Showing posts with label Gary Houser. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gary Houser. Show all posts

Monday, May 25, 2015

Sleeping Giant in the Arctic

Huge amounts of carbon are contained in sediments, soils and vegetation in the Arctic. Rising temperatures in the Arctic threaten to cause much of this carbon to be released to the atmosphere.

On May 23, 2015, temperatures in Alaska were as high as 91°F (32.78°C), as illustrated by the image below.

[ image credit: US National Weather Service Alaska ]
High temperatures were reached at the city of Eagle, located on the southern bank of the Yukon River, at an elevation of 853 ft (260 m). High temperatures at such a location will cause meltwater, aggravating the situation well beyond the local area.
A bank of permafrost thaws near the Kolyma
River in Siberia. Credit: University of Georgia

Carbon contained in soils will thus become increasingly exposed under the combined impact of rising temperatures and the associated growing amounts of meltwater. The meltwater can additionally cause erosion further downstream, thus making carbon at many locations become more prone to be consumed by microbes and released into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide and methane.

A recent study found that, at a location where the Kolyma river in Siberia carved into the permafrost and exposed the carbon, microbes converted 60% of the carbon into carbon dioxide in two weeks time.

Gary Houser, who recently launched the movie Sleeping Giant in the Arctic, elaborates on the threat of emissions from thawing permafrost:
This immense release would likely feed on itself, raising temperatures that continue melting more and more permafrost in a vicious, frightening, and unstoppable cycle. A tipping point could well be crossed, at which time human intervention is no longer possible. Temperatures across the planet could soar, setting in motion catastrophic levels of drought and food shortage. All life support systems on earth and life forms themselves could be placed under severe stress.

The colossal scale of the danger - and the observation of those factors lining up that could trigger it - demand that humanity exercise the precautionary principle. All political decision-making related to carbon emissions must be based on the understanding that a catastrophic consequence is looming, and the window of time for prevention quickly diminishing.
Can Thawing Permafrost Cause Runaway Global Heating?
by Gary Houser


US National Weather Service Alaska

University of Georgia

Sleeping Giant in the Arctic

Sleeping Giant in the Arctic

Posted by Sam Carana on Monday, May 25, 2015

Sunday, December 8, 2013


by Gary Houser

Grassroots Must Insist IPCC Include Massive Permafrost Carbon

"Across two decades and thousands of pages of reports, the world's most authoritative voice on climate science has consistently understated the rate and intensity of climate change and the danger those impacts represent, say a growing number of studies .......   The speed and ferocity of climate change are outpacing IPCC projections on many fronts, including CO2 emissions, temperature rise, continental ice-sheet melt, Arctic sea ice decline, and sea level rise. 
The IPCC’s overly conservative reading of the science ..... means governments and the public could be blindsided by the rapid onset of the flooding, extreme storms, drought, and other impacts associated with catastrophic global warming."
—  Scientific American, "Climate Science Predictions Prove Too Conservative", Dec.6, 2012    [1]
The primary scientific report used by governments of the world to guide their policies on climate has failed to convey the full danger being created by release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. By focusing on human-generated carbon, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has ignored an even more threatening process now being triggered by those emissions. Rapid warming in the Arctic - where temperatures are rising twice as fast as the global rate - is thawing an incomprehensibly vast stockpile of nature's own carbon which has been trapped in ice for millenia. This threat is described in a new mini-documentary (entitled "Last Hours"  [2] )the importance of which has been highlighted by leaders on the climate issue such as Al Gore.   [3]  

The scale of this threat is mind-boggling. There is over three times more heating power stored in this "permafrost" than that which has been caused by human greenhouse gas emissions since the beginning of the industrial age - and this refers only to that located on land (as opposed to the coastal seabeds). [4]  This stockpile includes super greenhouse gas methane, acknowledged even by the IPCC itself to be a stunning 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a warming agent over 20 years (with climate-carbon feedbacks). [5]   
Despite a formal appeal by scientists specializing in permafrost study that IPCC issue a special assessment drawing attention to this tremendous danger  [6], the recently released report neglected to do so. The French news agency Agence France-Presse reported that due to bureaucratic delays and a log-jam in the processing of cutting edge data, 
"the cut-off date meant the authors were unable to evaluate recent, but very worrying, studies that say methane trapped in ice-bound coasts in northeast Siberia is being released as seas warm, thus putting the greenhouse effect into higher gear."   [7]

This massive failure by IPCC means that governments world-wide have not been given adequate warning about how preciously little time may be left to prevent the crossing of a tipping point leading to unstoppable global catastrophe. By not addressing the unique consequences brought on by accelerated Arctic warming, the IPCC is in fact skewing the picture that needs to be presented.
"Arctic and alpine air temperatures are expected to increase at roughly twice the global rate .... A global temperature increase of 3 degrees Celsius means a 6 degrees Celsius increase in the Arctic, resulting in an irreversible loss of anywhere between 30 to 85 percent of near-surface permafrost."   [8]
Even worse, more cutting edge science (also not included in the IPCC report) reveals additional unsettling developments. Exposure to sunlight appears to speed up the rate of permafrost thaw: "...sunlight increases bacterial conversion of exposed soil carbon into carbon dioxide gas by at least 40 percent compared to carbon that remains in the dark." [9]   This thaw on land is being matched in the shallow coastal seabeds. Natalia Shakhova - who has helped lead numerous fact-finding missions along the coast of Siberia - reports that releases there are "now on par with the methane being released from the arctic tundra."  [10]  She also warns that these releases can be larger and more abrupt than those resulting from decomposition on land.

As previously frozen methane vents to the atmosphere, the warming it causes can thaw and release even more. This "feedback" is capable of escalating into a "runaway" chain reaction that humanity would be helpless to stop. This is the same methane that some scientists point to as a major factor in the most sweeping mass extinctions in earth's history - the PETM and the end-Permian, the latter of which decimated  90 percent of all life forms.   Whether this association can be absolutely proven or not (the scientific basis for its connection to the Permian is explored in the BBC documentary "The Day Earth Nearly Died"  [11] )no one can credibly deny the immense power of this greenhouse gas. 

By omitting this crucial information, policymakers are being dangerously lulled into believing there is more time to act - and less urgency - than what is in fact the case. At precisely the moment when the world needs the most unambiguous and emphatic warning from the scientific community - a moment which may not afford humanity any second chance to recover and correct course - it is nowhere to be found.  

Methane plumes rising from the seafloor
Over the years, the IPCC has been wrong numerous times in its projections. According to Scientific American:
"In the 2007 report, the IPCC concluded the Arctic would not lose its summer ice before 2070 at the earliest. But the ice pack has shrunk far faster than any scenario scientists felt policymakers should consider; now researchers say the region could see ice-free summers within 20 years."  [12]  
As the opening quote states, this pattern has persisted regarding several aspects of the issue. Given this history, it is not surprising the current IPCC report is again "behind the times" on the very day it is published.  In the short time following its release, a large number of experts on sea level rise are already saying that the IPCC projections are too cautious and conservative.  [13] 

Originally created with a mission to provide government bodies with un-biased scientific facts on climate disruption in order to inform the process of policymaking, the IPCC process has become seriously impaired by a combination of internal problems and outside pressure. The result has been the production of reports that not only fail to keep up with the cutting edge of the science itself but are also tainted by a bias toward overly conservative assessments. 

The same key article in Scientific American describes the internal logjam: 
"Such assessments typically take five to seven years to complete in a slow, bureaucratic process: ......... a summary for policymakers, condensing the science even further, is written and subjected to a painstaking, line-by-line revision by representatives from more than 100 world governments – all of whom must approve the final summary document."   [14]  
Materials from scientists are only accepted for consideration after they have been peer-reviewed and published in a scientific journal. This process in itself can take up to three years. Then another requirement is that such materials cannot be submitted beyond an early cut-off date. The goal of instituting an orderly process is laudable, but the severe problem is that the pace of climate disruption is most assuredly accelerating. If vital information at the cutting edge of these frightening changes cannot make it through these hurdles in time, there is a huge gap of five or six years before it can be integrated into the next report.  

 A key example would be the definitive paper documenting the land-based permafrost feedbacks which asks IPCC to issue a special assessment. Not only was this request ignored, but this documentation was not even considered as it was published after the cut-off date. 

The current IPCC report is quite intimidating at over 2000 pages long. A solution to both problems of timeliness and excessive length is to make the IPCC process more nimble by tackling the various key components of climate disruption individually rather than combining them all into one ponderous document. An example would be a report strictly limited to Arctic issues. As the most rapidly warming region on earth - with profound impact on the global climate - it is entirely deserving of special attention.

The second major problem is that when the IPCC was first set up, a provision was inserted which provides government entities the so-called "right" to review and approve the official Summary for Policymakers - the most important section. As the incredibly wealthy fossil fuel lobby holds great power over many governments, this provision provides an opening to pressure those governments into weakening the language.  As such power was actively used to weaken segments of the last Summary in 2007, [15]  it cannot be ruled out that such was used again. Scientific research should not be censored by political entities, a point made eloquently by British expert on feedback dynamics David Wasdell:
"What comes out is that which is 'acceptable' ...... from science that is about six years out of date, and that becomes the basis for negotiation and decision-making. It is grossly inappropriate....... There are many pressures ..... not least the enormous profits that continue to be made from fossil fuels." [16]  
This provision should be put up for debate and stricken.    

fish skeleton on parched soil, credit: Will Sherman
There is a corrective action which can be taken. Precedent already exists for the IPCC issuing a "Special Report" on aspects of the issue it considers worthy of special attention. A recent example is one on the increasing frequency of extreme weather events. There is a powerful case behind the need to release a Special Report on the threat from permafrost thaw in the Arctic. But an institution this size does not move unless there is a strong and coordinated campaign aimed at raising the issue and applying some "push". All the grassroots environmental groups that have led the climate movement are now called to recognize the dire need to integrate this frightening issue into the framework of all thinking and strategizing. If this is not done, and governments around the world continue to ignore it, there is a high likelihood that all other climate campaigns will fail. 

Keystone XL Pipeline protest - photo taken Feb 13, 2013 - from: 
The valiant effort to oppose the tar sands pipeline must be continued. But this movement must recognize that the climate threats are not presenting themselves in single file - one at a time. Several dangers are simultaneously bearing down on humanity. The laws of physics driving these threats will not pause for political stagnation. If the governments of the world fail to see the sleeping giant awakening in the Arctic and adjust their collective sense of urgency accordingly, then it appears our fate is sealed. The laws of physics will run their course. We owe it to those generations that would inherit a devastated planet to do better than that.      

The prospect of humanity being blindsided by a tremendous - and perhaps even fatal - blow is unthinkable. There is no "Planet B" to turn to if the conditions necessary to support life on our present planet are wiped out. Our society places great trust in the scientific community. Faced by any threat of this magnitude, our assumption is that our scientists will fulfill their moral obligation, act on the precautionary principle, and give us ample warning. In this case, that trust is being violated. It is therefore up to concerned citizens everywhere to speak out, hold them accountable,  and insist that governments receive the warning that is needed. This dangerous and potentially suicidal omission must not be allowed to stand.  

Who stands up for the children? - screenshot from children against climate change protest video
"The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time. They are kneeling with hands clasped that we might act with restraint, that we might leave room for the life that is destined to come."  — Terry Tempest Williams [17]

Gary Houser is a public interest writer and documentary producer focusing on climate issues and the "sleeping giant" of Arctic methane in particular, and based in Ohio in the U.S.  He is seeking to network with others with similar concerns re: permafrost thaw who work in the U.S. context. Current projects are:  persuading major enviro / climate groups to integrate Arctic permafrost thaw as a high priority issue into their campaigns, a specific grassroots campaign to pressure IPCC toward a Special Report, public hearing on Arctic issues in the U.S. Senate, production and broadcast of Arctic permafrost thaw documentary on one of the national TV networks in the U.S.   He can be contacted at:   


  3. Press release: Last Hours Film Raises Issue Of Global-Warming-Induced Extinction ...
  4. Is Arctic Permafrost the "Sleeping Giant" of Climate Change? - NASA ...
  5. New IPCC report released in 2013, at IPCC AR5 WGI Table 8.7
  6. Press Release - National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSDIC)
  7. Compiling latest climate report took 3 years; critics say that's too long ...
  8. NSIDC Press Room: Press Release: UNEP report urges ...
  9. Thawing Permafrost May Be 'Huge Factor' in Global Warming ...
  10. Arctic seafloor methane releases double previous estimates
  11. "The Day Earth Nearly Died" (BBC documentary) :
  13. Experts say the IPCC underestimated future sea level rise ...
  15. Washington Post: U.S., China Got Climate Warnings Toned Down
  16. Video: Envisionation Interview: David Wasdell On the IPCC & Scientific ...
  17. Quote by Terry Tempest Williams: The eyes of the ... - Goodreads

    Sunday, November 3, 2013


    by Gary Houser

    Climate Movement Must Grasp Danger Beyond Human-Generated Carbon

    "Last Hours expertly explains how we got here, and what will happen if we don't work together to stop it. It is a needed and urgent call to action."
    — Former Vice-President Al Gore [1]
    "In the 18th century, Edmund Burke wrote, 'Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it.' Many years later, Last Hours makes clear how much we have to learn from our planet's history to truly understand the potent threat of trapped methane."
     Maggie Fox, President, Climate Reality Project (started by Al Gore) [2]
    “It's not clear that civilization could survive that extreme of a climate change.”
     world renowned climate scientist James Hansen, referring to the devastating level of global warming that could result from a major release of super greenhouse gas methane [3]
    The climate movement has come a long way. Despite vociferous opposition from the wealthiest corporations on earth, it has refused to be relegated to the sideline and by sheer determination has forged a path into public consciousness. A major coalition has formed in opposition to the tar sands pipeline, and many good-hearted people are giving their all - including nonviolent civil disobedience - in spirited resistance. This writer is a part of that movement.

    A Larger Carbon Threat Beyond Human-Generated Emissions -
    It is absolutely necessary to continue the struggle to rein in human-generated emissions of carbon dioxide. But what has been missing in this movement is an awareness that these emissions are now on track to trigger a release of an even larger and more potent reservoir of greenhouse gases that has until now been locked in ice. This colossal stockpile of frozen ancient organic matter contains at least four times as much carbon as the sum total that has been released by human activity on the planet since the beginning of the industrial age. [4] As a significant portion is being stored in the form of methane - a super global warming gas that is a stunning 86 times more powerful than CO2 [5], scientists refer to this huge threat as a "sleeping giant". If major amounts thaw and release into the atmosphere, global warming would accelerate to the crossing of a tipping point - whereby the process becomes a runaway train and there is no longer hope for human intervention.

    The Role of Methane in Earth's Mass Extinction Events -
    Large scale methane release would speed all the worst impacts of climate disruption - severe drought, sea level rise, storms, flooding, wildfires, and forced migration of refugees - causing them to occur much sooner and on a more intense scale than currently projected. Some of that impact is described in an article published by the highly respected science journal Nature. [6] As if that level of devastation is not enough, it is even more disturbing is to contemplate where the crossing of this tipping point might lead. The prevailing opinion in the scientific community is that the release of super potent methane has played a central role in two of the most devastating mass extinction events in the history of earth - the End-Permian and the PETM. In the End-Permian, a mind-boggling 90 percent of all life forms on the planet were wiped out.

    The scientific inquiry into the cause of this horrendous wipe-out has been portrayed in an under-publicized but extremely important documentary by the BBC entitled "The Day Earth Nearly Died". [7] The "short version" is that a tremendous, unprecedented series of volcanic eruptions in Siberia released enough carbon dioxide to drive earth's temperature up six degrees C (celsius). This radical increase then warmed the world's polar regions enough to thaw previously frozen methane. Evidence points to the heat from this super global warming gas driving temperatures up another five degrees C and causing the horrific wipe-out.

    fish skeleton on parched soil, credit: Will Sherman
    An Imperative Need to Communicate the Danger -
    Politically neutral global organizations such as the World Bank and the International Energy Agency (IEA) are vehemently warning that the world is already on track for a five degree C warming by the end of the century. [8] Human-generated emissions are now pushing as much carbon pollution into the atmosphere as the Siberian volcanoes. This begs the obvious and deeply troubling question: Is the stage being set for another massive release of nature's own currently frozen carbon?

    Methane plumes rising from the seafloor
    Ominous Signs that Methane Thaw Is Already Starting -
    As temperature increases are occuring more rapidly in the Arctic than anywhere on earth, the ice cover is now in a state of collapse from massive melting. It is widely known that in 2012 the record for ice loss was not just broken but shattered. As a result, that which has been called "permafrost" is no longer "permanent". On land, the tundra soil is progressively thawing - releasing both CO2 and methane. Key researchers are warning that an irreversible tipping point could come as soon as 15 or 20 years. [9] Even worse, it appears that as the upper layer of tundra thaws and exposure to sunlight is increased, a chemical reaction is increasing the speed: "....sunlight increases bacterial conversion of exposed soil carbon into carbon dioxide gas by at least 40 percent compared to carbon that remains in the dark." [10]

    Vast amounts of of methane are also stored in frozen form in the seabeds. Whereas methane from the deep ocean oxidizes and is neutralized before it reaches the surface, the shallow seabeds along Arctic coastlines allow it to vent directly into the atmosphere. Russian researchers that have been monitoring the situation since the 1990s are now reporting "astonishment" at the vast scale of methane plumes being observed along the Siberian coast. Some of these plumes are a full kilometer wide - something never encountered before. [11] Other researchers from NASA are using aircraft to measure methane emissions entering the atmosphere and are reporting troubling increases. [12]

    In other words, the date for a tipping point of no return has been moved up. The danger of climate disruption spinning out of human control is already staring us in the face.

    A Breakthrough Documentary Finally Opening the Doors of Awareness -
    It is imperative that this level of urgency be conveyed to government policymakers. For several years, a small but determined network of climate activists - backed by scientists engaged in cutting edge research - has been trying to sound the alarm about this catastrophic threat. Their efforts until now have largely been stymied by a combination of psychological denial regarding the severity of the danger, a seeming inability by the climate movement to look beyond the immediate battles regarding human-generated carbon emissions, and an almost paralyzing bureaucratic inertia within a scientific establishment failing to keep pace with the dizzying speed of climate disruption.

    In this context, there has been a most welcome new development. Thanks to Thom Hartmann, Leila Conners and the Tree Media production group, a breakthrough documentary has been created which conveys this immense danger in no uncertain terms. [13] Solidly grounded on interviews with leading scientists and laced with visuals that drive the point home, "Last Hours" packs a big punch within the brief space of only 10 minutes.

    This is the bullet point message on the home page of its website:
    • Underground, underwater and below the ice.
    • A time bomb is ticking.
    • Scientists are seeing the evidence.
    • Runaway climate change could be closer than we think. 
    It is one of the first documentaries on climate that takes an unflinching look at the most colossal mass extinction events in the history of earth and points out how such devastation was related to severe climate change. It then looks at the tremendous level of climate disruption happening at the present time - which is occurring at a speed without any precedent in earth history, and refuses to shirk from using the same dreaded "e word" of extinction to describe the danger we face today.

    Keystone XL Pipeline protest - photo taken Feb 13, 2013 - from: 
    In response to this invaluable program, there are now very positive signs that this recognition is finally taking place. In addition to the strong endorsements at the beginning of this commentary by Al Gore and Maggie Fox, the leaders of two other key climate groups add their voices:
    "Last Hours is a captivating, extremely compelling appeal meant to awaken politicians and business leaders to take climate change action and stop runaway catastrophic climate change. Few films have managed to capture the sense of urgency as well as Last Hours. In the context of science telling us that emissions need to peak by 2015 and then come down, and with politicians doing little to reflect this urgency, this is a much needed asset for the climate movement." [14]
     Kumi Naidoo, International Director, Greenpeace International
    "Last Hours is an alarming video that captures the state of emergency we face with climate disruption--yet at the same time we must recognize that there is real hope: the clean energy industry is rapidly growing, we are making headway in reducing carbon pollution, and by working together we can turn things around." [15]
    — Michael Brune, Executive Director, Sierra Club
    A Threat Comparable to Nuclear War -
    The threat to our society represented by nuclear war can be grasped through the dramatic imagery of an atomic fireball, its devastation instantaneous. The threat from a climate catastrophe is no less sweeping, but actually more insidious as it would be a slow motion holocaust. Its impacts will gradually encircle humanity until the trap is sprung, at which time there is no escape.

    Lying in wait in the Arctic is a volume of carbon that could easily push global temperatures so high as to threaten all life on earth. The three word phrase "irreversible tipping point" is easy to say but immensely challenging to truly comprehend. It is the point when colossal natural forces take over, when human civilization is rendered a helpless witness to its own destruction - a moment in time with supremely profound moral implications.

    Who stands up for the children? - screenshot from children against climate change protest video
    "The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time. They are kneeling with hands clasped that we might act with restraint, that we might leave room for the life that is destined to come." 
    — Terry Tempest Williams [16]
    A Prayer from the Future -
    The author has written a more in depth commentary on the existential threat presented by methane and the failure until now by our society to come to terms with it. [17] But it is ultimately a point where words fail to do justice. How can one describe the un-surpassable tragedy of the entire precious gift of life on this planet being decimated before our very eyes? In the words of ecological ethicist David Orr: “Climate destabilization, like nuclear war, has the potential to destroy all human life on Earth and in effect murder the future'......Willfully caused extinction is a crime that as yet has no name.”

    It is now clear that the thaw and release of the "carbon bomb" in the Arctic has begun and is expanding. It is not just about the tar sands pipeline and human-generated carbon pollution, it is the monstrous beast in the Arctic that could be triggered by these pollutants. The climate movement - which has now spread world-wide - is the last and only hope for our society. Its passion must be brought to bear on this over-arching danger, its eyes fully opened if humanity is to even have a chance to act before it is too late.

    The reaction of some of the leadership of this movement to "Last Hours" is a sign of hope. But that recognition must be rapidly disseminated and integrated by the grassroots base. There is a compelling need for wide circulation of this documentary. We must all break through our natural denial regarding a threat of this magnitude and find the strength to face it. In the words of a poem entitled "Invocation" by John Seed:
    "Fill us with a sense of immense time so that our brief, flickering lives may truly reflect the work
    of vast ages past and also the millions of years of evolution whose potential lies in our trembling hands." [18]

    Time is running out - by Louis Afonso

    1. Press release: Last Hours Film Raises Issue Of Global-Warming-Induced Extinction ...
    2. Same as # 1
    3. James Hansen - Humanity Cannot "Adapt" - YouTube (brief clip from interview for documentary "Arctic Methane: Why the Sea Ice Matters")
    4. Is Arctic Permafrost the "Sleeping Giant" of Climate Change? - NASA ...
    5. New IPCC report released in 2013, at IPCC AR5 WGI Table 8.7
    6. Methane meltdown: The Arctic timebomb that ... - The Independent
    7. "The Day Earth Nearly Died" (BBC documentary) :
    8. IEA's Bombshell Warning: We're Headed Toward 11°F Global ...
    9. NSIDC bombshell: Thawing permafrost feedback will turn Arctic from ...
    10. Thawing Permafrost May Be 'Huge Factor' in Global Warming ...
    11. Vast methane 'plumes' seen in Arctic ocean as sea ice retreats ...
    12. Danger from the deep: New climate threat as methane rises from ...
    13. Link to website and video "Last Hours":
    14. Same as # 1
    15. Same as # 1
    16. Quote by Terry Tempest Williams: The eyes of the ... - Goodreads
    18. An excerpt from Pass It On - Spirituality & Practice

    Friday, August 30, 2013


    by Gary Houser

    by Peter Wadhams

    Prof. Peter Wadhams, measuring the Arctic sea
    ice's thickness with the help of a submarine
    "The world is entering one of the most dangerous periods in its history. The failure of international efforts to reduce carbon emissions has led to a carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere which guarantees a serious level of global warming during coming decades, enough to compromise the life support system of the planet. On top of the carbon dioxide threat, a further greenhouse gas threat looms - the prospect of large releases of methane from offshore sediments on Arctic continental shelves. This is an outcome of the retreat of sea ice which allows coastal waters to warm up and degrade the offshore permafrost. This threat, all too clear in the photographic evidence of methane emissions obtained by US-Russian expeditions, could greatly accelerate global warming and add further enormous costs to the planet's burden. Only immediate drastic action can avert a catastrophic worsening of our climatic plight. I support this commentary by Gary Houser."

    Dr. Peter Wadhams [ from his bio: Professor of Ocean Physics, Cambridge University in the UK, leads the Polar Ocean Physics group studying the effects of global warming on sea ice, icebergs and the polar oceans. This involves work in the Arctic and Antarctic from nuclear submarines, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), icebreakers, aircraft and drifting ice camps. He has been studying polar ice issues for 43 years and has led over 40 polar field expeditions. ]

    Link: DAMTP Professor Peter Wadhams - University of Cambridge
    Co-author of major new commentary in Nature : Cost of Arctic methane release could be 'size of global economy ...

    The Severity of the Threat and the Tragic Moral Failure to Address It
    by Gary Houser
    {Disclaimer: The threat of climate catastrophe is not a "pretty" concept. As impacts begin to
    intensify, there will be much real suffering and some photos included in this commentary
    are representative of this reality and the danger forcing itself upon us. They are intended
    for grown-ups, whose most important responsibility is to protect the future of their children.
    Some of these images are not intended for children.}

    fish skeleton on parched soil, credit: Will Sherman
    “Over hundreds of millennia, Arctic permafrost soils have accumulated vast stores of organic carbon - an estimated 1,400 to 1,850 billion metric tons of it.... In comparison, about 350 billion metric tons of carbon have been emitted from all fossil-fuel combustion and human activities since 1850.”
    - from NASA news release "Is a Sleeping Climate Giant Stirring in the Arctic? [1]

    “Climate destabilization, like nuclear war, has the potential to destroy all human life on Earth and in effect murder the future'......Willfully caused extinction is a crime that as yet has no name.”
    - ecological ethicist David Orr [2]

    “It's not clear that civilization could survive that extreme of a climate change.”
    - world renowned climate scientist James Hansen, referring to the radical increase in global warming that would result from a major release of super greenhouse gas methane [3]

    PART ONE -

    All who might dismiss this title as “exaggeration” and the opening photo as “alarmism” owe it to their children and grandchildren and the future of humanity to read on. Large scale thawing and release of previously frozen methane gas has wiped out great swaths of life before and is quite capable of doing so again. Warming from carbon emissions is now unleashing Arctic deposits of this super greenhouse gas - an awesome and truly frightening force - and threatens to initiate a chain reaction that could well be unstoppable once started.

    This commentary does not dwell on “doomsday” rhetoric. But humanity is teetering much closer to oblivion than what has been “getting through” in the shallow coverage offered by mass media, and there is a moral imperative to issue a warning. Mass extinction - especially self-imposed - is not a “pretty” concept and the use of a few graphic images is necessary to both convey a reality that may be forcing itself upon us and to penetrate the shield of denial. The voices of scientists pressing on this front deserve to be amplified. Their observations and concerns are presented to the reader, who is invited to evaluate whether any “alarm” is justified. Humanity is standing on the very edge of a cliff, and if we fall off it will be a one way ticket to Hell.

    Despite the looming shadow cast by this danger, it has yet to make its way into public consciousness. Even the world-wide environmental movement has continued to focus on human-generated emission of global warming gases and has not grasped the dire implications of the accelerated catastrophe which could ensue if nature's own stockpile becomes activated - an immense storehouse containing far more carbon than humans have generated since the onset of the industrial age. Though the sweeping scale of this existential threat combined with its potential irreversibility - once triggered - may be leading to psychological denial, the reality of the danger compels humanity to take all precaution and spare no expense in both understanding and reducing it. Yet the response so far points to an unspeakably tragic moral collapse. Every single segment of our society that should be either sounding the alarm or taking definitive action to prevent this global catastrophe is presently looking the other way. This commentary examines such failure in Part Two, but first explores the nature and magnitude of the danger itself.

    Geological Record Points to the Destructive Power of Methane -
    Although carbon dioxide persists much longer in the atmosphere, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that methane is a full 72 times more powerful during its first 20 years. [4] It is the prevailing view of the scientific community that earlier major releases of this gas resulted in the most catastrophic wipe-outs of life in planetary history. Two critically important British documentaries explore the scientific inquiry linking methane to both the Permian [5] and PETM [6] mass extinction events.

    Volcanic eruption: Mount Pinatubo (1991)
    Etched into ancient layers of rock is the record of the Permian extinction event - the most complete decimation of life known to science. Searches for fossilized clues of living organisms reveal a stunningly empty slate. [7] It is believed that a staggering 90% of the life forms on earth simply disappeared. Scientific opinion - also based on the geologic record - is that a tremendous series of volcanic eruptions in Siberia released enough carbon dioxide to drive earth's temperature up five degrees C (centigrade). This radical increase then warmed the world's oceans enough to thaw previously frozen methane. Evidence points to the heat from this super global warming gas driving temperatures up another five degrees C and causing the horrific wipe-out.

    How Severe is the Current Threat?
    Numerous, quite authoritative and politically neutral sources (such as the World Bank and the International Energy Agency (IEA) are now in agreement that if global carbon emissions are not dramatically reduced very quickly, the planet will be seeing temperature increases of five degrees C or more by the latter part of this century. [8] Such a human-generated increase could very well take the place of the volcanic eruptions in Siberia, and could set the stage for a potential mass release of ancient methane.

    How the Arctic Is Playing a Key Role -
    The vastness of the carbon deposit which could be released from the Arctic is mind-boggling, dwarfing the total thus far generated by humans. Nowhere on earth are temperatures rising as quickly. NASA describes the role of the Arctic in driving climate disruption: "The Arctic is critical to understanding global climate. Climate change is already happening in the Arctic, faster than its ecosystems can adapt. Looking at the Arctic is like looking at the canary in the coal mine for the entire Earth system." [9]

    Arctic ice, August 19, 2007, by Ash from Flicker
    Last year, Arctic ice coverage was reduced to its lowest level in recorded history. Even worse, this massive meltdown appears to be developing an unstoppable momentum through what scientists are calling a “death spiral” - where open water caused by accelerated melting is now absorbing additional solar heat and setting into motion even more melting. [10]

    Methane plumes rising from the seafloor
    Ira Leifer - methane specialist at the Univ. of California and co-author of a paper describing evidence that Arctic methane is venting into the atmosphere [11] - describes the unique factor represented by the shallow seas in that region:
    “The East Siberian Arctic Shelf is vast and shallow..... Methane in a shallow sea can make its way to the atmosphere without dissolving significantly and being eaten by microbes.......These vast methane hydrate deposits are a risk and a great concern because as the oceans warm, they will release their methane and it will make its way to the atmosphere.” [12]
    Super Greenhouse Gas Beginning to Thaw and Vent to Atmosphere -
    Researchers in the field are now bringing back eyewitness reports of plumes of methane bubbles rising to the surface on a scale they have never seen before. Igor Semiletov - who has pursued this issue for 15 years - reported astonishment regarding the observations made during a joint U.S.-Soviet expedition to the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) in 2011:
    “We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered methane fields of a fantastic scale - I think on a scale not seen before. Some of the plumes were a kilometer or more wide and the emissions went directly into the atmosphere - the concentration was a hundred times higher than normal.” [13]
    In an ominous paper based on the findings of that expedition, Russian scientists elaborated further on the unprecedented nature of the observed plumes:
    "In some oceanographic sections, a number of plumes over 100 meters in diameter were joined into a multirooted enormous plume over 1000 meters in diameter which exceeds greatly the dimensions of plumes registered formerly in the Sea of Okhotsk and in other areas of the World Ocean where the typical plume diameter usually varied from a few meters to tens of meters." [14] 
    This unsettling scale of plume activity is reflected in the following chart:
    From: The Degradation of Submarine Permafrost and the Destruction of Hydrates on the Shelf of East Arctic Seas as a Potential
    Cause of the “Methane Catastrophe”: Some Results of Integrated Studies in 2011, V. I. Sergienko et al., in Oceanology (Sept. 2012)
    NASA has conducted measurements of methane over the Arctic Sea via airplane. According to researcher Eric Kort:
    “When we flew over areas were the sea ice had melted, or where there were cracks in the ice, we saw the methane level increase...... Our observations really point to the ocean surface as the source, which was not what we had expected.....The association with sea ice makes this methane source likely to be sensitive to changing Arctic ice cover and dynamics, providing an unrecognized feedback process in the global atmosphere-climate system.” [15]
    Methane Emissions from Seabeds Paralleled by Land-Based Permafrost Releasing Carbon -
    Observations of increased methane emitting from the shallow Arctic seabeds are being mirrored by similar observations on land. The rate at which previously frozen carbon is releasing from land permafrost is now accelerating :
    “Thawing permafrost is emitting more climate-heating carbon faster than previously realized. Scientists have now learned that when the ancient carbon locked in the ice thaws and is exposed to sunlight, it turns into carbon dioxide 40 percent faster. 'This really changes the trajectory of the debate over when and how much carbon will be released as permafrost thaws due to ever warmer temperatures in the Arctic.” [16]
    From: NOAA 2012 RUSALCA Expedition, RAS-NOAA. Wrangel Island, Alaska in early morning (Photo credit: Kate Stafford)
    From the same NASA news release mentioned above:
    “What they're finding, Miller said, is both amazing and potentially troubling. "Some of the methane and carbon dioxide concentrations we've measured have been large, and we're seeing very different patterns from what models suggest. We saw large, regional-scale episodic bursts of higher-than-normal carbon dioxide and methane in interior Alaska and across the North Slope during the spring thaw, and they lasted until after the fall refreeze.” [17]
    A major report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) summarizes this parallel situation:
    “According to the report, Arctic and alpine air temperatures are expected to increase at roughly twice the global rate, and climate projections indicate substantial loss of permafrost by 2100. A global temperature increase of 3 degrees Celsius means a 6 degrees Celsius increase in the Arctic, resulting in an irreversible loss of anywhere between 30 to 85 percent of near-surface permafrost.” [18]
    Ground-breaking Study Quantifies Global Damage That Could Result from Major Methane Release -
    Authoritative science journal Nature recently published an article describing the staggering economic impact that would be caused by a major release of methane. Top British ice scientist Peter Wadhams collaborated with economic modelers to apply to Arctic methane the same modeling used in the highly respected Stern Report to quantify the damage to the world economy which would result from human-generated greenhouse gases. They issue a stunning warning that the damage could be comparable to the total value of the entire global economy last year:
    “We calculate that the costs of a melting Arctic will be huge, because the region is pivotal to the functioning of Earth systems such as oceans and the climate. The release of methane from thawing permafrost beneath the East Siberian Sea, off northern Russia, alone comes with an average global price tag of $60 trillion in the absence of mitigating action - a figure comparable to the size of the world economy in 2012 (about $70 trillion).” [19]
    How Close Are We to a Major Release?
    It is not possible to predict precisely when such a line could be crossed. But Arctic scientists are indeed reporting that the conditions necessary for such a “breakout” are now in fact lining up. These include a vast storehouse of frozen methane, shallow seas that allow the gas to reach the surface, a massive loss of ice that only seems destined to accelerate, and rapid warming of temperature. Shallow seas also warm faster than deep ocean. Not only is the Arctic the most rapidly warming region on earth, but the East Siberian Arctic Shelf is the most rapidly warming segment of that region. According to Natalia Shakhova of the Russian team:"Observed warming on the ESAS (March-April-May)..... is the strongest in the entire Arctic and the region is now 5°C warmer compared with average springtime temperature registered during the 20th century." [20]

    This level of radical warming is already approaching that generated by the volcanic eruptions preceding the Permian mass extinction. The fact that major concern is increasing is reflected in the striking development that no less than 21 Russian scientists all agreed that circumstances were approaching a point when the words "potential catastrophe" should even be included in the title of their paper: "The Degradation of Submarine Permafrost and the Destruction of Hydrates on the Shelf of East Arctic Seas as a Potential Cause of the 'Methane Catastrophe' ." Here is what they say in the paper itself:
    "Under the conditions of the observed abnormal warming of the East Siberian shelf, the acceleration of thawing of the upper layer of submarine permafrost and an increase of bottom erosion are inevitable ...... The emission of methane in several areas of the ESS is massive to the extent that growth in the methane concentrations in the atmosphere to values capable of causing a considerable and even catastrophic warming on the Earth is possible." [21]

    When one looks at the history of extremely careful and cautious use of language by the Russian research teams, this escalation in terminology is even more remarkable.

    When such conditions are forming and carry consequences that could bring down our civilization, it is clear that humanity is already entering into an emergency state. In his article “Methane Hydrates: A Volatile Time Bomb in the Arctic”, Australian climate scientist Carlos Duarte states the following :
    “Even moderate (a few degrees C) warming of the overlying waters may change the state of methane from hydrates to methane gas, which would be released to the atmosphere......If the state shift is abrupt it may lead to a massive release ....which could cause a climatic jump several-fold greater than the accumulated effect of anthropogenic activity.” [22]
    According to the world-renowned climate expert who has done more than any other to alert world attention to the crisis - James Hansen:
    “Our greatest concern is that loss of Arctic sea ice creates a grave threat of passing two other tipping points - the potential instability of the Greenland ice sheet and methane hydrates. These latter two tipping points would have consequences that are practically irreversible on time scales of relevance to humanity.” [23]
    “We are in a planetary emergency.” [24]
    Runaway Methane Feedback: The End of Life as We Know It? -
    A large methane release would in itself be a catastrophic event - as described in the Nature article. But the threat from methane could yet escalate to another level of existential nightmare. Ira Leifer comments on what is called a “runaway feedback”:
    “A runaway feedback effect would be where methane comes out of the ocean into the atmosphere leading to warming, leading to warmer oceans and more methane coming out, causing an accelerated rate of warming in what one could describe as a runaway train..... The amount of methane that’s trapped under the permafrost and in hydrates in the Arctic areas is so large that if it was rapidly released it could radically change the atmosphere in a way that would probably be unstoppable and inimicable to human life." [25]
    Death at the Dambas, Arbajahan, Kenya (2006). Part image, photo credit: Brendan Cox / Oxfam
    The British expert with over 30 years of experience studying Arctic ice issues - Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University - was asked by the author to respond to the question “Are there any natural “brakes” in the Arctic ecosystem that would prevent a large methane release from escalating into an unstoppable runaway reaction?” His response:
    “There are no brakes. The methane release itself results as a positive feedback from another warming-generated process, the retreat of summer sea ice. So we have global warming causing summer sea ice retreat causing offshore permafrost thawing causing methane release causing a big instant warming boost causing endless other positive feedbacks.” [26]
    Several cutting edge observations by scientists are presented in a documentary co-produced by this writer (available free on YouTube [27] ), featuring the immensely respected James Hansen. In reference to the radical temperature increase that would be caused by a major release of methane, Hansen warns that “it's not clear that civilization could survive that extreme of a climate change.” [28]

    Time is running out - by Louis Afonso
    Rising sea levels will indeed flood many of the coastal cities of the world and their residents will be confronted with great chaos and strife. Their populations will be forced to migrate inland, but that in itself does not represent a collapse of civilization. The kind of radical heat brought on by a major methane release will not permit any escape. Life cannot be sustained without adequate food and water, yet such capacity would be severely impacted.

    Time is not on our side. If human society does not recognize the danger and take concerted action to prevent it, colossal natural forces are simply going to run their course. Circumstances would disintegrate in a manner that humanity could no longer control. Yet in the precious time we have to act before such a point is reached, our society is utterly failing to do so. In Part Two, a hard look is taken at this failure at many levels - in the hope that such can be reversed before time runs out.

    1.  Is Arctic Permafrost the "Sleeping Giant" of Climate Change? - NASA ...
    2. Thinking About the Unthinkable by David Orr We ... - Moral Ground
    3. James Hansen - Humanity Cannot "Adapt" - YouTube
      (brief clip from interview for documentary "Arctic Methane: Why the Sea Ice Matters")
    4. Global-warming potential - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    5. "The Day Earth Nearly Died" (BBC documentary) :
    6. The Day The Oceans Boiled (VARIOUS SEGMENTS) Part 3 - YouTube
      (9 minute clip from UK Channel 4 documentary)
    7. Permian-Triassic Extinction
      (video: two minute overview by PBS)
    8. (A) An Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts: How ...(Summary of over 60 studies)
      (B) IEA's Bombshell Warning: We're Headed Toward 11°F Global ...
      (C) Shocking World Bank Climate Report: 'A 4°C [7°F] World Can, And ...
    9. Is Arctic Permafrost the "Sleeping Giant" of Climate Change? - NASA ...
    10. Arctic Sea Ice: The Death Spiral Continues | ThinkProgress
    11. Geochemical and geophysical evidence of methane release over ...
      Extensive Methane Venting to the Atmosphere from ... - Science - National Science Foundation (NSF) News - Methane ... (National Science Foundation press release)
    12. Interview for documentary "ARCTIC METHANE: Why the Sea Ice Matters"
    13. Vast methane 'plumes' seen in Arctic ocean as sea ice retreats ...
    14. The Degradation of Submarine Permafrost and the Destruction of Hydrates on the Shelf of East Arctic Seas as a Potential Cause of the “Methane Catastrophe”: Some Results of Integrated Studies in 2011, V. I. Sergienko et al., in Oceanology (Sept. 2012)
    15. Danger from the deep: New climate threat as methane rises from ...
    16. IPS – Thawing Permafrost May Be “Huge Factor” in Global Warming ..
    17. Is Arctic Permafrost the "Sleeping Giant" of Climate Change? - NASA ...
    18. NSIDC Press Room: Press Release: UNEP report urges ...
    19. Climate science: Vast costs of Arctic change : Nature : Nature ... and
      Methane meltdown: The Arctic timebomb that ... - The Independent
    20. Natalia Shakhova powerpoint at Washington DC conference:
    21. The Degradation of Submarine Permafrost and the Destruction of Hydrates on the Shelf of East Arctic Seas as a Potential Cause of the “Methane Catastrophe”: Some Results of Integrated Studies in 2011, V. I. Sergienko et al., in Oceanology (Sept. 2012)
    22. Methane hydrates: a volatile time bomb in the Arctic
    23. Bloomberg, August 17, 2012
    24. AFP: 'Planetary emergency' due to Arctic melt, experts warn
    25. Interview for documentary "ARCTIC METHANE: Why the Sea Ice Matters"
    26. Email exchange with the author
    27. Documentary "ARCTIC METHANE: Why the Sea Ice Matters"
    28. James Hansen - Humanity Cannot "Adapt" - YouTube
      (brief clip from interview for documentary "Arctic Methane: Why the Sea Ice Matters")

    PART TWO -

    1946 famine in China
    The Barriers Blocking Adequate Warning and Understanding -
    The impact of climate disruption on humanity has been called an "inconvenient truth". It has been described as causing extreme weather, giant storms, record flooding, expanded drought, and rampant wild fires. But all such descriptions utterly fail to convey the full scope of the horrendous wipe-out now looming over us all. "Connecting the dots" reveals a threat of such sweeping magnitude to our entire future existence that it is very difficult to accept into our consciousness. A psychological defense mechanism within us all drives an extremely potent internal barrier.

    Chief among the external barriers is the inordinate power of the fossil fuel industry. Our government - which is supposed to act in defense of the public interest - is not taking strong enough action because of the influence wielded by the wealthiest corporations on earth. It is no secret that the right wing extremist Tea Party was bankrolled by this industry in order to push the Republican stance into an obstructionist position on climate. It has also placed massive funding behind a widespread media blitz attacking the credibility of the science community. The strong pre-existing inclination toward denial has only been exacerbated by the disinformation campaign of the carbon pollution profiteers. But the failure to provide warning is more insidious when it can be observed even among those elements of society one would assume are tasked with this responsibility.

    The Failure of Mass Media -
    The U.S. mass media in particular has failed to move beyond superficial slogans and engage in a penetrating investigation into the depth of the climate crisis. To not even raise the climate issue during the presidential campaign was outrageous and indefensible. Investigative reporters should be intensively pursuing the Arctic methane story and bringing it to the attention of the prime time news outlets. They are not.

    One of the greatest challenges regarding the climate emergency is that public consciousness must shift BEFORE a tipping point is reached whereby it is no longer possible to reverse course. If this shift fails to happen in time, humanity would likely be placed in a helpless position. One of the great benefits offered by the video medium is that a fictional event can be so vividly simulated on screen as to make the viewer feel like he or she is truly "experiencing" it. In 1983, there was a major television event called "The Day After". In prime time, heavily publicized in advance, and using well known "Hollywood" actors, a national TV audience of over 100 million "experienced" the horror that would be entailed in a nuclear holocaust. [1]

    The nation's leading policymakers - including even the president - were profoundly affected. In former President Reagan's autobiography, he wrote that the film was "very effective and left me greatly depressed," and that it actually changed his mind about the prevailing policy on nuclear war. [2] Many give credit to that "experience" as being the turning point when public opinion turned solidly against the continuation of the nuclear arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Four years after the broadcast, a nuclear treaty was signed with the Soviet Union. A brief clip from that film serves as an example of the power of the video medium to simulate disaster: [3]

    Nagasaki, Japonia, 9 august 1945
    This time the threat is not from the immediate destruction of an atomic fireball but rather a slow motion holocaust - a gradual but inexorable decimation of the conditions for life on this planet. Gathering force step by step, it would be even more insidious as the momentum would build until the inescapable trap is finally sprung.

    Climate breakdown is not quite as "black and white" as a nuclear explosion, but with good preparation and script-writing it can be portrayed. The TV networks could be developing a film comparable to "The Day After". They could be dedicating comparable resources to another major television event with the goal of making a global climate catastrophe more tangible and more "real" to another large national audience. They are not.

    How the Scientific Community Is Falling Short -
    The scientific community of course deserves much credit for the huge amount of research and education it has provided on climate. But so much institutional attention has been focused on the issue of human-generated global warming (from carbon dioxide emissions), that it has been extremely slow to make the shift toward recognizing the tremendous threat presented by the vast stockpile of nature's own greenhouse gases being stored in the polar regions.

    There is also a structural reason that the scientific community is failing to communicate to policymakers how dire our situation has actually become. The primary documents produced by the world's scientists which are supposed to guide government policy decisions are the periodic reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). But these reports are being compromised by two severe problems. One is the very slow and un-necessarily cumbersome internal process by which new scientific information is incorporated. There can be a three year lag time before cutting edge science is integrated into mainstream literature.

    A classic example is the tremendous threat from thawing Arctic permafrost (both sea-based and land-based). As most major revelations have come within the last three years, initial drafts indicate that the new IPCC report - due to be released later this year - is not even going to address this issue in any meaningful way. Some Arctic scientists are speaking up for its inclusion, as reflected in a document prepared for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP):
    "The potential hazards of carbon dioxide and methane emissions from warming permafrost are not included in current climate-prediction models. 'This report seeks to communicate to climate treaty negotiators, policy makers, and the general public the implications of continuing to ignore the challenges of warming permafrost,' said U.N. Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.....'Anthropogenic emissions targets in the climate change treaty need to account for these emissions or we risk overshooting the 2 degrees Celsius maximum warming target,' Schaefer added." [4]
    IPCC meeting
    At a time of approaching tipping points, such lag time is exceedingly dangerous. Making matters even worse is the second major structural problem. Government political entities have actually been given the power to review and "approve" the science that is released to policymakers and the public. This has created an opening for vested interests to pressure their governments to refrain from language conveying urgency, often resulting in excessively watered down statements and overly conservative predictions. Another classic example: The IPCC projected that the all-important Arctic ice collapse would not occur until the year 2100, and yet such is already pressing upon us.

    British climate feedback expert David Wasdell decries what he calls a "grossly inappropriate" process:
    The initial language of an IPCC report "has to be passed through a conference of the agencies of the governments, and if they don't like it because it affects their particular country .... they will veto it. So what comes out - particularly in the Summary for Policymakers - is that which is 'acceptable' ...... from science that is about six years out of date, and that becomes the basis for negotiation and decision-making. It is grossly inappropriate....... There are many pressures ..... not least the enormous profits that continue to be made from fossil fuels."
    A critically important and eloquent critique of the IPCC process is available in a video interview with Wasdell. [5]

    A stunning real-life example of such suppression of science occurred during preparation of the last report in 2007. According to the Washington Post, the U.S. actually removed language calling for emission reduction:
    "Some sections of a grim scientific assessment of the impact of global warming on human, animal and plant life issued in Brussels yesterday were softened at the insistence of officials from China and the United States ...... U.S. negotiators managed to eliminate language in one section that called for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions." [6]
    It is frightening that an imminent danger of such sweeping magnitude is in the process of being completely ignored in the new IPCC report to the world. If left uncorrected, this report would not be updated for six more years and policymakers would continue to not be properly informed during the only window of time that may be available to avert catastrophe. There should be a hue and cry from the entire scientific community to not allow this. Presently, it is failing to do so.

    It is also true that the scientific tradition of seeking absolute "proof" - normally a good thing - in this case works against the best interest of society. By the time there is "absolute" proof that a major methane release or even a "runaway" situation is imminent, it will very likely be too late to stop it.

    A much more complete statement by this writer addressing the failure of the scientific community to provide adequate warning is available here. [7] The full weight of the world scientific community should be placed behind an emphatic warning based on the precautionary principle and a moral imperative to act preventatively NOW before a tipping point is crossed.

    Smokestacks - image courtesy of worradmu/

    "They who dig a hole and scoop it out
    fall into the pit they have made.
    The trouble they cause recoils on themselves;
    their violence comes down on their own heads."

    - Biblical book of Psalms 7

    "The earth dries up and withers.....
    The earth is defiled by its people ....
    They have ....... broken the everlasting covenant.
    Therefore a curse consumes the earth."

    - Biblical book of Isaiah 24

    Drought in Maharastra, India. Photo credit:

    The Failure of the Religious Community -
    The failure of the multi-faith religious community is especially grievous, as it is the segment of society which has willfully taken on the responsibility of providing moral guidance. At a time when humanity is facing a holocaust that can only be compared to all out nuclear war in its magnitude, it should be shouting to the world that there is an existential emergency. At the peak of the nuclear arms race in the early 1980s, the religious community did speak out and many leaders achieved impact through dramatic acts of nonviolent civil disobedience at nuclear weapon facilities. But apart from the actions of some courageous individuals, today's leaders seem only willing to issue proclamations and only a tiny number have joined the protests in the streets.

    At precisely the time when a powerful voice like that of the prophet Isaiah in the Judeo-Christian tradition is needed, the religious community as a whole has been complicit in a terrible and indefensible silence while this catastrophe approaches. The definition of sin is "a transgression of a religious or moral law, especially when deliberate." [8] How can it be said that this definition does not fit such complicity and overwhelmingly tragic moral failure in the face of a possible wipe-out of God's Creation? The magnificence of life - and how it stands to be decimated by such catastrophe - is depicted with breathtaking cinematography in a film entitled "Home"[9]

    Jesus wept - painting by Erik Hollander

    "Though seeing, they do not see;
    though hearing, they do not hear or understand....
    For this people's heart has become calloused;
    They hardly hear with their ears,
    And they have closed their eyes."
    - words of Jesus in Matthew 13

    Exclusive Focus on Tar Sands Oil Blocking Awareness of Other Imminent and Equally Dangerous Threats -
    The climate movement has come a long way. A major coalition has formed in opposition to the tar sands pipeline, and many good-hearted people are giving their all - including nonviolent civil disobedience - in spirited resistance. This writer is a part of that campaign. in particular deserves praise for becoming the "conscience" of this struggle. The money power of the industry has forced a pitched battle, and it is quite understandable that such a protracted struggle consumes resources.

    Keystone XL Pipeline protest - photo taken Feb 13, 2013 - from: 
    However, a quite serious problem has emerged from the current single-minded focus on tar sands. The tremendous threat presented by the Arctic meltdown is simply being shunted aside. Bill McKibben - spokesperson for - reminds over and over in his writings that the laws of physics cannot be stopped. Those same laws are now dismantling the Arctic ice cover, a drastic change that will lead to drastic consequences. McKibben acknowledges such in communications with this writer, yet the posted material of does not even mention this gathering emergency - let alone issue any kind of warning to the public. It is entirely correct that "doing the math" requires that remaining fossil fuel reserves be left in the ground. But presenting that as the single focus of concern is glaringly and even dangerously incomplete. The "front line" in terms of the most imminent and unstoppable tipping point staring humanity in the face is the threat of releasing nature's own vast stockpile of global warming gases in the Arctic, and yet the very group being looked to for leadership on the climate issue has been inexplicably silent.

    Though some success has been gained in "breaking through" to media coverage on tar sands, this does not make the other threats go away. The frightening consequences of climate disruption are unfortunately not lining up in single file. As such, humanity is now faced with yet another "inconvenient truth". The climate coalition - and most particularly as a leading force - has a responsibility in this situation to convey all relevant facts to both the public and policymakers, and it is presently failing to do so.

    The Most Colossal Moral Tragedy -

    "The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time."
    - Terry Tempest Williams

    Who stands up for the children? - screenshot from children against climate change protest video
    Children sing out for their future in this gut-wrenching music video. [10] The region of earth now facing the most imminent "tipping point" is the Arctic. It is an emergency situation requiring immediate prioritization and preventative action. No scientist can predict an exact date when a large methane release or unstoppable methane "runaway" may be triggered. But there is also no credible scientist who can deny that the conditions for such are now forming. Some advocate that geo-engineering research be stepped up to prepare for a last gasp effort at regaining control. But opposition to even such research is increasing the likelihood that humanity may well run out of options.

    We are sliding closer and closer to the brink of a methane-heated hell on earth. If temperatures shoot up 10 degrees C or more (well within current projections), we could well find ourselves involuntarily tethered to an unstoppable "doomsday machine" leading to a parched wasteland facing a ghastly wipe-out of life comparable to what happened 250 million years ago. It would become the greatest tragedy imaginable not only because of the scale of destruction but also because there was a real opportunity to prevent it and yet those who tried to issue a warning were ignored. Those engaged in a life or death struggle on a ravaged planet would not look back kindly on this unspeakable failure to address the unmistakable warning signs raging in our faces.

     Drought in Somali (2011, part image) - credit: Cate Turton/Department for International Development

    It would be easy to place all blame on those blindly seeking profit from fossil fuels. But the other segments of our society - those that supposedly existed to provide clear thinking and act as a counterweight to the forces of raw greed - would also have failed. That is why it would qualify as the most colossal moral tragedy in human history. In the final analysis, all words fail to do justice. What words could possibly convey the moral atrocity of taking this majestic earth and sacred gift of abundant life and rendering it dessicated and lifeless? As David Orr points out, there is no language for self-imposed, "willfully caused" extinction. Though perhaps these words from Martin Luther King and the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley grope in the right direction?

    "Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, Too late."
    - Martin Luther King [11]

    Human remains - photo credit: Kiril Kapustin at

    "And on the pedestal these words appear:
    'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
    Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'

    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away."
    - from Shelley's poem "Ozymandias"

    Desolate world - image courtesy of Gualberto107/

    1. The Day After - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    2. An American Life
    3. The Day After Nuclear Attack Scene - YouTube
    4. NSIDC Press Release: UNEP report urges policymakers to account for thawing permafrost ...
    5. Envisionation Interview: David Wasdell On the IPCC & Scientific ... [8 minute clip]
    6. Washington Post: U.S., China Got Climate Warnings Toned Down
    7. The tragic failure of the scientific community to issue ... - Arctic News
    8. Sin - definition of Sin by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and ...
    9. HOME - YouTube Home (2009 film) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    10. Children's choir singing 'Cool the World' ... - YouTube
    11. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1967 Riverside Church speech, ' Beyond ...


    Gary Houser is a long time public interest advocate and writer based in Ohio in the U.S.  He is presently organizing support for the 50 megawatt Turning Point solar farm - set to become the largest solar farm in the eastern part of the country, and symbolically located on a former strip mine in coal country.  But his primary focus is raising awareness about the great danger of super greenhouse gas methane, its likely role in the most deadly mass extinction event in earth's history, and the potential for human-generated carbon pollution to unleash vast quantities currently stored in frozen form in the Arctic - a release that could escalate climate disruption to a level beyond human control. He is the associate producer of a short, grassroots-style documentary on the topic available on YouTube ("Arctic Methane: Why the Sea Ice Matters"), seeking to use it as a catalyst to spark a fully funded program for broadcast on a major public TV venue such as PBS in the U.S. and the BBC in the UK. He is also seeking a Congressional hearing, and working to form a co-operative network of methane activists in the U.S. - including the producers of another documentary just released entitled "Last Hours". Recently becoming a dad has only increased his sense of urgency and determination to work on behalf of future generations.