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ARCTIC TIPPING POINT May 30, 2011

Posted by wmmbb in Australian Politics, Environment, Humankind/Planet Earth.
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The House of Representatives features posturing and what passes for debate about advertising for a Carbon Tax, meanwhile in the real world the Arctic ice continues to recede to the point of no return where it is predicted within twenty years we will see real climate change.

The tipping point is expected in twenty years when there is anticipated to set off a massive release of carbon dioxide and methane. This will be the legacy, not just for the future, but for the young and the children who are alive today. Dick Smith said that if he put his face to the ads for a carbon tax there would be campaign waged by the Murdoch newspapers against him.

Steve Connor in The Independent reports:

An irreversible climate “tipping point” could occur within the next 20 years as a result of the release of huge quantities of organic carbon locked away as frozen plant matter in the vast permafrost region of the Arctic, scientists have found. Billions of tons of frozen leaves and roots that have lain undisturbed for thousands of years in the permanently frozen ground of the northern hemisphere are thawing out, with potentially catastrophic implications for climate change, the researchers said.

A study into the speed at which the permafrost is melting suggests that the tipping point will occur between 2020 and 2030 and will mark the point at which the Arctic turns from being a net “sink” for carbon dioxide into an overall source that will accelerate global warming, they said. The study is the first global investigation of what will happen in a warmer world to the huge amounts of frozen plant matter that has remained undegraded in the soil since it was incorporated into the permafrost about 30,000 years ago.

It also found that by 2200 about two-thirds of the Earth’s permafrost will have melted, releasing an estimated 190 billion tons of carbon dioxide and methane into the air – about half of all the fossil fuel emissions of greenhouse gases since the start of the industrial revolution.

“Our results indicate that, as the Arctic warms up, this frozen carbon will thaw out, allowing microbial decay to resume and releasing carbon into the atmosphere,” said Kevin Schaefer of the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Boulder, Colorado. “Our research shows that the release of carbon from permafrost will result in an irreversible climate tipping point in only 20 years… Once the frozen carbon thaws out and decays, there is no way to put it back into the permafrost,” Dr Schaefer said..

Fiona Harvey writing in The Guardian looks beyond the Arctic warming to last year’s record amount of greenhouse gas emissions:

The shock rise means the goal of preventing a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius – which scientists say is the threshold for potentially “dangerous climate change” – is likely to be just “a nice Utopia”, according to Fatih Birol, chief economist of the IEA. It also shows the most serious global recession for 80 years has had only a minimal effect on emissions, contrary to some predictions.

Last year, a record 30.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide poured into the atmosphere, mainly from burning fossil fuel – a rise of 1.6Gt on 2009, according to estimates from the IEA regarded as the gold standard for emissions data. “I am very worried. This is the worst news on emissions,” Birol told the Guardian. “It is becoming extremely challenging to remain below 2 degrees. The prospect is getting bleaker. That is what the numbers say.”

Professor Lord Stern of the London School of Economics, the author of the influential Stern Report into the economics of climate change for the Treasury in 2006, warned that if the pattern continued, the results would be dire. “These figures indicate that [emissions] are now close to being back on a ‘business as usual’ path. According to the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s] projections, such a path … would mean around a 50% chance of a rise in global average temperature of more than 4C by 2100,” he said. “Such warming would disrupt the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people across the planet, leading to widespread mass migration and conflict. That is a risk any sane person would seek to drastically reduce.”

Birol said disaster could yet be averted, if governments heed the warning. “If we have bold, decisive and urgent action, very soon, we still have a chance of succeeding,” he said.”

The problem is not the posturing of politicians but the failure to understand on a personal level that we need to change. Cardinal Pell could help if he argued that trashing the earth constitutes a moral sin.

ELSEWHERE:

John Quggin observes contrariwise to my suggestion here:

The view that it is impossible, in a modern economy to reduce emissions substantially without a radical reduction in economic activity is obviously not shared by the UK government which (unlike the critics) has actually done the analytical work required to show that large reductions can be achieved at very little economic cost, and is now implementing the required policy.

Interviewed at Spiegel interview, British geologist Jan Zalasiewicz argues for the Anthropocene era.

At Truthdig, Chris Hedges interviews Bill McKibben. He suggests that the coal industry is the most profitable corporate venture. (Corporations are after all machines for making money, not for tending the environment or uplifting communities. So the consequences of their behavior are predictable.)

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