off of the plankton and the loss of that sink, or the growing level of atmospheric water vapour -another positive feedback-, or the death of forests under the impacts of pests, diseases, mega-fires and tropospheric ozone, but, more than any single calamity or group of them, it’s the synergies. The way that every symptom effects every other, in ways that we either anticipated but under-estimated or never saw coming. Rumsfeld’s ‘unknown unknowns’. But most of all it is the scarcely credible reaction of the Right, the planet’s rulers, after all, to this catastrophe. Our descendants are being exterminated by people who do not care what happens after they are dead, who value money more than life, who have no conscience about lying and intimidating to get their way and who plainly, it must be clear by now, no longer (I don’t think that they ever did)deserve the appellation ‘human’ in any but the most perjorative sense, as in ‘human cruelty and stupidity’.

  36. catman306 says:

    Or maybe, “Study underestimates impact with conservatives’ assumptions.”

  37. Better to say it is an incomplete picture of permafrost thaw which Schaefer readily admits in my IPS take on this. Doesn’t include methane releases, thermokarst erosion, Arctic shelf permafrost/methane hydrates… http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=54518

    Schaefer figures 15 to 20 years to the point of no return based on this study.

  38. Brian N says:

    I don’t remember where I read this so I hope I’m very wrong, do fossil fuels have 100,000 more warming effect as GHGs than they provided BTU during combustion.
    Thus any energy intensive technology fix has to have a similarly huge leverage to make a dent.

    Therefore I think our best chances are to get back and work with nature as much as possible, massively start regenerating destroyed forests in Amazon, Borneo etc, changing agricultural practices etc.

    Could an appropriate vegetation be seeded throughout thawing permafrost regions that increases albedo & perhaps sinks some carbon?

  39. Mike says:

    Another one for the office door.

  40. Prokaryotes says:

    We could expect that effects like La Nina will become more pronounced – Natural Equilibrium Balance, and these kinds of Gaia’s defends is not yet factored into the equation. So don’t think that it is over and set into stone yet. But nevertheless Humanity has to start to roll out now the Manhatten Style approaches, Chu highlighted yesterday.

    National Security demands that this topic will be resolved politically and become once again a bipartisan agenda – Industrial Revolution 2.0 is here.

    Republicans will not succeed with their strategy, because 2012 might top all extremes, set records. So they have to acknowledge this now, they waste everybodys time, money and ultimately our future.

  41. Wit's End says:

    Brian N, the problem is that soils have been degraded by pollution. It’s certainly worth looking into regenerating forests, but the main issue is, we have to stop burning fuel for energy, and releasing toxins, which directly and indirectly kill trees.

    The most pathetic thing is, so much of what we use energy for is by any measure, utterly wasteful. If we restricted our use of energy to truly essential purposes, we could buy a lot of time to mitigate and invent technological solutions.

    Since almost no one (and we romm’n'legions, sadly, are statistically no ones) wants to admit there *is* a problem, it’s just nigh impossible to persuade them that conservation would be an effectual approach.

    Drill Baby Drill anyone?

  42. Gnobuddy says:

    @38, Stephen Leahy says:
    “Schaefer figures 15 to 20 years to the point of no return based on this study.”
    ==================================
    And what do we make of the “1000 year floods” and “1000 year droughts” that are now occurring every few years on just about every continent? Does it not seem fairly obvious that we are already past the point of having “normal” weather?

    Do we really expect that if we somehow shut down all human-made C02 emissions now, the coral reefs would come back, the dead pine forests recover, the hypoxic areas of the ocean return to normalcy, the mountain glaciers re-form, the fizzing methane reverse course and sink quietly back into the permafrost and ocean floor, the missing half of the oceans algae come back to life, the oceans acid level drop back to pre-industrial?

    We know better. I’ve read estimates ranging from thousands of years to tens of thousands of years for the time it would take just for the oceans acidity to recover. The former estimate encompasses most of contemporary civilisation, the latter encompasses everything since the last ice age.

    So, in the best of all possible future scenarios, the world will remain trashed for thousands of years, even if we magically stopped greenhouse gas emissions now. We’re past the point of no return for at least several thousand years, in other words.

    How different exactly is this from an unqualified “we’re past the point of no return”? Do we really need to nit-pick about hypothetical futures that might unfold millenia from now? Should we feel good that in a future time as distant from us as the first Roman emperors life is in the past, the planet might recover from some of the worst cruelties we have inflicted on it?

    I apologise that I do not have happier thoughts to offer this evening. This is a large dose of reality to take at one sitting, even though not really a surprise. The best I can offer is Eckhart Tolle’s “Now” – that tiny instant of time we call “Now” still remains trouble-free and perfect, as long as we don’t think about past or future.

    -Gnobuddy

  43. Richard Miller says:

    Joe,

    I am in need of some clarification.

    The press release on the new study says:

    “The amount of carbon released [by 2200] is equivalent to half the amount of carbon that has been released into the atmosphere since the dawn of the industrial age,” said NSIDC scientist Kevin Schaefer.

    This means an additional 50 ppm of CO2 from the melting of the permafrost by 2200.

    [JR: If it comes out entirely as carbon, which of course won't be true, but is how they model. Also, as noted, they don't model the entire permafrost.]

    You say, based on another study:

    The permafrost permamelt contains a staggering “1.5 trillion tons of frozen carbon, about twice as much carbon as contained in the atmosphere,

    [JR: The atmosphere has 750 billion tons of carbon in it, yes.]

    So that is nearly 800 ppm CO2.

    Which is correct? Would you be so kind as to explain the discrepancy?

    Thanks.

    [JR: What is the discrepancy? They don't model the entire permafrost, nor do they conclude that all the permafrost will melt by 2200.]

  44. K. Nockels says:

    With every paper (read this one earlier today) we are getting a clearer picture of the fact that all things in nature are connected, and in ways we have not quite caught onto yet. The methane I think will be the force multiplier in the permafrost melt. With our still rising CO2 from
    fossil fuels burning and lack of anything in the way of a plan being acted apon right now to reduce it, we are allowing the feedbacks to become multipliers by default. Time is what we no longer have, the process we have set in motion and continue to feed will now respond to nothing less than an 80% cut in emissions by yesterday world wide. Since we will be lucky to reach 10% in two years this report is just one more that tells us we have talked to long when we should have acted.

  45. David Gould says:

    Gnobuddy,

    It depends on what you mean by ‘trashed’. I am relatively optimistic that my children and grandchildren can yet enjoy a reasonable life, even in the face of the changes to our environment that have already occurred as a result of climate change and the changes that at this point are inevitable. This is because there are changes that are not inevitable at this point: we still have choices which we can exercise to make the outcome better than it might be. Those choices may be narrowing, but they still exist.

    My children and grandchildren will not enjoy the world that I enjoyed. But they will still have joy if I have any say in the matter, and I do. And so do we all.

  46. I must echo thanks to Joe Romm for hosting this site, indeed this is a spectacular gathering of great ideas. I too send out CP links – and it’s nice to hear others doing the same. I suspect that this blog is quite influential.

    Interesting times.

  47. Utah climate watcher says:

    While reading this I have to consider the present political balance of power in the US that favors those who wish to do away with the EPA and want to cut the research & development budget so the richest can save on paying taxes.

    We can discuss mitigation all we want, but the politics here in the US are actually taking us in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, there will be no clear public outcry for real change until after the disasters that will show us that we are too late.

    Humans – intelligent and yet so stupid! Yikes!

  48. GeoDean says:

    I have followed Climate Progress and Real Climate for years and they have helped me to understand what is going on. I remember John Sununu back in the 1980′s saying “show me the data and I’ll show you where it’s wrong” regarding global warming, and I agreed with him then. But thanks to the internet and 20+ years of excellent research, I now know better. It seems we are in for a multi-generational slow boil. I am all for agitating for change and b@tch-slapping our politicians into reality, but we must realize the odds are against us. Therefore, we have to also develop bottom-up solutions. For me, this means purchasing no property below 20 ft mean sea level, and I am currently developing an urban farm based on cisterns, fruit trees, bees, chickens, rabbits, compost, and gardening. This may not become self sufficient but may supplement things. I am doing this mainly for my children and their future children. We cannot count on our governments to do anything but try to perpetuate themselves. We must prepare for a world of drought and deluge. When my children graduated from High School and College, I told them, “welcome to the collapse of civilization, y’all have a front row seat!” Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. I would really like to know what the Plan B is for all of the climate scientists that must know what is coming – what are they doing in their spare time to prepare on a personal level?

  49. Anonymous says:

    Wit’s End, plus as you’ve pointed out before, tropospheric ozone is another issue of this most perfect storm we have wrought on ourselves.

    As an ex technologist, I’ve already given up car ownership since I’ve been fortunate and able to greatly simplify my life, I eat little meat and cycle daily to get about, if only locally.
    I don’t see many others doing this voluntarily anytime soon, local drivers here consider me a road nuisance and show it!

    I’m now skeptical about technological solutions for example Lackner trees or any CCS because they have their own energy, resource and life cycle costs and I don’t think they have the leverage needed.
    I much prefer to think how we can help nature based solutions because only nature scales to the challenge. Ofcourse nature will take many centuries to heal.

  50. peter prewett says:

    A few questions:
    How much water does a cubic meter of tundra hold?
    How will the melting affect sea levels?
    Will the melting increase flows in rivers and cause erosion?
    How is the melting going to affect local salinity levels?
    Are there any other chemicals contained that should not get out?

  51. Lewis C says:

    The study is plainly riddled with what Aubrey Meyer of GCI has termed ‘optimism bias’. Examples include:

    - The failure to reflect the fact that decaying peat, which is a very oxygen-poor material, cannot and does not emit its carbon solely as CO2;

    - the failure to incorporate the warming track that we are now on as the driver of the rate of melting;

    - the failure to include the acceleration of the rate of global warming by the emissions from the permafrost melt;

    - the failure to include the acceleration of the rate of global warming by the emissions from the other major interactive feedbacks,
    including the cryosphere’s ongoing decline diminishing planetary albido,
    and forests’ ongoing desiccation and combustion due to drought, disease and pest-booms,
    and the ongoing melt of subsea permafrost fields due to warming of the arctic ocean.

    The rationale for publishing this highly unscientific sanitized account of the prognosis for permafrost emissions is unclear, but none the less shameful and irresponsible in that it fails in the duty to warn society of the scale of threat now faced. This is a self-censorship that hacks at the scientific reputations of the NOAA and NSIDC – if they’ll bend the truth one way, where’s the credibility of their claims that that wouldn’t bend it the other way ?

    One thing that we can be sure of is that with all of the permafrost data on hand, the models will have been run with an accurate and inclusive set of assumptions – it would be bizarre to assume that this resource will not have been used to provide the Pentagon, the Whitehouse and others with the best prognosis available. Those are the results which should be published, and the requisite legal action for their disclosure should be initiated asap.

    In the interim, it seems worth exploring the relevance of permafrost melt from basic principles. Emissions from Siberian ex-permafrost have shown a methane concentration well above the 5% level needed for ignition, so I’d propose a notional (highly conservative) ratio of 10% CH4 and 90% CO2 for this assessment.

    In 1.0 GtC of emissions there are then 0.9GtC released as CO2, amounting to 3.300 GtCO2.
    The remaining 0.1 GtC released as methane amounts to 0.1333 GtCH4.
    Over the 20-year horizon that CH4 has 72 times the forcing of CO2, giving a value of 0.1333 x 72 = 9.576 GtCO2eq.
    Thus from a 1.0GtC release (projected as late as the 2030s by the sanitized report) the above 3.300 GtCO2 plus 9.576 GTCO2eq equals a total of 12.876 GtCO2eq,
    which amounts to about 43% of our present anthro-CO2 emissions.

    This would be sufficient in itself, coming from just 1.0 GtC/yr of ex-permafrost emissions, to swamp most or all of the planet’s natural carbon sinks.

    Yet this is arguably not the most pressing of the interactive feedback threats. The recent review of cryosphere decline (published in ‘Geophysical Letters’ ?) reported that the resulting loss of albido imposes a forcing roughly twice the previous assessments, and that it already equates to around 9.0 GtCO2eq.

    I observe a surprising unwillingness in western scientific institutions to address the issue of the feedbacks coherently. As Joe has repeatedly pointed out, none of the major warming scenarios include them to the degree they undoubtedly warrant. Moreover, the rapid slapdown of the report of arctic seabed permafrost melt and methane emissions has been followed by a grand silence regarding the appalling recent finding re albido loss. Meanwhile in Britain we have the Met Office basing its projections on the absurd and unsupported assumption that carbon sinks will increase after 2050 (hence the charge of optimism bias). And now we have this perversion of science releasing a highly sanitized view of permafrost emissions.

    For the most part more accurate information is not hidden from any govt. that can employ climate scientists; but it is not being made available to the public and to most of the commercial media. Without claiming a causal relationship, it can be observed that the series of scientific-conduct anomalies above correlates closely with longstanding US policy of deflecting public attention from the scale of threat of global warming – As I’ve pointed out before, Obama has all of the media attention on climate that he wants – bugger all.

    While there are those who rush to a childish apathy and defeatism on hearing worse climate news, this is no justification for the self-censorship by scientists and politicians. That defeatism is of course irresponsible – both in discouraging others from necessary constructive action and in pushing the many already in depression closer to suicide – but it should be noted that the defeatism arises in the absence of any serious public discussion of the terms of the requisite treaty (which Obama could remedy today) and of the lack of focus on the patently essential techniques of both the carbon recovery and albido restoration forms of geo-engineering. (I’m avoiding the arcane academic titles for these techniques intentionally).

    It was very good to see that Joe’s updated recipe for ‘Stabilization at 350 to 450 ppm’ now includes a large afforestation component, a biochar component, and also an albido restoration component in the form of a ‘white roofs’ initiative. While sufficient afforestation for biochar to fulfill Hansen’s projection of 8ppmv/yr of carbon sequestration will take at least two decades to get established (and many more to restore pre-industrial CO2eq concentrations) it is worth recalling that Professor Salter projects the fleet of ~2000 Cloud-brightening vessels that he researches as being able to entirely offset anthro warming within a two to three years of their deployment.

    Being complementary to the essential ending of anthro-GHG outputs, there is of course huge work required in terms of the R&D of these geo-engineering options’ design, operation and governance. Yet they show great promise of making the critical difference to our prospects for restoring a stable climate. Thus I’d suggest that anyone tempted to start wallowing in defeatism step back from campaigning for a bit, and start doing something constructive instead – like learning how to make charcoal, sustainably.

    Regards,

    Lewis

  52. Sailesh Rao says:

    tst #26: Please see the report by Robert Goodland, former lead environmental advisor at the World Bank and Jeff Anhang, research officer and environmental specialist at the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank at

    http://www.worldwatch.org/node/6294

    It takes a lot of resources to feed cows for 13 straight months before slicing off a piece of steak for the barbecue. Indeed, it is quite ironic that after all that poetry, music, dance, art, literature, technology and other whiz-bang achievements especially over the past few centuries, mankind is literally consuming itself to extinction.

    Like bacteria in a petri dish.

  53. Brian N says:

    Speaking of bacteria in a petri dish, last September Jo linked to David Suzuki’s must see testube video on exponential growth
    http://interactive.nfb.ca/#/testtube

    There can only be many less of us by 2100

  54. tst says:

    Sailesh Rao,

    Far be it from me to defend industrialized agri-business, or wasteful & wanton consumption. But as someone who lives in cow country, I can tell you that most ranchers graze their cows more than they feed them. And the land they’re grazing is typically not suitable for anything other than grazing. (You won’t be growing corn or soy beans on most open range land. The soil is poor and there’s not enough water.)

    Should we be cutting down forests to create pasture or feed for cattle? No. But folks who focus on moving us away from beef and other domesticated animals should be upfront about their motivations. If people want to advocate for vegetarian or vegan diets, that’s their right. But eating more veggies isn’t going to slow down climate change.

    By the way, all forms of modern industrial agriculture produce CO2. And there’s a huge, if incidental, animal cost. Vegetarians might choose not to dwell on this, but millions, if not billions, of mice, voles, rabbits, ground nesting birds, etc., get chopped to pieces when the grain for our organic bread is harvested. If you’re looking to avoid guilt, you’ll need to subsist on nuts, berries and the occasional leaf that’s fallen off an edible plant. And don’t drive, or use electricity, because you’ll be complicit in even more flora & fauna dying before their time.

    My apologies for the lecture, but life is life, and I find it more than a little ironic that people who wouldn’t dream of hurting a cow are so cavalier when it comes to their lettuce.

  55. Steve Bloom says:

    Re #38 (Stephen Leahy): There should also be some sort of albedo change, IIRC. Re the methane, from your article it sounds as if they’re already working on a follow-up paper. Is that the case?

    I’m really wondering about that 15-20 years for permafrost emissions to start kicking in. The problem is that it would take a really massive reduction in our emissions to move that date very far off into the future. Avoiding setting it off in 20 years would be nice, but is there anything whatsoever we can do to keep from doing so within 50 years? This looks like a much-toughened version of the “trillion-tonne” idea from a few years ago.

    Worse than that, Hansen’s new paper, which says that a further ~.8C of warming is about the most we can tolerate without getting into the danger zone, as far as I can tell didn’t take rapid permafrost warming into account. (I say this because the paper is based on an assessment of what happened during naturally-paced warming during the two warmest interglacials. A big permafrost CO2/methane pulse will do a lot more damage if it happens on a scale of decades rather than centuries.) Of course I’m no expert, but this is truly worrisome.

    Finally, let’s not forget the possibility of a permafrost “carbon bomb” driven by the heat of too-rapid bacterial decomposition such that melt would be able to continue through the winter. That’s beyond worrisome.

  56. Mark says:

    We are buying ourselves to death. Literally. Only last week the Amazon droughts were reported to be turning the forest into a source, now this.

    There is a big prize for anyone who can find a way of getting lots of CO2 out of the air very quickly.

  57. Colorado Bob says:

    Victorians have endured the state’s wettest summer on record, with the moist, tropical conditions obliterating the previous rainfall record set exactly a century ago.

    The state will have been drenched in twice the average summer rainfall by the time the season draws to a close this month.

    Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Terry Ryan said the state had already recorded a staggering 290 millimetres of rain this summer, with nearly two weeks of the season still remaining.

    That eclipsed the previous record high set in the summer of 1910-11, when 237 millimetres of rain soaked the state.

    The average summer rainfall is between 155-160 millimetres.

    ”We’ve got another week and a bit to go, and we’ve got a rain event coming up tonight and into Saturday morning, so we’re going to probably crack 300 millimetres. This is well and truly our wettest summer,” Mr Ryan said.

    December was the fifth wettest on record, followed by the wettest January ever on record.

    http://www.smh.com.au/environment/weather/more-wet-weather-as-victorias-summer-obliterates-rainfall-record-20110218-1ayj9.html

  58. Richard Brenne says:

    Amazing comments, amazing grace. I think about methane release a lot, especially when I help my elderly friends stand up after they’ve been sitting a long time.

    What we need to remember is that we’re all trying to get our thinking around what this all means, all scientists included. Joe Romm, Jim Hansen, Bill McKibben and James Lovelock have done the best job of this.

    Also all the commenters here. Mulga Mumblebrain (#36) does about as good a job of explaining everything as can be done in one paragraph.

    Yet even in that (again) most amazing paragraph of Mulga’s, due to brevity there is no mention of peak oil, topsoil, phosphorus and everything else, contamination of all fresh water and air, and the cumulative soup of all air pollution into ozone that is impairing the health or killing virtually every plant on Anthro-Earth, Gail Zawacki’s (Wit’s End) primary concern.

    As I’ve said before, some of these might not be as bad as we now think, but the trend with most and including the vast majority of the major climate change concerns is that they are far worse than thought a decade, few years or even months ago.

    And as Mulga says, each synthesizes with all the others.

    David Gould (#45), as much as I appreciate your hopeful comment and hope against hope that you’re right, I’m afraid that not only our grandchildren but our children’s lives will be affected by the synthesis of all these things within not only decades, but quite possibly years. With food prices spiking and oil and the Middle East so volatile and the Ponzi Scheme of the global economy reaching its limits to growth, it appears each year, on average, could be more troublesome than the last indefinitely.

    I had one of my typical chats with a well-known climate scientist and toward the end we were making plans to go ski-mountaineering together. Almost as an afterthought as I was walking out of his office I asked if he had kids, and he said, “My wife and I didn’t want to bring anyone else into the world that we’ve created.” That still reverberates in my thinking as if in an echo-chamber.

    I agree with everyone here who also says that we need to go down swinging, doing all the good we can for everyone we can all the time. While being realistic and understanding all we can about what’s going on, this is the best possible strategy.

    And listen, what could be more fun than raising hell and trying to save the world?

  59. Colorado Bob says:

    Farmers in Victoria’s flood-ravaged north-west say they could be off their farms for up to a year, with houses at Benjeroop, Murrabit and Kerang East still under water.

    The farming communities believe they were sacrificed to save Swan Hill from flooding and say they have been abandoned by the State Government.

    The deep and putrid waters of the inland sea between Kerang and Swan Hill have not receded, leaving lives in limbo.
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/02/18/3143022.htm

  60. dp says:

    but no. wartime speed & coordination would reduce the power of the bubble surfers, by stabilizing investment & the job market. unacceptably disruptive to their personal life goals.

  61. Look, in reality getting back to nature is not going to make much difference.

    Basically we have to exchange fossil fuels for renewable in a massive way. Then we have to go even further and build enough renewable stations to actively draw down the CO2. I don’t know where we can put the stuff, but we can’t leave it as free carbon in the carbon cycle.

  62. Snapple says:

    There is a scientist in Tomsk, Russia who has been asking people to study the thawing permafrost. His name is Sergei Kirpotin. He is the only Russian scientist (in Russia) that I found who would speak up to defend the CRU when the emails were hacked. That shows you how unfree they feel.

    He was quoted by Russian Greenpeace, but his words about the hacking being a provocation against the Copenhagen Conference were not quoted by any other media that I could find. The other Russians scientists didn’t go along with the Russian media propaganda campaign against the CRU (except for a few really old ones), but I think they were scared to speak out.

    Now the Russian government is planning to spend hundreds of billions to shore up these low areas near the Arctic Sea. Still, they have ridiculous Western denialists like John O’Sullivan come on Russia Today TV and claim the sun is causing global warming. Lord Monckton and Patrick Michaels also come on Russia Today TV to trash Western scientists. That station is the English-language propaganda station and is paid for by the Kremlin to disinform English-speaking audiences.

    Stalin didn’t tell the Russian people the Nazis had attacked for days. Finally he put the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church on the radio to ask the Russian people to fight; and they did fight for their country. The leaders of the Russian petrostate need to stop hiding their heads in the sand because pretty soon they will be up to their necks in ice water.

    The Russians know there is global warming. They know the permafrost is sinking. Thawing permafrost is hard to miss, but they still want to sell that gas because that’s all they’ve got.

    Russia is 60 percent permafrost, and a lot of their gas/oil infrastructure as well as everything else, is destabilized when the permafrost melts.

    The Russian and American politicians and fossil fuel companies really need to stop with all this stupid propaganda. They need to be leaders and tell people the truth. Instead the politicians just take the money in exchange for lying to us.

    Here are some links on my site what Sergei Kirpotin says about the permafrost.

    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&source=hp&q=%22legend+of+pine+ridge%22+kirpotin&btnG=Google+Search&rlz=1R2ADBR_en&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=

  63. Lewis C says:

    Mark at 56/. and Ricci at 61/.

    At 51/. my post included a brief reference to the importance of afforestation for biochar {aka: terra preta del indios} about which Hansen is on record, projecting it to have a potential sequestration capacity of 8ppmv of CO2 per year.

    Further info on current developments can be found by browsing “International Biochar Initiative”.

    I would emphasize that this form of carbon recovery will take at least a couple of decades to establish on the relevant scale, and then many more decades to restore the pre-industrial CO2e concentrations. Thus while it is evidently an essential practical option, it does not avoid the urgent need for the second form of geo-engineering, albido restoration, as a temporary measure to control the warming in the interim.

    These options are of course pointless without a global treaty to rapidly end fossil fuel dependence, yet they marginally ease the stringency of that treaty’s schedules to the extent that a rate of change that risks collapsing the global economy (and the treaty’s operation with it) is no longer desirable.

    Regards,

    Lewis

  64. Sailesh Rao says:

    tst #54: Regardless of your personal situation, the majority of animals raised for human consumption are grown in CAFOs. Eating grains, primarily. You cite a flawed study on the supposed death of mice, rats and other critters in the harvesting of vegetables and grains (it turns out rats and mice are not that stupid to sit around contemplating their whiskers when the harvesters come roaring down), but nevertheless, isn’t it more destructive to feed all that harvested food to livestock day in and day out for months on end, before eating the result, even if that study has a semblance of truth?

    My motivation for being on this blog is to generate some momentum towards action on solving these crises. According to the UN FAO, almost 12 billion acres of land is being used for livestock production and all that land is capable of sequestering a boatload of carbon.

  65. Nick Bentley says:

    This doesn’t apply to all the comments, but it applies to many. High Horse coming at you:

    These comments are riddled with resignation and despair. I hate it.

    Yes, there may be no hope, yes we may be dead walking. It doesn’t matter. If you want to make life interesting, you fight, and the worse it gets, the harder you fight. You fight until you’re dead.

    Act. If you’re already acting, act more. At the least, before the day is out, send Joe’s piece to every person you know and be passionate about it. Resolve to change your life. Resolve to not shut up about climate change until we act, no matter how embarrassing it may be. It’s way past the time for embarrassment.

    Despair is for suckers.

  66. Albert says:

    I remember we used to always talk about how much had changed in the life time of my grandparents. When they were young they traveled by horse and buggy, and there were no radio stations (my father’s parents were born in 1885 and 1888, my mother’s parents in 1902 and 1904). They saw the arrival first of radio, cars, the highway system, television, propeller and then jet airplanes, radar, nuclear weapons, space ships, and computers. My grandfather was a ham radio operator, and he would have loved the Internet. My grandparents saw the world of human endeavors change completely. My generation? We will see the physical world itself changed completely by the cascading effects of those human endeavors.

  67. Sou says:

    @Colorado Bob #51, more than a month after the big floods in Victoria that caused more than 500 road closures, there are still dozens of road closures across the State. It’s got little press exposure because of what’s been happening in Queensland. Same with the flooding of inland South Australia/NT. (It’s mainly only when the biggest cities get hit that anyone takes notice.)

    http://mobiletraffic.vicroads.vic.gov.au/floodalerts/?intcmp=HPE00019

  68. GJM says:

    Every time I think we have potential for a solution (eg, rapid deployment of existing technology wedges), information like this makes me feel the battle is even more uphill than imagined. We have got to goad the politicians into swift and deliberate action.

  69. Mike Roddy says:

    Great job, Joe, and thanks for the many excellent comments. My own ideas for getting us out of this pickle are

    Reforest North America. Many people (including in today’s comments section) like to talk about reforesting the tropics, but our own forests sequester far more carbon per acre and have been more ravaged by industrial logging. All so we can build houses out of two by fours and have lots of paper towels, packaging, and fluffy toilet paper. Only about 5% of US old growh forests remain, and it’s old and diverse woodland that does the best job of carbon sequestration and resisting climate disruption.

    Begin to institute a ground up boycott of products that are made from countries that depend on coal power for their manufacturing base. Timelines would include accelerated retirement of all US fossil fuel power plants (including gas), and cancellation of things like China’s 20 year $80 billion contract to import coal from Australia (rendering their “green energy revolution” meaningless). If this hurts China and the US the most, well, that’s tough shit, because we happen to be the countries currently causing the most damage.

    Begin to think in terms of legal action against clearly psychopathic companies such as Koch Industries and Peabody Coal. They need to be sued and shut down, and their executives charged with felonies.

    Drastic? Yeah. But these are the kinds of steps that are up to the task that we are facing. Making nice with the polluters and following the instincts of people like Obama to meet them in the middle is cowardly, and accomplishes nothing.

  70. Wyoming says:

    I have to disagree withte the pop psychologist mentioned about who says that optimists to better than pessimists. Having spect a lot of my life in dangerous activities I can say that my experience is just the opposite. You want to die young you hang around with optimists. Dedicated pessimists understand that everything that can go wrong will and you better have a plan in place for when they do or you get chewed up. Nature has no plans to negotiate.

    I have to side with Nick @65. Two statements always come into my mind when things get hard. When I was young and found myself on the ground spitting blood or a horse had just kicked the shit out of me I always seemed to hear in the background somewhere the phrase “Cowboy up!” or one of the Spanish workers would say, “No crying.” Life has no respect for anyone but the strong.

  71. Ed Hummel says:

    It’s hard to add anything more to all the well spoken comments above. All I can say is that every new study gets more and more depressing since the powers that be won’t allow anything to happen until it’s way too late. For that reason alone, it’s already way too late!

  72. Leif says:

    tst, @ 55: “And the land they’re grazing is typically not suitable for anything other than grazing.”

    I beg to differ. The land that is grazed is suitable for whole ecosystems and once was for the whole ~1/2 billion years of life on earth. It is no longer suitable for anything but grazing because that was the highest return on investment for the short term.

  73. Leland Palmer says:

    All of which is why we have to start putting as much carbon back underground as soon as possible:

    Wikipedia – BECCS (BioEnergy with Carbon Capture and Storage)

    Bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is a greenhouse gas mitigation technology which produces negative carbon emissions by combining biomass use with geologic carbon capture and storage.[1] It was pointed out in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as a key technology for reaching low carbon dioxide atmospheric concentration targets.[2] The negative emissions that can be produced by BECCS has been estimated by the Royal Society to be equivalent to a 50 to 150 ppm decrease in global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations[3] and according to the International Energy Agency, the BLUE map climate change mitigation scenario calls for more than 2 gigatonnes of negative emissions with BECCS in 2050.[4]

    The concept of BECCS is drawn from the integration of biomass processing industries or biomass fuelled power plants with carbon capture and storage. BECCS is a form of carbon dioxide removal, along with technologies such as biochar, carbon dioxide air capture and biomass burial.[5]

    The main appeal of BECCS is in its ability to result in negative emissions of CO2. The capture of carbon dioxide from bioenergy sources effectively removes CO2 from the atmosphere.[6]

    Rejoice, rejoice, we have no choice. The carbon has to go back underground, and we’re going to need everyone’s cooperation to do it.

    We’re going to need the coal fired power plants, converted to BECCS.

    We’re going to need the oil industry expertise in underground drilling for CCS.

    We need to demand that the coal and oil corporations be nationalized, and then transform them by force into more useful forms.

    A billion tons of carbon a year is still small potatoes compared to the eight billion tons per year from fossil fuels. But add in the decaying trees from the bark beetle epidemic. Add in the CO2 coming from the Amazon.

    It’s all starting to come apart, and we need to do the right things to put it back together.

    BECCS is not economical?

    Firstly, yes it is, if you do it right, and secondly how economical is it to allow the climate to destabilize?

  74. Wit's End says:

    Nick Bentley,

    I think you misread Joe’s Romm’n'Legions. Because we express despair – who wouldn’t, who is cognizant? – that doesn’t mean we are sitting around passively awaiting doom. I can’t speak for everyone of course, but of the commenters I know, every single one is actively devoted to averting the worst impacts of climate change, in one way or another.

  75. 350 Now says:

    Methane-sks we doth not protest enough

  76. Tim Peckham says:

    I teach my son that priorities should be in the order of ‘People, Money, Things.’
    This is the result if you don’t put people first.

  77. Macro Tel says:

    There are many sphagnum species; fuscum (30g/c/m^2/yr c sink) is heavy phenolic, maxes c sequester while S.Riparian floats so may be a useful lake-to-bog (5g/c/m^2/yr source partly a result of sediment decaying from upstream source) succession pioneer species. The general strategy here is killing animal and microbe respiration. Can you succeed a lake with a bog?; at warmer temps textbook says turns into a rainforest.
    Does the permafrost geology have “voids” at present that will be filled by water? A sim says the surface soil will dry after 2050 even assuming more precipitation because of this (subsurface runoff) yet to my knowledge the soil is thin enough that will be saturated after some thaw.
    That sim had 50% and even 90% thaw estimates in a 2100 worst case.
    Assuming only 1GT of c lost annually, that is only 100GT of carbon runoff. Where is the rest, thawed in sequestered soil? Is more than 1G/yr if soil dries out dammit.
    Water can melt permafrost. So what is the min thickness, if any, of permafrost layered land that could be flooded for a bog c sink? Is dry sphagnum afforestation over permafrost wise? How fine tuned must water levels be to get good sequester, is +10cm to -40cm water table enough to get $2000/km^2/yr in carbon credits?
    Can a GMO species be made that increases sex organs for the purpose of “fish farming” sphagnum, yet whose spores maintain fuscum levels of phenolics? lack of basic ecosystem research. I’m thinking if deep archipalego permafrost doesn’t melt before temps stabilized, goal should be to remake bogs into permafrost (in 2300 or whenever easy CCS) in attempt to reverse the post-1980s melt, hopefully using AGW increased rainfall. If the deep stuff melts…Would GMO phenolics in temperate wet ecosystems reduce respiration. I assume acidity crowds out other species with dryness being their ace.

  78. Mike#22 says:

    I am in complete agreement with Lewis at 52′s call on “optimism bias”. The Permafrost Carbon Flux figure is a non-starter. 200 billion tonnes Carbon release from permafrost by 2200 is just 15% of what is available, and it will not all be released as CO2.

    Nick @66, this ain’t over yet.

  79. Rr says:

    CO2 + methane + ocean acidification = accelerating mass extinction event
    we have to push forward with bio-engineering and alternative power
    to ensure small group survival for the long revolution and ensuing voilence
    we have to survive after we kill the earth.
    fair? no. inevitable? yes.
    life and death are not fair.
    rob

  80. paulm says:

    So the sky isn’t falling, it’s the permafrost!

    Toronto – Toronto breaks 27-year-old temperature record
    http://www.cbc.ca/canada/toronto/story/2011/02/17/toronto-temperarutes-high-records546.html

  81. Nick Palmer says:

    @Geodean in comment #48

    “I would really like to know what the Plan B is for all of the climate scientists that must know what is coming – what are they doing in their spare time to prepare on a personal level?”

    Greg Craven (the internet “How it all ends” video guy) recently did a “last ditch” speech to the AGU. Speaking to scientists afterwards he… well I’ll let Greg’s words speak for themselves

    “Oh, and one last thing. You deserve the full story, but for now here’s the bottom line: we’re ****ed. AGU rattled me to the core because my worst-case fears were not just confirmed, but exceeded (I found four paleoclimatologists who admitted to making plans for survival retreats), and my last hope–for the scientific community to enter the public debate–was completely dashed.”

  82. Prokaryotes says:

    Lewis C “In 1.0 GtC of emissions there are then 0.9GtC released as CO2, amounting to 3.300 GtCO2.
    The remaining 0.1 GtC released as methane amounts to 0.1333 GtCH4.
    Over the 20-year horizon that CH4 has 72 times the forcing of CO2, giving a value of 0.1333 x 72 = 9.576 GtCO2eq.
    Thus from a 1.0GtC release (projected as late as the 2030s by the sanitized report) the above 3.300 GtCO2 plus 9.576 GTCO2eq equals a total of 12.876 GtCO2eq,
    which amounts to about 43% of our present anthro-CO2 emissions.

    This would be sufficient in itself, coming from just 1.0 GtC/yr of ex-permafrost emissions, to swamp most or all of the planet’s natural carbon sinks.”

    Somehow over 90% of megafauna vanished the last time, during PETM. Plus we have now the speed and inertia potential – which is unprecedented. And what about the capacity of the atmosphere to wash out Co2? Somehow those events took hundreds of thousands of years to settle. According to Hansen the Co2 stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. And then there are the clathrates, released from ocean temperature rise.

    Have a look at this graph for the antarctic thaw http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:65_Myr_Climate_Change.png

    The fact that the planktonic forams are the first to show the signal suggests that the methane was released so rapidly that its oxidation used up all the oxygen at depth in the water column, allowing some methane to reach the atmosphere unoxidised, where atmospheric oxygen would react with it. This observation also allows us to constrain the duration of methane release to under around 10,000 years.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleocene–Eocene_Thermal_Maximum

    With the time estimates we now have to factor in the order of up to 10.000 times faster than previously in earth history.

    One exception, however, may be in clathrates associated with the Arctic ocean, where clathrates can exist in shallower water stabilized by lower temperatures rather than higher pressures; these may potentially be marginally stable much closer to the surface of the sea-bed, stabilized by a frozen ‘lid’ of permafrost preventing methane escape. Recent research carried out in 2008 in the Siberian Arctic has shown millions of tons of methane being released, apparently through perforations in the seabed permafrost,[11] with concentrations in some regions reaching up to 100 times normal.[12][13] The excess methane has been detected in localized hotspots in the outfall of the Lena River and the border between the Laptev Sea and the East Siberian Sea. Some melting may be the result of geological heating, but more thawing is believed to be due to the greatly increased volumes of meltwater being discharged from the Siberian rivers flowing north.[14] Current methane release has previously been estimated at 0.5 Mt per year.[15] Shakhova et al. (2008) estimate that not less than 1,400 Gt of carbon is presently locked up as methane and methane hydrates under the Arctic submarine permafrost, and 5–10% of that area is subject to puncturing by open taliks. They conclude that “release of up to 50 Gt of predicted amount of hydrate storage [is] highly possible for abrupt release at any time”. That would increase the methane content of the planet’s atmosphere by a factor of twelve,[16][17] equivalent in greenhouse effect to a doubling in the current level of CO2.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clathrate_gun

  83. Prokaryotes says:

    Notice that the wikipedia pages about PETM etc are target of Koch’s minions.

  84. Prokaryotes says:

    Leland Palmer, please share your BECCS insights here and submit an article http://biochar.me

  85. Crank says:

    Prokaryotes #13:

    Thanks for the link – I’ll read through it. May take some time…

  86. Nick Bentley says:

    @Wit’s End 75/

    You probably know this group better than I, as I haven’t been following the comments for long. If so, I still think a little pep talk is worth it, if only for many silent readers who are not so engaged and for whom these comments are an encouragement to resignation. Thanks.

  87. Sasparilla says:

    So many comments are so good.

    Lewis (#52) your comment was so well said in so many ways – thank you for putting those words down. This Permafrost Carbon Flux calculation won’t be close to accurate (erring to the positive side of things as you stated) because of the assumptions and restrictions it contains. We need studies that accurately detail what will probably happen in these feedback areas and we need them soon.

    Richard Brenne (#59) excellent comment as well.

    I had just assumed that by the time the next IPCC Report came around (2013) that these awful feedback issues (clathrates, permafrost, Amazon) and implications would finally be factored in, thoroughly and publicly, but I’m beginning to whether there will be enough papers published by the cutoff and included to do that (and it doesn’t seem like there will be). It seems like they will at least be mentioned this time, but it doesn’t seem like we’ll be getting enough details.

    Joe, any thoughts on whether we’ll probably see the feedback issue implications included somewhat accurately in the 2013 IPCC report?

  88. Rr says:

    permafrost CO2 release just Gaia’s indigestion.
    methane release will be Gaia’s big fart that will end most life on this planet

  89. espiritwater says:

    It’s already a carbon sink, according to the latest book I read (2011). Either L. Brown’s book, “World on the Edge” or this other book; forgot name.

  90. Chris Winter says:

    Catman306 wrote (#4): “Couldn’t some of the escaping methane be captured with large reflective sheets of plastic?”

    Certainly it could be captured. I think it’s an excellent idea (like capturing the gas from oil wells instead of flaring it off, as I suggested years ago.) And the know-how to make reflective mylar or other plastics is readily available; they are used to regulate the temperature of spacecraft.

    Of course making and moving the plastic sheets would produce some extra CO2. But I don’t think that would offset the benefit. Also, installing and maintaining the sheets would create thousands of jobs.

  91. Wit's End says:

    Nick, I’ve been living with the foreknowledge of impending and inevitable collapse so long that I forget what it’s like in the beginning of learning about it! At first I thought that there would be a new, distinct psychiatric discipline to help people cope with the emotions that arise when they recognize peak everything – and in fact I’ve read that there are some counselors who specialize in that. I now think collapse in various forms will occur before that can become commonplace.

    But, here’s a cheery story – an Oklahoma town has a temperature variation of 100 degrees within one week – and the article about it attributes the extreme swing to…*climate change*!!

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/yblog_thelookout/20110218/us_yblog_thelookout/temperature-swings-100-degrees-in-one-week-in-okla-town

  92. Chris Winter says:

    Crank wrote (#7): “Somewhat OT dumb question: where would I find information about commonly used climate models? Are there some readily available descriptions of what models are in use and what factors they take into account?”

    The RealClimate blog has a lot of discussion on this over the years. Search the site on “modeling” to bring up a list, including a two-part FAQ. This post is probably the latest:

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2011/01/2010-updates-to-model-data-comparisons/
    2010 updates to model-data comparisons

    This page is also relevant:

    http://www.logicalscience.com/skeptic_arguments/models-dont-work.html
    “Climate models don’t work. They don’t even ‘predict’ the past.”
    Common Arguments from Skeptics
    From Logical Science

  93. Chris Winter says:

    Wit’s End wrote (#92): “But, here’s a cheery story…”

    The referenced article notes:

    And the Oklahoma Climatological Survey has verified that the state’s average temperature readings have been trending upward, with some year-to-year variations, since the late 1980s. You can read the survey’s findings and recommendations here (link removed).

    Cheering indeed! Thanks.

  94. Edward says:

    That is more than 8 doublings or more than 24 degrees centigrade or more than 43 degrees Fahrenheit if the CH4 came out all at once. 6 degrees C or 11 degrees F is enough to make us humans extinct. Oh Sh**!

  95. Heraclitus says:

    Thus ends the Anthropocene.
    We are now in the short but brutal Deniocene.

  96. Richard Brenne says:

    Nick Bentley (#66) and (#87) – (Warning: Higher Horse Yet) Your pep talk contains several excellent paragraphs (especially the two longest ones at #66), but I disagree with these three statements of yours:

    “These comments are riddled with resignation and despair. I hate it.”

    “Despair is for suckers.”

    “. . .these comments are an encouragement to resignation.”

    I discuss the psychology of climate change a lot with experts, including Thomas Doherty, a pioneer in eco-psychology who was a member of the American Psychological Association’s Climate Change Task Force.

    These experts say that it is natural and necessary for people to grieve when confronted with loss. Without this grieving, they are typically psychologically impaired by blocking and repressing.

    Another psychologist told me to look at it this way: A and B both have similar crippling accidents. A resolves to always be sunny, positive, optimistic and cheerful. B traverses the necessary psychological steps of anger, injustice and grief on the way to acceptance and action. After a year or two, B is much farther along and psychologically healthier than A, and taking more appropriate action.

    It is necessary to grieve deeply and for as long as necessary, in addition to taking appropriate action. Your comment sounds a little like someone going to a graveside funeral service and demanding the family “Stop grieving!”

    Also, action-mongering without understanding what you’re up against can be another means of denial. “Don’t talk about it!” “Enough talk, we need action!” etc are the kinds of comments that are typical of this denial.

    They put me in mind of the most gung-ho soldier hearing of the attack on Pearl Harbor, strapping a rifle to their back and swimming into the Pacific to engage the enemy.

    First we need to know what we’re up against, and this monster is morphing into one Lake Michigan, then Mediterranean, then Atlantic, then Pacific-sized before our very eyes. That is what this post is about, as well as many others here.

    The most useful thing anyone on Anthro-Earth can do is to understand what is happening and then to communicate what they understand to as many people as possible. That is what CP does more than anywhere and CP readers and especially commenters do more than any other single group I know about.

    Yes action is important, and as Gail (Wit’s End) at (#75) says, many of us are doing all we can think of all the time to combat this.

    Those other paragraphs in your pep talk are valid, very helpful and passionately written. A certain amount of grieving and even momentary despair along the exceedingly challenging psychological terrain we’re traversing is normal – let it be.

  97. joyce says:

    For #66, Nick,
    Your comment: “Yes, there may be no hope, yes we may be dead walking. It doesn’t matter. If you want to make life interesting, you fight, and the worse it gets, the harder you fight. You fight until you’re dead.” reminded me of a story.

    As a girlfriend’s husband was succumbing to an aggressive, fast progressing cancer, they read all the literature and went to workshops on “positive thinking”, etc. As she sat by his bedside during his last days, she kept barking “VISUALIZE, Tom, VISUALIZE…” In retrospect, she wishes she could have been more of a comfort.

    I think everyone who reads this blog is trying in multiple ways to do what they can, but I also think that sharing fears is both valid and appropriate. There are people in the world who may not look like they are “fighting” but offer compassion and spiritual support, try to foster community, or sing, dance… I think what they are doing is every bit as valid as barking from the sidelines.

  98. #56 Steve Bloom. Yes Schaefer is modelling the methane emissions now. good pt about albedo change. I think the reality is we’re live in a trillion-tonne balloon which means the real goal is zero and negative carbon emissions. We have precious few decades to get there though.

    I did another piece last Sept where two world-class permafrost experts told me 2C globally is too high if we want to keep permafrost frozen. http://bit.ly/gTgxAL

    Pretty obvious we need to starting phasing out fossil fuel use now. “Cancún Climate Summit Gives Fossil Fuels a Free Pass” http://stephenleahy.net/2010/12/08/cancun-climate-summit-gives-fossil-fuels-a-free-pass/

  99. John McCormick says:

    Donald Rumsfeld confirmed what General Colin Powell now understands full well.

    The general was lied to by Bush and Cheney and made to go to the UN to repeat those lies. He has a bit of a debt he owes to all Americans who fought, were injured or those who lost loved ones and those who opposed the US attacking Iraq.

    What would be a suitable way for him to step up and right his soul would be to take on the climate liars and use this recent report as a beginning. General Powell would be listened to and he owes us.

    John McCormick

  100. Nick Bentley says:

    @ Richard /97

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I certainly agree that blindfolding oneself with positivity or even just a look-the-other-way attitude is an unhealthy thing. I meant to argue not so much for that as against resignation. I now sense that, based on the responses here, perhaps it was unnecessary. My mistake.

  101. Nick Bentley says:

    @ Joyce /98

    Yes, I agree that is a danger. There’s an art to living under grave threat, requiring a balance of awareness, determination, and acceptance of what is. I certainly don’t want to be the daughter in your story. But nor do I want to be resigned. I believe it’s possible to act, to experiment, to work, without losing sight of our joy and our comfort.

  102. colinc says:

    I must applaud Gnobuddy, Mulga Mumblebrain and, especially, Lewis C. @ #52 for expressing a “more coupled” perspective than I typically see exhibited here… or most anywhere else for that matter. Alas, even these “better” perceptions neglect more than a few factors regarding the future of our (and most other) species. The factors to which I allude are at least as significant (actually, more significant in my perspective) than those presented ANYWHERE on this blog or RealClimate or Nature Bats Last of even Gail’s Wits End. Nothing exists in a vacuum and, indeed, nature abhors a vacuum. Even “deep space” contains more than a few varied and disparate elements.

    You may be asking, “What are those other factors?” To which I typically reply, they’re as plain and obvious as the nose on your face… which you apparently cannot see beyond. Regardless, here’s a couple of hints. First, ask yourself “How and why do morons like Inhofe, Coburn, Cantor, Boehner, etc. get elected to ANY office in the first place?” Do you think it might have something to do with abject lack of “education” or “intellect” reflected by their “constituency?”

    Secondly, I’ve been asking everyone I know and everyone I’ve met over the past few weeks 2 questions.

    “Are the countries of Pakistan and India ‘friends’ or ‘enemies’?”
    “Do either of these countries currently possess nuclear weapons?”

    So far, the overwhelming number of responses have either been wrong or “I don’t know”… and an unspoken “I don’t care.” As I’ve asked many, many times over the past couple decades, “In a society/culture/country that is governed/guided by ‘majority rule,’ what happens when ‘the majority’ are ignorant, unaware and irrational?” Do you think we are finding out NOW?

    That’s just a couple of more than handful of “other factors” I’ve been considering that have NEVER been discussed here or on any other “conscientious” posting. The “real big” problem is that there are too many people, world-wide, too inured in the programming that we’ve all been subjected to over our entire lives that no amount of “evidence/facts” or “reason/logic” will persuade them from their “beliefs.” If/when the rest of you “wake-up” to these other factors, I’m sure you will easily(?) deduce there is but ONE outcome to our current trajectory. The “bug” in the 1st MIB-movie was right, “Y’know, I’ve noticed an infestation here. Everywhere I look, in fact. Nothing but undeveloped, unevolved, barely conscious pond scum, totally convinced of their own superiority as they scurry about their short, pointless lives.” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119654/quotes) At least there is still time to bend over and kiss your ass goodbye… but less than you think! Cheers.

  103. There is nowhere to retreat. We fix it or we’re hosed.

  104. Ray says:

    Thank you, Richard (#97). Bucking each other up is good. Being angry at people who are experiencing genuine despair is not.

    I’ve wondered for 8 years what will happen when the ice cap disappears, and the Arctic inverts from heat reflector to heat sink. In response, I wrote a novel about a family caught up in that, called “A Change in the Weather.” I thought that if I could get people to visualize the near-term consequences–that the consequence were in fact near-term–it might galvanize action. It’s set in 2028, ten years after the disappearance of the ice cap.

    I imagined that the inversion would cause the seasonal highs and lows to shift the jet stream, make it fibrulate, and cause rainfall to become highly erratic and unpredictable.

    That caused agriculture to fail worldwide.

    That led to economic collapse.

    The Third World, largely Muslim, blames the West for the ensuing physical suffering and the sheer dread of knowing that the downward spiral to total collapse had begun. Terrorism mulitiplies.

    The response in the U.S.: a right-wing takeover of the government. Recall the mood after 9-11, then set that event in the Great Depression, with today’s technology. Multiply the Tea Party’s sense of aggrieved entitlement by ten. Throw in private militias to compensate for the decline in police services due to the lack of tax money from a stalled economy. That’s America in my novel.

    More stuff happens, none of it good. But people are alive in 2028.

    Reading this, I can see that I’m way off. This sounds absolutely lethal outright. We won’t get to 2028.

    I don’t know how to react, and I don’t mind admitting it in this forum, where at least some will understand. You others: call me weak, tell me I’m pessimistic, despise me.

    Where is the leadership? Why is President Obama not declaring an emergency? Here’s why: it will incite violence. If he dealt with this issue as it needs to be dealt with, he would be promptly assassinated.

    Is he a coward? Or is he struggling to come up with a way to solve this predicament that doesn’t create the levels of suffering it seeks to avoid? Imagine the reaction of the hyper-religious, Second-Amendment-solution types if President Obama asserted, or even suggested, the level of centralized cooperation we require to head off the collapse of the ice cap.

    Anyone I’ve told this to thinks I’m over-reacting. My wife tells me not to bring it up. I feel like I have to keep this a secret. People do not want to hear it.

    So these admonitions to tell everyone–I’ve tried that. The reaction is denial. It’s just too overwhelming to contemplate, and too hard to visualize. People genuinely don’t believe it.

    I believe it.

    So now what? I have to work through the despair first. Go down fighting–what does that look like? Beating people over the head with this horrible news? Ranting at my friends and family? Does that include getting a divorce and living like a hermit for the few years I have left? It does in my mind.

    Nobody wants to let go of the life they were born into.

    We need a benevolent dictator. What are the chances a dictator would remain benevolent? 10 percent?

    Even here, I feel I have to apologize for the blackness of my vision.

    Please refute it so I can believe you.

  105. Gnobuddy says:

    @101, Nick Bentley says:
    “…nor do I want to be resigned. I believe it’s possible to act, to experiment, to work, without losing sight of our joy and our comfort.”
    ======================================================
    I concur entirely.

    Also, let’s not confuse acceptance with resignation – they may appear similar from the outside, but to the person experiencing the feeling, they are worlds apart. Resignation usually goes with a feeling of “I’m defeated, I’m done for, everything is as bad as it can possibly be.” Acceptance is something else – an adult, honest realisation that these are the facts, and there is no way around them. Acceptance allows you to move forward, resignation keeps you stuck. As a very simple example, addicts have to accept that they have a problem before they can begin to recover.

    What many of us on this website are now trying to do is accept that the world as we knew it is almost certainly going away for good, or at a minimum, for thousands of years, perhaps even hundreds of thousands of years. We are also trying to accept the fact that this is happening NOW, in fact has been happening for at least the past half-century, and possibly longer.

    In other words, it’s not just our grandchildren’s problem, it’s OUR problem, and we have to start dealing with it as best we can.

    Personally, I have zero belief in humanity’s ability to avert the catastrophe. We might conceivably, in a last spasmodic burst of intellectual stupidity, try to paint the mountain tops white, float reflective ballons in our atmosphere, scatter reflective chaff in space between the earth and the sun, dump iron filings in the ocean, and cover the permafrost in tarpaulins and the arctic ocean in floating white styrofoam to lower the albedo. We might ration drinking water, make it a crime to bathe more than once a month, switch to eating algae, and live in underground cities to reduce the impact of the scorching heat.

    Even if we succeeded in all this, what sort of world will we have created? Would you really want to be born into a world that is a collapsing ruin held together with plastic sheeting and duct tape? Would we have averted catastrophe, or simply created a prolonged catastrophe that we could continue to live in?

    Honestly, I wouldn’t want to be born into that world. It is my hope that humanity comes to terms with the realisation that the best thing we can do for the planet is to allow nature to restore its balance, though that process requires decimating our species. Rather than try to use spit and string to hold together our world, if we let nature take its course, one day in the far distant future there will once again be biodiversity, green growth, clean water, and no artificially created poisons flooding the soil, the water and the air. Perhaps there will still be members of homo sapiens sapiens living then, perhaps not. No matter. Based on the evidence so far, evolution made a mistake in creating human levels of intelligence. If we’d never gotten any smarter than our evolutionary cousins the bonobos, the planet would have been far better off.

    So I don’t think that fighting to save our seven billion human beings and our present toxic way of life is actually the right thing to do, ethically. It is the instinctive and short-sighted thing to do, and I don’t want to die any more than any other human does, but it is not in the best interest of life on this world. Rather than keep fighting, I think it would be wiser and more compassionate to accept that it is time for the human race to wave goodbye to its unhealthy creations, and either return to nature, or die with it. Our way of life needs to go in order to make way for something better, and so do we – or at least, our current teeming billions need to go, you and I among them.

    This is acceptance I’m talking about, not resignation. I’m far from resigned: this actually motivates me to “seize the day”, to enjoy my life as long as I continue to remain alive. I resolve to do my best to not let another blue sky go by without admiring it, another pleasantly temperate day go by without being thankful for the comfortable weather, another glass of drinking water slip down my throat without appreciating that I still actually have water to drink. I will enjoy the beauty of the few trees that still remain around here, pay attention to the rarer sound of a birds music, and watch for the rarest of rare events, a living butterfly in this concrete world I live in. Carpe diem!

    I second the idea of hearing from climate scientists, as well as from everyone who has insightful wisdom to offer, as to their plan B: now that we know gloal catastrophe is almost certainly inevitable, what is the most graceful, compassionate, happy way to deal with it and enjoy our individual lives till our last day?

    -Gnobuddy

  106. Villabolo says:

    Does this study take into account the side effects of accelerating Arctic sea temperatures due to ice cap shrinkage?

    Looks like the Arctic will be relatively ice free by 2020. I heard somewhere that ocean temperatures may rise 6 degrees Fahrenheit or more. How fast will that accelerate permafrost melt?

    PS: Sorry if this has been answered in a previous post. I just got in.

  107. Gnobuddy says:

    @103, colinc says:
    “I must applaud Gnobuddy, Mulga Mumblebrain and, especially, Lewis C. @ #52 for expressing a “more coupled” perspective than I typically see exhibited here… or most anywhere else for that matter.”
    —————————————————-
    Thank you, colinc!
    —————————————————-
    Colinc goes on:
    “You may be asking, “What are those other factors?” To which I typically reply, they’re as plain and obvious as the nose on your face… which you apparently cannot see beyond.”
    —————————————————-
    Colinc, I am not so stupid as to think I see everything, but I have indeed seen and wondered about the issues that you bring up. I also have my on opinions on the issue.

    Let’s look at human history, as far as we know anything about it. In every culture, the muscle-bound, agressive lunkheads end up in power. Every great civilization was brought down by barbarians at the gates, barbarians with greater bloodlust and less intellect. And just about everywhere, humanity exploited the local resources until they devastated them, then moved on to exploit new territory. Every culture is riddled with superstition – worshipping the sun or the wild beasts is no dumber than worshipping an imaginary man in the sky who loves you. People still believe in ghosts and spirits. We can’t even plan our own retirement finances, or stay away from the hamburgers and fast food that are killing us.

    These things are baked into the nature of the human brain. Education does not change them significantly, any more than education will make you immune to optical illusions (which are also the product of your human brain wiring). Culture does not change them, every human culture has these issues. Time does not change them, as far as we know idiots have been following charismatic and musclebound “leaders” into battle to die uselessly for the entire 130,000 years Homo Sapiens Sapiens has been on this planet. Indeed, our cousins the chimpanzees were doing the same thing before us – I’ve watched on video as a chimp “army” marched for hours through the jungle just to murder, maim, kill, and rape members of a different troop of chimps elsewhere in the forest, returning triumphantly bearing bloody fragments of a baby chimp they had torn apart and eaten.

    So: stand aside from our own species, observe as if you were a zoologist studying a new animal species, and you come to the obvious conclusion: as a species, we humans are clever about such things as tool use and creativity, and very stupid as to living wisely in the big picture.

    Of course human intelligence follows a statistical bell curve, like so many other semi-randomly distributed statistical variables. On the far right of the curve, the smartest among us have always seen that there is a better way: Socrates, the Buddha, Lao Tzu, Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, John Lennon, Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie, most people here reading this website, and millions of others: we see the stupidity of war, business as usual, religion, superstition, placing money first, and so on.

    But, as another reader commented, we are statistically insignificant; the tip of the bell curve does not decide the course of human history, the fat middle of it does. And those are the people you are describing, the people who took humanity through the painful and error-riddled course of human history on this earth.

    And THAT is why I do not expect a fix for the climate catastrophe: even if we suppose concerted world-wide human action could avert catastrophe, it is blatantly obvious to the unbiased observer that our species is simply not capable of taking that action, any more than my dog is capable of meowing, or my cat of reciting the English alphabet.

    I’m now in my mid forties; in my teen years I had already come to the conclusion that our species – homo sapiens sapiens – is actually anything but sapient, and that we have exactly the wrong level of intelligence. If we were ten times stupider, we’d have been a successful species, like cows and antelopes. If we were ten times smarter, we would have seen past the instinctive behaviour patterns wired into our primitive hind-brains, and avoided war, destruction of our own habitat, and so on – so we would also have been a successful species, I believe.

    Unfortunately, we fell right in the middle: smart enough to create the atom bomb, dumb enough to actually use it; smart enough to invent the internal combustion engine, dumb enough to let its emissions poison our planet; smart enough to catch fish by the megaton, dumb enough to fish the oceans empty in a century. And so on.

    If I forget I myself am one more insignificant member of this troubled species, and try to look past the end of my own silly human nose, I can only conclude that our species, in the long term, was an evolutionary mistake. The very characteristics that made us wildly successful for a hundred thousand years have now become our enemies; what were once assets in a wild and natural world are now our worst nightmare on a planet we have reshaped in our own toxic image, and which we cannot stop reshaping until it actually kills us.

    “We have met the enemy, and (s)he is us”.

    So what can we do about it? On the large scale, nothing. I can’t make my cat learn that alphabet, either, and I would be an idiot to continue to fool myself into believing that my cat really could learn this, if only I found the right way to teach it. (Yes, believing we can educate our species into having wisdom beyond our biological abilities is equally stupid. They won’t get it, they can’t get it, and it’s not your fault for failing to communicate it.)

    On a tiny individual scale, if you’re reading this, and it makes sense to you, then you’re probably one of the people well into the tail on the right side of the human intelligence bell-curve. So go use your wiser brain well: be happy, enjoy the things you love, be kind to living things, and accept that our species is too flawed to continue, and we have pushed our own self-destruct button.

    -Gnobuddy

  108. colinc says:

    … re: #106 Gnobuddy

    Well said, sir! That is, perhaps, one of the most astute and aware comments I have EVER read in ANY thread! Absolutely excellent perspectives and I concur with every fiber of my being.

    … re: #105 Ray

    No need to “apologize”… at least not any moreso than each and every one of us should(?) be doing to each other. Moreover, good on ya’ for writing the book you describe… albeit I think it is a “bit” optimistic. I, too, think that there will be members of our species still alive in 2028, but I doubt they will be the “lucky” ones. I’ve long thought about writing a book myself… I’d title it “Frauds ‘R Us: How Americans are Cheating Themselves, Each Other and Everyone Else.” However, I’m fairly(?!) certain that 1) I’d never get anyone to publish it, 2) if it did get published, I’d be “cheated” by said publisher and 3) it probably wouldn’t sell, anyway. But I digress.

    Regardless, as reward(?!), I’ll provide another hint, this time regarding at least a “possible” (though VERY improbable) solution. I know a guy (sorta’) whose home is more than “half-buried” by sod/landscaping. That is, from certain (most?) angles his “house” appears to be nothing more than a “bump/hump” in the ground. His heating/cooling bill averages only $15.00/month!!! The location is about 15 miles south of Lake Erie and 30 miles west of Cleveland, OH. He has zero water “leaks,” ever (20+ yrs). With a solar panel or 3, a “small” wind-turbine or 2, and a little “re-engineering” of some “appliances,” he could easily live completely off the grid and be all the “richer” for it. Hell, part of his house is also his garden! Alas, a scenario involving such construction/re-engineering will never be “allowed” en masse because jackasses like the Kochs, T. Boone, etc. won’t be able to bleed the rest of us for every “penny” possible.

  109. joyce says:

    Ray, #105
    Boy, do I hear you. I’ve been running a science based educational volunteer program on cc for 3 years, yet I’ve a husband & kids who don’t want to know. Feels somewhat like I’m “cheating” as I can’t share what is so close to my heart with my own kin… In fact, I’m planning to bow out, and take another approach in the world.
    Recently, I learned a new word, and a new concept, “hozho”: http://thestoryofhere.blogspot.com/2011/02/desperately-seeking-hozho.html?spref=fb
    It spoke to me. Our “western” way of viewing things can be exhausting. At least, I am exhausted…

  110. Adam R. says:

    I second the idea of hearing from climate scientists, as well as from everyone who has insightful wisdom to offer, as to their plan B: now that we know gloal catastrophe is almost certainly inevitable, what is the most graceful, compassionate, happy way to deal with it and enjoy our individual lives till our last day?

    My plan B is to build a sustainable refuge for my daughter’s family and the generation that follows. If things don’t turn out as badly as I fear they may, at least the great-grandkids will have a fun getaway in the country.

  111. Ray says:

    Joyce #108,
    Thanks, and thanks for the link. I just forwarded the CP link that started this thread to a smart, responsible guy, very attuned to climate change. His response: “Frankly, I’m not going to read this. Don’t need the bad news.” That about sums it up. I can’t blame him. I don’t really want to know, either. But I do, and don’t know how to unknow it.

  112. Richard Brenne says:

    Nick Bentley (#101) – If I out-high horsed you, you out-thoughtfulled me. Thank you for your warm and kind response. I see your point about resignation, and still deeply value your two key paragraphs in your original comment at #66. You’ve obviously thought about this a great deal, as have the many others who have commented on our thread, and I feel that each of us is a kindred spirit to all others.

    Ray (#105) – Based on the quality of your writing in your comment here, I’d love to read your book!

    Ray, I think you and Joyce (beautiful comments at #98 and #108) and Gail, Mike Roddy, Richard Pauli, Mulga Mumblebrain, Sailesh Rao, Lou Grinzo, Leif, Ed Hummel and many others commenting here are kindred spirits.

    We’re like Richard Dreyfus and the handful of others drawn to Devil’s Tower to be those who connect with the ultimate “others” in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

    Joyce, I don’t think it’s cheating to have those close connections, provided one doesn’t actually cheat. In my own marriage I’m trying to be the best husband and partner I can be, while also forging the closest possible bonds with these kindred spirits (the fact that most are male makes it easier).

    I think we should all work together here and in whatever ways we can.

    And Gnobuddy (#106), that is another incredibly deep observation that I’m digesting. I think we need to do the best we can by everyone and every living and other thing we can, now and always. Personally I don’t think that what we can see is necessarily all there is, so that doing the best we can applies to every state of consciousness we find ourselves in, always trying to progress.

  113. joyce says:

    Richard, #110==Oh Gosh! I realized the moment I pushed “send” that my message could be misinterpreted. I’m not planning to leave my family, just my “job.” I’ve got the best family in the world.

    There are plenty of things I can do, but I need a break from “all the time…”

    This is an amazing blog JR runs. I rarely jump on, but I’ve used the materials he synthesises so nicely in many venues. Thanks Joe!

  114. Richard Brenne says:

    Joyce (#111), no I didn’t misunderstand, I was just hoping you and the rest of us could be the best spouses, parents and friends we can be while still working to preserve a world to be spouses, parents and friends in.

    Can we?

  115. Villabolo says:

    @39 Brian N

    Could an appropriate vegetation be seeded throughout thawing permafrost regions that increases albedo & perhaps sinks some carbon?

    Wild ass guess.

    Bamboo?

  116. Richard Brenne says:

    Also, does anyone have a partner who agrees with them and wants to work with them to communicate how dire things really are, and try to change the death spiral we’re in?

    Could such a relationship work?

    Can a mixed marriage of dreadfully depressing doomer and cheerfully chirping cheerleader-optimist work?

    Do we need an E-Disharmony, Doomer Connection or some sort of existential endtimes dating service?

  117. Richard Brenne says:

    Villabollo (#113) – Oh great, and then a planetary panda population explosion beyond 7 billion?:)

  118. Wit's End says:

    Yikes, Joyce I thought at first glance you meant a Hemlock Society bow out, you had me worried!

    Gnoboddy (thank you for your thoughful comment!) said:

    “…now that we know gloal catastrophe is almost certainly inevitable, what is the most graceful, compassionate, happy way to deal with it and enjoy our individual lives till our last day?”

    This is a question worth pondering but I would like to add that, for myself, I cannot forget that human self-destruction – and global mass extinction – wasn’t necessarily an inevitable outcome. Without forgetting or forgiving my own contributions to climate change and pollution, and my own obliviousness to the seriousness of both until relatively recently, I believe that there are people who are far more responsible for deliberately sacrificing my children’s future for the aggrandizement of their own fortune…and the right-wing, free-market, anti-regulatory ideology that they must adhere to in order to justify the insane and obscene inequality and injustice that results.

    I’m including people like the Koch’s who cynically fund denier groups and control the media and the government; and those who are exemplified by the likes of Sarah Palin, who would deny birth control to a world that desperately needs it, and who regard nature as a commodity to be exploited.

    These are purely evil people and so part of the enjoyment I intend to get out of what is left of my life is calling them out at every opportunity. Mike Roddy published an article in the Buffalo Beast about our latest exploit (http://www.buffalobeast.com/?p=4630) and I’m already planning the next one…something to look forward to as the collapse accelerates.

  119. Nick Bently says:

    @Joyce,

    For what it’s worth, here’s my own story about my decision to leave my job:

    http://climatepirate.com/climate-change-made-me-quit-my-job/

  120. spacermase says:

    @Gnobuddy

    While that’s a very lofty and noble and sentiment, you seem to exhibit a delusion that many in the environmental community have- that the majority of the population will quietly starve or freeze to death, and nature will “restore the balance.”

    Do you have any concept of what several billion starving, desperate people will do to the planet? Humanity will strip the Earth bare of life if it means keep ourselves alive, because, like all lifeforms, we’re selected towards surviving at all possible costs.

    A collapse may occur, may even be inevitable- but it is not something to be desired. It will make the environmental ravages of the current age look trivial by comparison.

  121. Paulm says:

    “We predict that the PCF will change the arctic from a carbon sink to a source after the mid-2020s and is strong enough to cancel 42–88% of the total global land sink. ”

    This is the way scientist should be communicating extreme events. Not “we can’t say for certain ….”
    Far to passive.

    We product that by 2020 the will be extreme droughts ……

  122. Lewis C says:

    Snapple at 63/.

    Thanks for your very interesting post. The position in Russia seems rather confused, perhaps between different centres of power (?) given the Kremlin’s public promotion of denialism, while its diplomats committed to relatively steep pledges pre-Copenhagen and then after Cancun.

    Kirpotin sounds a very brave man and a scientist of real integrity to insist on upholding the truth of climate destabilization under such a regime.

    An aspect you didn’t mention was how Medvedev’s position has evolved since his forthright statements during last summer’s events. Has he held his ground as a public advocate of action, or has he gone quiet, keeping his powder dry for an opportune moment in the future ?

    It is very intriguing to learn of the threat to oil & gas production from climate destabilization driving the melting of permafrost. Like Thunderhorse and many other GOM rigs hit by intensifying hurricanes, and the coal mines recently flooded in Queensland, it appears that fossil fuel extraction is at least as vulnerable to extreme weather events as almost any other industry. (Farming is of course the front line in this sense).

    If Russia were a major exporter of coal rather than of oil & gas, I could see the short-termist logic of opposing UN action on climate and suppressing information at home. Yet the fact is that a climate treaty will make both oil & gas increasingly competitive with coal in international markets simply on their energy outputs per kilo of CO2 released. Moreover, the sooner a binding treaty is agreed, the lower the threat of permafrost melt disrupting or precluding extraction operations in remote areas.

    So either the Kremlin’s analysts are too incompetent to appreciate these critical aspects of the national interest (which seems not credible) or Russian denialism at home and abroad is a charade of disinterest to try not to appear hungry at the negotiating table, while also avoiding any build-up of popular pressure for action at home.

    One possible confirmation of the covert seriousness of official Russian concern over CD is that while the US has quietly launched a satellite “to help study the dynamics of aerosols”, physical experiments with sulphate aerosols’ distribution have been under way in Russia.

    Do please post what information you can gather on developments in Russia as it is very hard to keep abreast of events there through official and commercial channels.

    Regards,

    Lewis

  123. Leland Palmer says:

    Biomass energy with carbon capture and storage can have a huge synergistic effect on the problem.

    BECCS simultaneously avoids fossil fuel use, generates useful electricity which could be used to run electric cars (avoiding petroleum use), gets rid of carbon containing waste which could decay and generate methane, and puts carbon back underground- all at the same time.

    If we had a functional system of carbon credits worldwide, a fair system of carbon credits would therefore reward BECCS with roughly triple carbon credits, and maybe more because of the avoidance of methane production by decay of carbon containing garbage.

    Biochar is a great idea, but it has a few shortcomings. Firstly, it asks people (especially very poor people) to bury charcoal, a valuable fuel. Secondly, Biochar does not generate income from the sale of electricity, generally- although it could because pyrolysis is an exothermic reaction. Thirdly, it does not displace fossil fuel use- although it could displace a small amount of fossil fuel use this seems very marginally practical, considering factors like transportation costs.

    Only BECCS takes the facilities we already have for moving massive amounts of carbon – coal fired power plants- and swaps the traditional sources and sinks, actually moving carbon from the biosphere back underground.

    The oil industry has the expertise needed for carbon storage. They also could become our climate saviors, by putting that expertise to use.

    Nobody likes BECCS, at least so far. The environmentalists don’t want to cut down trees, although most likely dedicated biomass plantations and dead trees would be the main source of carbon. The coal fired power plant owners don’t want to deal with the problem, at all, apparently. The oil industry wants to be paid to do CCS, and use the CO2 for secondary oil recovery to kill us all even faster. Advocates of distributed energy don’t like the idea of centralized power plants. Most informed people don’t like the coal and oil industry, and hope to see them go out of business. The environmentalists worry about CO2 leaks, even though we have 100% leakage now. The environmentalists worry about groundwater contamination, even though that wouldn’t matter much to a planet undergoing a methane catastrophe and mass extinction.

    Most people think that there is a catch, with BECCS. It sounds too good to be true, and cutting down the forests in order to save them is counter-intuitive.

    Clean energy alone is not enough to turn the corner on this problem. We have to put as much carbon as possible back underground as quickly as possible, and we need the synergistic effects of BECCS in order to do that.

  124. colinc says:

    …#108 Gnobuddy,

    First, thanks for the thanks. Second, I apologize for my poorly worded sentence as I was not trying to imply that you, or anyone else here, is “stupid.” Moreover, my jaw is once more agape and I can only concur with the veracity of your observations. Indeed, you have again “echoed” a great deal of “truth,” dare I say more eloquently than I could, with which I have absolutely no argument!

    In fact, your comment (108) does indeed nail at least 1 of the other factors to which I was alluding. Since HS (c. 1970) I’ve had many jobs in more than a few sectors and lived in more than few states across this country, in cities and well outside of them. (BTW, I also have a mathematics degree and Diff.Eq. was my very favorite course, tied with 2 yrs of physics.) There are too few of our “fellow Americans” who can claim as much nor have experienced/observed a “true cross-section” of the populace. Again, your statements could not be more correct and this is just one of the factors that gets such short shrift anywhere.

    Another of those factors rarely even acknowledged, let alone “discussed,” are our alleged “safety mechanisms.” Bhopal, Deepwater Horizon, Exxon Valdiz, Chernobyl, Three-Mile Island, to name just a few “incidents” that have been “reported,” supposedly had “safety mechanisms” and “fully trained staff” that were supposed to avert the “accidents” to which they succumbed. (How many have not been reported?) What happens when those systems are not even staffed at all? I refer to every refinery, all the hazardous chemical processing plants and, of course, all the power generating operations, be they coal, nuclear or whatever… and not JUST in the USA. (No doubt you may think of others, but I think that list is more than “sufficient.”) If anyone thinks our air, water and soil are depressingly contaminated now, well, we haven’t seen anything yet! Furthermore, let’s not forget international “tensions” when mass migrations of “climate refugees” try to cross another country’s border.

    I’ve known some very bright and very kind people over my 58 yrs but they are too few and far between to “redeem” our species as a whole. I think homo sapiens sapiens is not only a misnomer but, in fact, we “deserve” nothing less than extinction. Alas, I doubt that will occur and little doubt that the coming “bottleneck” will make the aftermath of the Toba eruption seem like a “non-event.”

    Lastly, thanks for the well wishes (precisely what I aim to do) and I return the sentiment. I think we could have delightful(?!) discussions if there were some way to “meet” beyond this framework. Alas, I’m pretty certain Mr. Romm’s plate is more than full and I won’t presume he has time to provide an e-introduction. Perhaps we’ll cross paths elsewhere.

  125. Lewis C says:

    Leyland at 74/.

    “The concept of BECCS is drawn from the integration of biomass processing industries or biomass fuelled power plants with carbon capture and storage. BECCS is a form of carbon dioxide removal, along with technologies such as biochar, carbon dioxide air capture and biomass burial.

    The main appeal of BECCS is in its ability to result in negative emissions of CO2. The capture of carbon dioxide from bioenergy sources effectively removes CO2 from the atmosphere.”
    _______________________________________________________

    I’m intrigued by your long efforts at the promotion of BECCS to the exclusion of writing on other carbon recovery options, most notably biochar.

    You are cognizant I know of the transport cost and energy issues that BECCS incurs, for you wrote a while back of the advantages of using river systems where possible to barge the fuelwood to the stations.

    However, back in the ’80s the UK Forestry Commission arranged a research project to evaluate the production of fuelwood for a station and found a loss of viability if the transport was over 5 miles, owing to labour and fuel costs. If this is accurate, it would be a very high hurdle for BECCS to pass even with a riverene forest as its fuelwood resource. Moreover, while financial costs may be subject to diverse tax-breaks, subsidies and cross-costing, the energy costs of transporting fuelwood remain very substantial.

    The second issue for me is just why, having gone to the effort of amassing a power-station’s worth of fuelwood, the best option is then to burn it for electricity, of which ~2/3rds can be sold and 1/3rd is used in sequestering most of the CO2.

    By contrast, a wood refinery will leave about 55% of the fuelwood’s potential energy embodied in the charcoal that contains 70% to 80% of its carbon, with most of the remainders going into syngas (aka ‘town gas’) which can be sold or processed to biodiesel or electricity (or a huge range of materials from plastics to fertilizer).

    The biochar output directly addresses two of our most pressing issues – sequestering carbon and raising soil productivity very substantially indeed.

    In this sense unlike BECCS biochar offers a valuable and critically productive use for the carbon it sequesters while still providing a significant energy output not only as electricity but also as gas and, pivotally, as liquid fuel.

    Clearly local needs will dictate the priorities (corporations permitting) but I guess we’d agree that in principle substantially raising farm yields is going to be far more relevant in most places than the loss of a fraction of the fuelwood’s electricity potential. Pouring charcoal into our flat screen TVs while also pouring corn into our SUVs might well be seen as adding insult to injury.

    The best case for biochar is at farm or village scale (as is at last becoming more widely recognized) in order to minimize haulage costs, impacts and energy consumption, while also benefiting from the economies of plant replication rather than those of scale. With charcoal having around twice the energy density of wood, and biodiesel roughly twice that of charcoal, they are inherently far better subjects for transportation. (Gas and power of course can use fixed channels to bypass the transportation issue).

    I wonder if you saw reports of the recent WRI & IUCN survey of the global potential for afforestation without intruding on farmland. It found about 1.5GHa.s of promising potential worldwide of which most was, predictably, fairly remote from cities and towns. This indicates that while there is extant forest not too far from extant coal stations, the great majority of the new afforestation, as well as that of extant forests around the world, will, to the extent they are dedicated to productive forestry, be supplying new facilities.

    So one of the questions I’d really like to hear your views on is the extent to which building new conventional power stations for BECCS could be justified over that of building multiple wood refineries.

    The other question is more general in that I don’t yet follow your reasoning for promoting an option that will not be applicable over the majority of the global resource, that is sub-optimal in helping to stabilize rural communities particularly in developing nations, and that will tend where it is applied to leave the production of energy centralized in the hands of corporations.

    All of which rather puzzles me.

    All the best,

    Lewis

  126. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Lewis C-

    I have a post awaiting moderation which covers some of the points you raise. If my numbering is correct it will be # 124.

    I’m promoting BECCS because we need to put billions of tons of carbon back underground, or somehow otherwise sequester it. Coal fired power plants do move billions of tons of carbon per year, these days they just move it from the earth into the sky, when we really want the reverse.

    Wood refineries are a good idea, I think. Having refined the wood at remote locations, especially along rivers upstream from coal fired power plants, and produced the benefits you enumerate, the result is charcoal or biochar. That charcoal or biochar could either be used as a soil amendment or burned and the carbon sequestered.

    If millions of tons of coal can be transported to coal fired power plants economically by rail, I really don’t see why millions of tons of charcoal cannot be transported by river barge to converted coal fired power plants. The costs of the two forms of transportation are similar, although river transport is cheaper in most cases.

    One of the things I realized a while ago, thinking about this problem, is that transport of charcoal to the converted BECCS power plants could be one way, and downhill. Most coal fired power plants are located at low to medium elevations close to water sources for cooling water. In other words, with BECCS and river transport, the gravitational potential energy contained in biomass at higher elevations could be used to aid in its transport.

    There are other potential ways to harvest the gravitational potential energy of biomass or charcoal, including lightweight electrical railways equipped with regenerative braking to recover gravitational potential energy from the full trains going downhill, used to power the empty trains going back uphill.

    As you point out with your wood refinery scheme, biomass contains chemical potential energy as well, which can also be used to fuel its transport or produce electricity. The idea of having many distributed wood refineries/ biochar or charcoal producing facilities is a very good one, IMO. What I would do, though, is site those refineries along rivers upstream of transformed BECCS power plants, and along existing rail lines, so that the charcoal/biochar produced by these refineries can easily be transported downstream to the converted BECCS power plants.

    Biochar does not shut down the production of CO2 by coal fired power plants. BECCS using charcoal for long distance transport would displace coal. If we can take the largest problem (coal) and turn it into a carbon negative solution (BECCS) that would have a huge impact on the math of the problem, Lewis.

    So, my answers for favoring BECCS over biochar mostly have to do with scale and synergy. The coal fired power plants operate on a huge scale- about a billion tons of carbon per year in the U.S.. I want to take that billion tons of carbon out of the biosphere and ultimately the atmosphere, and put it back underground. I want to displace a billion tons of carbon production per year from the coal fired power plants. I want to displace something like 500 million tons of carbon produced by transportation, at the same time, by electrifying the transport fleet and using the electricity from BECCS. I want to prevent a few million tons of methane production from garbage and waste currently going into methane producing landfills. And I want to do it all with one solution. The scientists writing the papers promoting BECCS have given us the tools to do that- all with one solution.

    If this was done worldwide and immediately, I am convinced that climate change would slow…and slow…and stop… and possibly reverse. We could at least slow the progress of climate change, and cushion the blow, under worst case scenarios which appear to be happening.

    In my estimation, we need to go to BECCS immediately just to start to deal with the billions of tons of carbon which will soon start to be produced by traditional carbon sinks such as the Amazon, the bark beetle infested boreal forests, the permafrost, and the methane containing shallow hydrates and thermokarst.

    All of this is done at the cost of polluting the deep underground saline aquifers and fractured basalt deposits with supercritical CO2. So be it. We need to do this on a massive scale, and do it now.

    If we make a mess out of the deep underground saline aquifers with BECCS, at least we will be around to clean it up if we can keep the climate from destabilizing.

  127. John McCormick says:

    What do the leaders of the big greens do on their weekends. Never hear from them.

    Do they have anything to tell us? Or, are we more on our own than we think?

    General Powell, you were lied to and all of us are being lied to but this is not about attacking another country under false pretenses.
    This is about attacking our childrens future with with our heads pointed in the wrong direction. You have family also. Step up and be heard.

    John McCormick

  128. Prokaryotes says:

    Leland please share your ideas here http://biochar.me

  129. Robert says:

    “I’ve been following the methane story very closely for a few years now, and it’s horribly depressing. The combination of inescapable facts, including the sheer amount of carbon locked up in the permafrost, the further warming we’re committed to thanks to past and current and near-future emissions, the high global warming potential of methane, and the potential for the mother of all feedbacks to kick into overdrive, are simply terrifying.”

    I agree, but the news is not all bad. After the massive methane release caused by the Deepwater Horizon disaster, scientists found that all the methane was oxidized to CO2 by the time in reached the atmosphere. Obviously we don’t know if that will be generally true, especially as regards colder seas, but it is an encouraging result.

    http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2011-01/bacteria-ate-all-methane-deepwater-horizon-oil-spill-new-study-says

    http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2011/01/05/science.1199697

  130. iceman says:

    Gnobuddy @34 calls our attention to the y-axis. Note that the graph shows we’re in the middle of the fastest rate of change on a decadal scale. That means any short-latency amplifications are likely to show up by the early 2020s.

    Several people in this thread (Lou@20, Aaron@24, Leahy@38, Prokaryotes@83, inter alia) mentioned Arctic shelf methane. This study implies a danger of a dual feedback loop: land and sea, carbon and methane – the latter being the “force multiplier,” as K. Nockels@45 describes it. An early (actually late) warning sign will be the amount of open water in the Arctic next few years, viz. link below:
    “…sea ice loss … accelerated warming signal penetrates up to 1500 km inland…”
    http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/ccr/ccp/research/permafrost.html

  131. wili says:

    Actually the situation with seabed methane is even more dire than the permafrost situation described above. According to those most directly engaged in the research, such as N. Shakhova, some 3.5 gigatons of methane may be venting into the atmosphere from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf right now. Keep in mind that much of the ESAS is only a few meters deep, and the water is quite cold–very UN-like the situation in the GOM.

    A technical point–the most recent science (Schindell et alia–sorry, I don’t have the full ref. right here right now) shows that methane actually has 105 times CO2′s global warming power over twenty year periods, not 75 times. So adjust calculations in above posts accordingly.

    Are there any other educators out there? How do we broach theses issues with our students?

  132. wili says:

    Here is a link to the abstract to the Schindell article:
    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/326/5953/716

    The paper gives a revised Global Warming Potential for methane measured over 100 years as 33. This is an increase of over 30% compared to the value of 21 given in the IPCC Second Assessment Report used for the Kyoto Protocol. Over 20 years. Shindell et al. calculate this GWP to be 105.

    A presentation by Shakhova on here finding of methane release from ESAS can be found here (she’s the fifth speaker listed):

    http://symposium.serdp-estcp.org/Technical-Sessions/1A

    She is one researcher, and her findings and extrapolations could be wrong, but others, such as Igor Semiletov, have come to similar conclusions. What is missing is confirming data from any of the monitoring stations in the Arctic area so far. Their data is available (with varying time lags) at:

    http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/dv/iadv/

    What ever the actual level of release, I think we have to start talking about what a post-hope environmentalism looks like.

  133. Prokaryotes says:

    “…some 3.5 gigatons of methane may be venting into the atmosphere from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf right now.”

  134. A.G says:

    The results are from modelling and they are contradictory to earlier research (through observations) where the first few feets in the ground probably wlll melt (as they have in the past) but the large amount deeper down seem to have survived even larger temperature swings that we are experiencing now. 30 – 60 % is simple not physically possible. A research group in Canada found the permafrost to have been solid for over 700 000 years and during that period there were several periods that have as high an – or higher temperature than today. It doesn´t mean we don´t may have a problem but alarmistic modelling like this is what give climate science a bad reputation. Remember that the overall global temperature has not risen statistically significant for over 10 years (or more!) in spite of ever increasing CO2. Yes I am skeptic but for the right reasons. I have worked in this research field of science and followed it ever since. I am not on the payroll of big oil or tobacco etc (not a denier/crank-troll either) but is very tired of how all the uncertainties are totally neglected/omitted/censored in this game. Mind you, there are real problems around us where people actaully are dying – right now. And you can make a difference if you don´t waste your time on a playstationproblem. How are you going to explain to your children that you didn´t do anything to stop the real, existing problems (not models) but was busy trying to control the climate, which later turned out not to be so controllable? What would it take to snap you out of your dreams? I read the same reports as you do, maybe more carefully and I have still, since 2001 and hundreds of peer-review articles since then, found nothing that convince me that we are approaching anything near a catastrophic climate change. Your glass is half-empty mine is half-full. Another thing that bewilders me is that many people actually gets angry when I give them scientific arguments against AGW with references and all. (I am not talking about the more vulgar Inhofe Mocnkton etc arguments now. I am talking about articles pointing towards different conclusions without explicitly saying so). I thought people would feel relief from knowing that maybe the situation is not as bad as some would like it to be (?). Obviously, to some, this climate thing has very little to do with science and facts any more. To many of you it has replaced religion in an otherwise rather menaningless life. I feel sad for you when they will reveal that the climate sensitivity, yet another time, has to be revised, downwards. There is soon nothing left to be called AGW if this trend will continue. Obviosuly this is not very well known outside the scientific community and certainly not on this site.

  135. Dave says:

    Another amplifying feedback loop not being modelled yet will be from the massive human attempts to “adapt” to continual warming and rising sea levels – building sea walls, pumping flooded areas, relocating coastal infrastructure. All that concrete and steel and heavy equipment has a huge carbon footprint, so does all the inevitable human territorial conflict that will result from climate migrations.

  136. wili says:

    Good point, Dave. Add to that increased use of air-conditioning, increased conflict over food, water and other diminishing resources, and other maladaptive strategies.

    AG, I’m glad to hear that you are a sunny optimist. Optimist do better than pessimist, on average, with many tasks. Unfortunately for your claim, predicting the future is not one of them.

    Presumably your cheery disposition lead you to accept un-questioningly positions espoused by folks like Lindzen, while ignoring the 98% of top climatologists that disagree with him.

    If you were a smoker and went around to the top oncologists to see if any of them thought there was no connection between smoking and cancer, presumably, given your rose-colored view of the world, you would reject the advice of all the dozens of top researchers telling you the gloomy news that, yes, you are likely to get cancer if you keep smoking.

    No, your bright and happy attitude would be undeterred by any of this until you finally found some doctor that told you to go ahead and enjoy your smokes. You would look with pity upon all those sad sacks who believed those gloom and doom scientists who obviously didn’t know what they were talking about. And you would ignore or be unphased when informed that your pro-smoking doc was getting major funding from tobacco companies.

    That seems to be your mo, and I think you should stick to it. You either need it for emotional reasons, or for some other less savory purpose. But meanwhile, please don’t bother the rest of us who are working in the reality-based world with your personal delusions.