Saturday, 27 September 2014

The methane emergency

Arctic Sea Ice - Methane Release - Planetary Emergency
Urgent Message to Governments from the Arctic Methane Emergency Group, AMEG

25 September, 2014

AMEG’s Declaration
Governments must get a grip on a situation which IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has ignored.  A strategy of mitigation and adaptation is doomed to fail.  It will be impossible to adapt to the worst consequences of global warming, as IPCC suggests.  

The Arctic must be cooled, ASAP, to prevent the sea ice disappearing with disastrous global consequences.   Rapid warming in the Arctic, as sea ice retreats, has already disrupted the jet stream.  The resulting escalation in weather extremes is causing a food crisis which must be addressed before the existing conflicts in Asia and Africa spread more widely.

Dangerous global warming and ocean acidification must be prevented by reducing the level of CO2 in the atmosphere, especially by improved agricultural practice, thereby addressing the food crisis at the same time.

This is an unprecedented opportunity for international collaboration for common purpose.

1.   The Arctic is rapidly heading for meltdown.  As snow and sea ice retreat, exposing land and sea with lower albedo (i.e. less reflectiveness), more solar energy is absorbed, thus leading to further melting and retreat in a vicious cycle.  This cycle has been self-sustaining for many years – we are well past the tipping point.  There is no sign of any natural process to break the cycle.

2.   As the extent of snow and sea ice has been plummeting, even while global warming has stalled, Arctic albedo loss has rapidly overtaken CO2 as the main driver of climate change in the Northern Hemisphere, as witness the escalation of weather extremes.  The Arctic has warmed well above global average, resulting in a reduction of the temperature gradient between tropics and pole, this in turn reducing the strength of the polar jet stream, with increased meandering and a tendency to get stuck in blocking patterns.  This explains the recent escalation of weather extremes in the form of long periods of weather of one kind such as the months of high rain the UK has experienced this past winter 2013-14, and the protracted extreme cold in the US over the same period, crop failures and an upward trend in the world food price index.

3.   While land and subsea permafrost thaws ever faster, methane could become the dominant climate forcing agent.  Emissions threaten to break through the gigaton-per-year level within twenty years.  AMEG has been continuing its research into the situation.  A recent paper, co-authored by Peter Wadhams, a founder member of AMEG, has used the Stern Review economic model to show that the economic cost of a 50 megaton release of methane from the Arctic Ocean seabed will cost $60 trillion.  Research in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf has suggested that such a vast release of methane was possible, and continued exponential increase of methane could, within 20 years, reach a level where methane dominated over CO2 in global warming.  Some researchers warn of a 50 gigaton burst being possible “at any time”.

4.  Therefore, urgent and strenuous efforts are needed ASAP to cool the Arctic, halt snow and sea ice decline, and suppress methane.  

5.  Techniques exist for cooling on the necessary scale.  Both the brightening of low-level clouds and the production of a reflective haze in the stratosphere are techniques based on natural phenomena which have been studied extensively.  Various methane suppression techniques have been proposed.  However, all these techniques require technology development and testing before deployment.
6.  Ocean acidification threatens to devastate the marine food chain.  Atmospheric CO2 must be reduced to a safe level within twenty years or less.

7.  Therefore, CO2 must be removed from the atmosphere faster than it is put in.   The rate of removal should be increased until it is around double the rate of emissions and the CO2 level has fallen sufficiently to avoid dangerous ocean acidification. Funds could be raised by having a levy on carbon taken out of the ground, specifically to fund the return of carbon to the ground.

8.  CO2 can be removed from the atmosphere utilising the photosynthesis of plants and certain algae to produce biomass.  The carbon of this biomass must then be kept from returning to the atmosphere, e.g. by pyrolytic conversion to biochar.   This process of capture and sequestration has to be massively scaled in order for the CO2 removal rate to exceed CO2 emission rate. 

9. The profound economic, social, security and political impacts of the abrupt climate change, being witnessed as an escalation of climate extremes and crop failures, must be addressed.  The underlying price of food as indicated by the food price index is already above the crisis level, leading to the food riots we have observed in several countries where income is insufficient to buy daily needs.

These are unprecedented opportunities for international collaboration in the interests of every country, every section of the community, rich and poor alike.  

The necessary actions of cooling the Arctic, suppressing methane and CO2 removal present enormous engineering and logistical challenges.   The objectives should be achievable without any revolution or radical change in the way we live.   In fact the solutions to the challenges are not only affordable but can be of great economic benefit in the long run.

There is no excuse for procrastination. We must see action now

Current situation and gross omissions from IPCC

The IPCC WG1, WG2 and WG3 assessment reports (AR5) make no mention of the downward trend in sea ice volume, and rely on models which fail to properly capture the processes of warming and melting.  Furthermore they fail to mention the strong evidence that Arctic warming is already a driver of climate change in the Northern Hemisphere, compounding the effects of global warming.

Arctic warming and sea ice retreat is already having a serious impact on climate change across the Northern Hemisphere, which is affecting food production, food prices and food security. The latest WG2 report claims that the Arctic sea ice will be subject to ‘very high risks with an additional warming of 2 degrees C’. In fact, the September sea ice volume is already down 75% with a trend to zero by September 2016, suggests that the Arctic is heading for complete meltdown, which would be a planetary catastrophe. The loss of Arctic ecosystems and the climate implications of ice disappearance are in fact acute risks NOW as both ice and ice-dependent species are set to disappear within a matter of years.

These are catastrophic omissions.  AR5 is supposed to provide the best analysis of the state of the planet and its future climate, on which governments can base policy for protection of citizens.   These omissions are leading governments into a false sense of security about the future of our planet. 

The only clear policy deduction from AR5 concerns the reduction of CO2 emissions by keeping within a carbon budget.  Reductions alone have no chance of preventing catastrophes arising from Arctic meltdown.  Intervention to cool the Arctic is an absolute requirement to prevent such catastrophes.  There is no realistic alternative.

The concept of a carbon budget, espoused in AR5, hides the short-term consequences of various powerful feedback processes which get zero or scant attention in AR5.  In particular, snow and sea ice albedo feedback seems to be totally ignored in the budget.  And the mounting concentration of methane in the atmosphere is ignored.  The real truth is that the carbon budget has already been spent.  WG3’s limit of 450 ppm for CO2 equivalent has already been passed, even without taking into account albedo loss.

Governments must also address ocean acidification, whose threat has also been ignored in AR5.  There is no alternative but to start a major campaign for CO2 removal (CDR).  The latest WG3 assessment report suggests CDR as a possibility for offsetting emissions, but only in so far as for keeping within their carbon budgets of 450ppm CO2e and above, which would have catastrophic consequences for humanity, even without all the other overlooked positive feedbacks described above. CDR must be adopted, being the only possibility in order to stop the existing contribution to global warming of CO2 and ocean acidification.

Meanwhile there is the threat of Arctic methane emissions to burst above the gigaton level, totally ignored in AR5.  And the AR5 projections of sea level rise are hopelessly optimistic if the sea ice disappears as rapidly as the trend indicates.

10.30 Introductions
10.40 Discussion about the Arctic situation from latest evidence on temperature, sea ice, methane, Greenland Ice Sheet and ocean circulation
11.20 Official launch of AMEG response to AR5 (WG1 and WG2) - press invited
11.40 Presentation of the AMEG case for urgent action - press invited
12.00 Break for informal discussion with refreshments
12.30 Discussion of latest ideas for measures and techniques to cool the Arctic, save the sea ice and suppress methane, including 10-minute presentations of several geoengineering techniques.
1.20 Summing up
1.30 End of the meeting

The Arctic Community Meeting Room is reserved for the AMEG meeting “Arctic Warming, Sea Ice Retreat, and Methane Emissions” on Wednesday, 11 December 2013 at 10:30 am - 1:30 pm. We will be in Pacific Room I on the 4th floor of the San Francisco Marriott Marquis (780 Mission Street).

AMEG  Chairman, John Nissen, today (12th july 2013) gave this presentation at the "Davos Atmosphere and Cryosphere Assembly DACA-13"

You can download the presentation by clicking here.

Arctic sea ice 
Next week, the White House will hear evidence from Australian scientist, Carlos Duarte, that the Arctic sea ice is on such a downward spiral that we may see a dramatic decline of sea ice over the next two years [1].  Evidence was given to the UK government last year from British scientists, Peter Wadhams and John Nissen, that we could see minimal sea ice by September 2015, simply extrapolating the sea ice volume trend [2].  Evidence from recent satellite images suggests that a record melt is in progress this year.  The plight of the Arctic was highlighted to MPs and the Met Office in a recent showing of the film “Chasing Ice” at the House of Commons, London [3].  The Arctic has recently become an issue in the European Parliament [4]. 

Weather extremes and food security 
Research from US scientist, Jennifer Francis, suggests that the retreat of sea ice is causing a disruption of jet stream behaviour, producing weather extremes [5].  Evidence was given to the UK government last year that the weather extremes being experienced in the UK and elsewhere could be due to this disruption of weather systems as the Arctic warms relative to the tropics.  This evidence was reported by Robin McKie in the Observer, on 7th April in an article entitled: “Why our turbulent weather is getting harder to predict” [6].  The weather extremes from last year are causing real problems for farmers, not only in the UK, but in US and many grain-producing countries.  World food production can be expected to decline, with mass starvation inevitable.  The price of food will rise inexorably, producing global unrest and making food security even more of an issue [7].  

Action required 
Putting these two strands of evidence together, it is obvious that we face an ever worsening food crisis unless something dramatic is done straightaway to cool the Arctic and save the Arctic sea ice.  This sounds impossible, but can be done.  Our best chance of success in cooling the Arctic quickly involves cloud cooling techniques, such as being developed by engineers Stephen Salter in the UK and Aaron Franklin in New Zealand.  Franklin’s technique could be deployed almost immediately.
Rapid collaborative action is common-sense logic and therefore the morally and legally correct thing to do in protecting citizens, see UNFCCC, Article 3 [8].   It also presents a golden opportunity for reconciliation between all peoples and all communities through working together towards a common purpose: to save our planet for enjoyment by future generations.   There is no time to lose.


Last Hours

"Last Hours" is the first in a series of short films that explore the perils of climate change and the solutions to avert climate disaster. Each subsequent film will highlight fact-based challenges facing the human race, and offer solutions to ameliorate these crises. The initial short film series will culminate in a feature film to be presented prior to COP21, the 2015 UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris.

An asset for the climate change movement, "Last Hours" will be disseminated globally to awaken modern culture worldwide about the various dangers associated with climate change.

"Last Hours" describes a science-based climate scenario where a tipping point to runaway climate change is triggered by massive releases of frozen methane. Methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, has already started to percolate into the open seas and atmosphere from methane hydrate deposits beneath melting arctic ice, from the warming northern-hemisphere tundra, and from worldwide continental-shelf undersea methane clathrate pools.

Burning fossil fuels release carbon that, principally through greenhouse effect, heat the atmosphere and the seas. This is happening most rapidly at the polar extremes, and this heating has already begun the process of releasing methane. If we do not begin to significantly curtail the use of carbon-based fossil fuels, this freed methane threatens to radically accelerate the speed of global warming, potentially producing a disaster beyond the ability of the human species to adapt.This first video is designed to awaken people to the fact that the earth has experienced five major extinctions in the deep geologic past -- times when more than half of all life on earth vanished -- and that we are now entering a sixth extinction. Industrial civilization with its production of greenhouse gases has the ability to trigger a mass extinction; in the extreme, it could threaten not just human civilization, but the very existence of human life on this planet.

The world community and global citizens urgently need to chart a path forward that greatly reduces green house gas emissions. To take action and follow the pathway to solutions to the climate crisis, you can explore this website and you can also sign-up for future updates. Thank you.

"Last Hours" is presented and narrated by Thom Hartmann and directed by Leila Conners. Executive Producers are George DiCaprio and Earl Katz. Last Hours is produced by Mathew Schmid of Tree Media Foundation, and was written by Thom Hartmann, Sam Sacks, and Leila Conners. Music is composed and performed by Francesco Lupica.

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