Monthly Archives: September 2012

We have breached the first tipping point.

 Two critical tipping points have been breached. This is the critical moment in an evolving system when feedback becomes strong enough to continue on its own without any further input. The tipping point is that moment when a gradual increase becomes unstoppable because the feedback maintains its own momentum. There is nowhere to go under these circumstances, and nothing can be done to prevent it continuing. It is the point when an everyday infection turns epidemic.

We have now breached the edge from two events. One is a remarkable collapse of summer sea ice in the Arctic with enormous consequences, especially on the Gulfstream, which is driven by the flood of cold water that emerges from under the Arctic ice. Now that summers are going to be more and more ice-free the permanent disruption of the Gulfstream becomes more likely. With it will come, inevitably, a change in temperatures and weather in North America and Europe. It may herald an ice age, but it is more likely, according to current thinking, to create even more dangerous weather patterns than we have experienced hitherto.

The other event is the extraordinary growth of methane being exhausted into the air, especially in Siberia that has gained more heat than anywhere else. Some is from clathrates under the ocean floor, and some from the melting of the permafrost. These emissions are now many many times greater than science had expected, and it is feared that they have reached a point where they are feeding back on themselves and are becoming unstoppable.

Together they have brought us to the first tipping point, as this will set off more.

As methane is some 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in heating the planet, further heat is now expected to proceed at an extremely fast rate. It is likely that from here on the consequences of what we have been doing will impact on our lives more severely every year. Larger hurricanes, catastrophic fires, burning temperatures, endless droughts and fierce storm surges are to be the norm.

Together, the feedback loops now in place in the Arctic and in Siberia will inexorably build on themselves. The time when we could have curtailed this disaster has passed. Hanging on to a 2oC limit was a mistake. Thinking of limits when feedback cuts in is ridiculous. Some will continue to argue that we can still do something. Politically, socially, and militarily this is highly unlikely.

If we had listened to the science ten years ago we may not now be in this fix. In 2006 on the PlanetExtinction website my banner said “we have eight years to stop …”, only eight years to end the use of fossil fuels and reverse the trend. It seems that I was over optimistic. We had six.

We are not going to stop the juggernaut of greed that is determined to destroy this beautiful earth, all for the sake of profit, so what can we do under the circumstances? The end-game will be played out in its own time, and will be dealt us by Gaia. But we, the ordinary people, need to protect our lives and our children and what we can of our heritage. There are many schemes and proposals such as Transition Towns, and of these we may take our pick.

Essentially we need ways to increase our personal and social resilience while coming into communities that are dedicated to preserving what matters most. It means training ourselves from today onwards in the ancient trades of farming and clothing, of healing and shelter.

At the same time we need to consider the moral issues, for they will determine how we will react in stress. We need to discuss our options in advance of the coming catastrophe. For example, a sea rise of some metres in Australia would create more than a million refugees. In shock, destitute, desperate for food and lodging, how would any community that has set out to preserve itself handle such an influx? Governments would be compelled to maintain order with reflexes that are likely to be draconian, and political bullies would take advantage of the panic for their own ends.

How does a Morality of Survival deal with this and many similar situations? If not publicly aired, and quickly, our ability to respond is likely to be overwhelmed by events.

Ideally, governments should take the lead, and provide nurture and guidance where it is needed. Frankly, I think this is highly unlikely. It therefore comes down to us, as individuals and as communities, to find our way through the mess that is coming.

We cannot hide our heads and pretend there is still time left to change this world into a better place. From here on we will be more and more at the mercy of the grim forces we have unleashed.

If we continue to direct our efforts towards modifying the rush to insanity, we will have wasted our time and will be thrashed by the outcome. It is now time to become Survivors.

Vast methane plumes in Arctic

The melting of Arctic sea ice and permafrost is releasing huge stores of methane that have been locked away underground for many thousands of years might be released over a relatively short period of time.

“I am concerned about this process, I am really concerned. But no-one can tell the timescale of catastrophic releases. There is a probability of future massive releases might occur within the decadal scale, but to be more accurate about how high that probability is, we just don’t know,” Dr Shakova said.

“Methane released from the Arctic shelf deposits contributes to global increase and the best evidence for that is the higher concentration of atmospheric methane above the Arctic Ocean,” she said.

“The concentration of atmospheric methane increased unto three times in the past two centuries from 0.7 parts per million to 1.7ppm, and in the Arctic to 1.9ppm. That’s a huge increase, between two and three times, and this has never happened in the history of the planet,” she added.

Each methane molecule is about 70 times more potent in terms of trapping heat than a molecule of carbon dioxide. However, because methane it broken down more rapidly in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, scientist calculate that methane is about 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a hundred-year cycle.

For full report and map.

A planetary emergency

I’ve been calling that “in the pipeline” — as in, “we have .8°C warming now, and another .8°C is in the pipeline, inevitable.” The following illustrates this perfectly:

Another result is the likely release of large amounts of methane — a greenhouse gas — trapped in the permafrost under Greenland’s ice cap, the remains of the region’s organic plant and animal life that were trapped in sediment and later covered by ice sheets in the last Ice Age.

And finally, hello methane, and a fact you may want to stash away:

Methane is 25 times more efficient at trapping solar heat than carbon dioxide, and the released gases could in turn add to global warming, which in turn would free up more locked-up carbon.

And that’s your global climate report for today. Still to come — a review of our five-pronged approach to a solution and a preliminary to-do list.

Full commentary here.

War is what America knows how to do best.

the United States is alone on the planet, not just in its ability, but in its willingness to use military force in drug wars, religious wars, political wars, conflicts of almost any sort, constantly and on a global scale.  No other group of powers collectively even comes close. It also stands alone as a purveyor of major weapons systems and so as a generator of war.  It is, in a sense, a massive machine for the promotion of war on a global scale.

We have, in other words, what increasingly looks like a monopoly on war.  There have, of course, been warrior societies in the past that committed themselves to a mobilized life of war-making above all else.  What’s unique about the United States is that it isn’t a warrior society.  Quite the opposite.

Washington may be mobilized for permanent war.  Special operations forces may be operating in up to 120 countries.  Drone bases may be proliferating across the planet.  We may be building up forces in the Persian Gulf and “pivoting” to Asia.  Warrior corporations and rent-a-gun mercenary outfits have mobilized on the country’s disparate battlefronts to profit from the increasingly privatized twenty-first-century American version of war.  The American people, however, are demobilized and detached from the wars, interventions, operations, and other military activities done in their name.  As a result, 200 Marines in Guatemala, almost 78% of global weapons sales, drones flying surveillance from Australia — no one here notices; no one here cares. 

War: it’s what we do the most and attend to the least.  It’s a nasty combination.

For the full and most interesting text click here.

Caught in the cross fire of futility and cant

Mike Carlton :

THE scene is now all too familiar. There is the coffin draped in the Australian flag and topped by a slouch hat and medals, borne from the aircraft by solemn young men in khaki.

A chaplain in vestments and a lone piper walk before it, past the saluting colonels and captains. Somewhere in the background there are grandparents struggling to hold it together for the sake of a grieving widow and her stricken, bewildered children.

The rest of us watch this on television for our one minute, 45 seconds of couch compassion and then get on with the really important news: the Roosters have sacked their coach, a celebrity chef has lost a Good Food Guide hat, and halfwits have trolled a TV star on Twitter.

When are we going to cry out that enough is enough? When are we going to rise up to demand that not one more husband, father, brother, mate, should die in this bloody, treacherous and futile war in Afghanistan?

When will we, the Australian people, shout with one voice that the war is lost and it’s time to bring our soldiers home, not in 2014 but now. I have seen too much of this in my lifetime. In World War II we fought for a noble cause, the defeat of German Nazism, Italian Fascism and Japanese militarism.

Since then, from Korea to Afghanistan via Vietnam and Iraq, we have become enmeshed in failed conflicts fomented in folly and ignorance, and buttressed by the lies and deceit of politicians, generals and, yes, the media.

Korea, the so-called forgotten war, was to stop the march of godless communism.

It ended with 340 Australian dead, although not in a permanent peace but an armistice in which great armies still confront each other.

Vietnam, you will remember, was justified by the domino theory, which held that if South Vietnam fell the rest of south-east Asia would topple to communism as well, all the way to Indonesia. Better to stop them there than here, was the cry.

We lost 521 men killed for that lie.

In Iraq, it was to wipe out al-Qaeda and to seize Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. It would be a “cakewalk”; the US Marines would be garlanded with flowers in the streets of Baghdad, “greeted like liberators”, we were told. Australia’s chief contribution to that war was to pump $221.7 million into Saddam’s bank account for “transportation costs” in the still-unpunished Australian Wheat Board scandal.

Afghanistan was to go after al-Qaeda yet again. When Osama bin Laden was caught not there but, magically, a stone’s throw down the road from the Pakistan Military Academy, the war somehow morphed into a fight against the Taliban, a murderous bunch of Islamic fanatics to be sure, but of no conceivable security threat to Australia. So far it’s 38 Australians killed and counting – dying not for their country, as our mealy-mouthed leaders would have us believe, but in defence of the venal and thuggish Karzai regime.

The cant and the hypocrisy keep coming. We are there to get the job done, to see the mission through. But we learn nothing from history. When we eventually quit Afghanistan, as the British did in the 19th century and the Soviet Union in the 20th, the place will revert to what it always was , a violent wasteland of warlords growing opium poppies. What fools we are.

 IT’S not only the dead. It’s the wounded, too, the hundreds if not thousands of men who carry the physical and mental scars of battle for life.

At Christmas 1966 I was an ABC war correspondent in Vietnam, tape-recording greetings from our Diggers to be broadcast to their families on their hometown radio stations.

There was one bloke lying in an American military hospital outside Saigon. Drips and drains trailed from the bed covers tented over him and he was groggy from the painkillers, but he was glad to hear an Australian accent among all the Yanks and he managed to mumble a cheerful greeting to mum and dad and his little sister somewhere in the Riverina. Don’t you worry, getting better, be home soon.

When I left his room I asked a nurse what had happened to him. “His balls were blown off by a landmine,” she said. “But he doesn’t know it yet.”

I saw worse in that war. Corpses fried by napalm; a village well in Cambodia filled with a reeking stew of human remains; dying soldiers crying out for their mothers, as dying soldiers do. But I am haunted today by the memory of that young man because he was my own age, just 20, and I have wondered ever since what happened to him. Perhaps he made it OK. Perhaps he committed suicide like so many of his fellow Vietnam vets. I do not know.

We treat our wounded veterans differently these days. They and their families are better cared for. But the terrible toll accumulates still, hidden from our sight and our minds. In a couple of weeks, one of our former commanders in Afghanistan, retired Major-General John Cantwell, will publish a book of his memoirs, Exit Wounds.

I’ve seen an advance copy. Read it and weep.

America’s inevitable dictatorship

 America has now entered on the inexorable path towards military dictatorship. President Obama has just signed into law the right for the military police to hold Americans for indefinite detention without trial. This is a slippery slope. Once in law the powers of authority and the fear that this engenders will intensify.

Habeas Corpus was introduced many centuries ago and has found until now to satisfy the security needs of every country that has confessed to some level of democracy. There is no excuse for introducing such a law as these powers already exist. It can be done only in order to terrify both the American people and those who make the laws.

This may sound strange, but the people who have now been entrusted with this power will move to use it in exactly the same way as they use weapons and handcuffs. Because they have it they will use it. That is human nature.

The reaction of ordinary people to such limitless power that essentially silences you and sends out you to jail for as long as some bureaucrat may require is to inspire fear. Essentially the law allows faceless authorities to put you away in the dark forever.

It claims to be only for cases of terrorism, but is my writing of this article going to be considered a terrorist act?

This legislation takes all these cases out of the hands of the FBI and any civilian court and hands them over to the military. The military are trained to coerce prisoners, as recent history shows. Whenever the military are given power over civilians without themselves being under civilian control a country ends up in dictatorship. By removing the rights of judges to rein in the unfettered power of individuals in the military, then there is no safe level of control over unshackled bureaucratic imprisonment.

My heart weeps for country I love and for the people who have contributed so much to this world. The creativity of American people has over the last two centuries been legion. The growth of coercion and surveillance has been increasing over the past decades, and is now in a downward spiral. Control is now moving towards its inevitable end game.

As the pretended supporters of democracy around the world, the rest of us are in danger from following their lead unless we increase our consciousness and vigilance, and make sure that our politicians and other leaders understand that we intend to retain free-speech.

Graph Arctic sea ice

graph declioning sea ice since 1979.

Abrupt climate change: 10C in 40 years!

During the last glacial period, Greenland experienced a sequence of very fast warmings. The temperature increased by more than 10°C within 40 years.

 Other records show that major changes in atmospheric circulation and climate were experienced all around the northern hemisphere. At this time, there was a huge ice sheet (the Laurentide) over northern North America. Freshwater delivered from the ice sheet to the North Atlantic was able periodically to disrupt the overturning of the ocean, causing the transport of tropical heat to the north to reduce and then suddenly increase again. While this mechanism cannot occur in the same way in today’s world, it does show us that the climate is capable of extraordinary changes within a human lifetime.

Antarctic ice cores show us that the concentration of CO2 was stable over the last millennium until the early 19th century. Concentration is now nearly 40% higher than it was before the industrial revolution. Other measurements confirm this is from fossil fuel and deforestation. Both the magnitude and rate of the recent increase are  unprecedented over the last 800,000 years.


Fig 2: CO2 and CH4 over the last 1,000 years(1-4)

The fastest large natural increase measured in older ice cores is around 20ppmv in 1000 years. In the last 11 years CO2 has increased by the same amount! Methane (CH4) also shows a huge and unprecedented increase in concentration over the last two centuries. Its concentration is now much more than double its pre-industrial level. This is mainly due to the increase in emissions from sources such as rice fields, ruminant animals and landfills, that comes on top of natural emissions from wetlands and other sources. And what of tundra.

More information here.

Whole article here.

Methane from Arctic permafrost is the most feared tipping point

These reports on thawing Siberian permafrost are signs that the tipping point may have been reached. This is when through feedback there is no stopping runaway global heating. They are chilling because methane is more than twenty times more powerful  in global warming than carbon dioxide. Also, over hundreds of millions of years spikes in global temperature have always been associated with spikes in methane release.

Methane turns into CO2. There is twice as much carbon held in permafrost than in the atmosphere.  The Arctic region is experiencing twice the global average of climate warming. Add these figures up, and ask why we are doing so little.

Carbon release in Siberia.

Less carbon being absorbed in Arctic.

Arctic warming feedback loops.

Abrupt permafrost thawing.