Time to act? Climate tipping point at hand
- Hi All,
We seem to be crossing a threshold on global warming.
Can we use this to get governments to take real action?
Ian Sample, science correspondent
Thursday August 11, 2005
Warming hits 'tipping point'
Siberia feels the heat It's a frozen peat bog the size of France and Germany combined, contains billions of tonnes of greenhouse gas and, for the first time since the ice age, it is melting
A vast expanse of western Sibera is undergoing an unprecedented thaw that could dramatically increase the rate of global warming, climate scientists warn today.
Researchers who have recently returned from the region found that an area of permafrost spanning a million square kilometres - the size of France and Germany combined - has started to melt for the first time since it formed 11,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age.
The area, which covers the entire sub-Arctic region of western Siberia, is the world's largest frozen peat bog and scientists fear that as it thaws, it will release billions of tonnes of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere.
It is a scenario climate scientists have feared since first identifying "tipping points" - delicate thresholds where a slight rise in the Earth's temperature can cause a dramatic change in the environment that itself triggers a far greater increase in global temperatures.
The discovery was made by Sergei Kirpotin at Tomsk State University in western Siberia and Judith Marquand at Oxford University and is reported in New Scientist today.
The researchers found that what was until recently a barren expanse of frozen peat is turning into a broken landscape of mud and lakes, some more than a kilometre across.
Dr Kirpotin told the magazine the situation was an "ecological landslide that is probably irreversible and is undoubtedly connected to climatic warming". He added that the thaw had probably begun in the past three or four years.
Climate scientists yesterday reacted with alarm to the finding, and warned that predictions of future global temperatures would have to be revised upwards.
"When you start messing around with these natural systems, you can end up in situations where it's unstoppable. There are no brakes you can apply," said David Viner, a senior scientist at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.
"This is a big deal because you can't put the permafrost back once it's gone. The causal effect is human activity and it will ramp up temperatures even more than our emissions are doing."
In its last major report in 2001, the intergovernmental panel on climate change predicted a rise in global temperatures of 1.4C-5.8C between 1990 and 2100, but the estimate only takes account of global warming driven by known greenhouse gas emissions.
"These positive feedbacks with landmasses weren't known about then. They had no idea how much they would add to global warming," said Dr Viner.
Western Siberia is heating up faster than anywhere else in the world, having experienced a rise of some 3C in the past 40 years. Scientists are particularly concerned about the permafrost, because as it thaws, it reveals bare ground which warms up more quickly than ice and snow, and so accelerates the rate at which the permafrost thaws.
Siberia's peat bogs have been producing methane since they formed at the end of the last ice age, but most of the gas had been trapped in the permafrost. According to Larry Smith, a hydrologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, the west Siberian peat bog could hold some 70bn tonnes of methane, a quarter of all of the methane stored in the ground around the world.
The permafrost is likely to take many decades at least to thaw, so the methane locked within it will not be released into the atmosphere in one burst, said Stephen Sitch, a climate scientist at the Met Office's Hadley Centre in Exeter.
But calculations by Dr Sitch and his colleagues show that even if methane seeped from the permafrost over the next 100 years, it would add around 700m tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere each year, roughly the same amount that is released annually from the world's wetlands and agriculture.
It would effectively double atmospheric levels of the gas, leading to a 10% to 25% increase in global warming, he said.
Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth, said the finding was a stark message to politicians to take concerted action on climate change. "We knew at some point we'd get these feedbacks happening that exacerbate global warming, but this could lead to a massive injection of greenhouse gases.
"If we don't take action very soon, we could unleash runaway global warming that will be beyond our control and it will lead to social, economic and environmental devastation worldwide," he said. "There's still time to take action, but not much.
"The assumption has been that we wouldn't see these kinds of changes until the world is a little warmer, but this suggests we're running out of time."
In May this year, another group of researchers reported signs that global warming was damaging the permafrost. Katey Walter of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, told a meeting of the Arctic Research Consortium of the US that her team had found methane hotspots in eastern Siberia. At the hotspots, methane was bubbling to the surface of the permafrost so quickly that it was preventing the surface from freezing over.
Last month, some of the world's worst air polluters, including the US and Australia, announced a partnership to cut greenhouse gas emissions through the use of new technologies.
The deal came after Tony Blair struggled at the G8 summit to get the US president, George Bush, to commit to any concerted action on climate change and has been heavily criticised for setting no targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
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J.H. Crawford Carfree Cities
- "J.H. Crawford" <mailbox@...> wrote:
> Can we use this to get governments to take realMy feeling that there needs to a HUGE increase in
understanding in individuals about what they can and
must do to defeat, at the top of a long list of
targets, this HUGE BEAST OF A METHANE-LEACHING PEAT
BOG... and once the people are empowered with
knowledge they can work with govenment to slay the
Not optimistic, but I do have some ideas...
Unless we think that, for example, a UNEP-sponsored
worldwide TV, radio, newspaper and web campaign
telling people to ride a bike sometimes, turn down the
heat, insulate their home, take public transport, buy
a Toyota Prius etc is enough of a start - or
progressive continuation - in awareness-raising then
we need to do something similar but stronger
ourselves... but will the UNEP and advert agencies
(whose donated time and contacts is necessary to make
this affordable unless we get huge money) work with
I dont know... but I see a TV advert of the peat bog
monster, leaching methane... then screaming "oh no!"
as a carfree city lands right on top of them.
Or everyone needs to commit to convince TWO people
about this and have that person convince two people...
and so on...
p.s. Genocide, slavery, smoking, oppression of
women... we have made some progress in some places but
it has taken many years and nothing is solved....
Yahoo! Messenger - NEW crystal clear PC to PC calling worldwide with voicemail http://uk.messenger.yahoo.com
- --- In email@example.com, Todd Edelman
>I just rejoined this group after a fairly long hiatus and looked over
> Or everyone needs to commit to convince TWO people
> about this and have that person convince two people...
> and so on...
the recent archives briefly. This topic was posted August 11 and I
thought I'd toss my two cents worth in on it.
In short, I believe Todd's is right on the money regarding this
problem. There needs to be a rude awakening in the U.S., soon, on the
importance and relevance of our contributions to global climate
Todd suggests that everyone needs to commit to convince two people
about the need to take action, and to have that person convince two
other people... and so on.... I've been trying to convince people
about that for going over 5 years now. I can't say I've been the only
person doing that. Nor can I say I've been all that successful. (I've
not.) But people everywhere are now starting to recognize for
themselves that the climate is changing, and that global warming is a
threat, and potentially huge threat, and that its a problem that
could grow worse in time if we aren't careful.
But being careful doesn't mean sitting back and doing nothing about
it. Being careful doesn't mean being quiet about it - not talking -
or assuming that someone else will take care of it.
Being careful, in this case, means speaking out about it. It means
confronting your governmental officials about it, because it is a
threat to your society, friends and neighbors, and your family. It
means taking actions yourself, as well as collectively, to address
it, and bringing it to other people's attention, as Todd suggests.
Taking actions to confront global warming mean doing something,
anything, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and helping your
communities and others to deal with whatever adverse effects climate
The positive feedbacks of global warming are serious - such as the
release of methane from the thawing permafrost region - and will
likely speed global warming even more. Methane is a powerful
greenhouse gas, so the faster the permafrost region thaws, the larger
the volume of methane that is released (from rotting biological
matter). This could cause temperatures to increase even more, thus
producing even more extensive thawing, and so on. Because this
process has now started already, we have to act fast in reducing our
contributions to this process, which means reducing our greenhouse
gas emissions to the atmosphere, big time.
It is up every citizen and every group to demand that their federal,
state and local governments properly address this issue, before the
problem is too great. This is a huge and very real issue that needs
to be dealt with before it get away from us. Its especially bad for
cities due to the "urban heat-island effect", in which concrete
surfaces capture more heat and hold it longer, releasing it more
slowing during the night.
Possibly the best thing we all can do is to contact our governmental
representatives in the Congress and at the state level and demand
they take action. If they don't hear from their constituents, they
are unlikely to act. Call them today!
Tell them its time to confront global warming, all-out, by enacting
policies and programs aimed at substantially reducing greenhouse
gases. Educate yourself on what proposals are being advanced. Make
sure they're going to do enough. If nothing else, just tell them to
do something - anything - to at least get the ball rolling.
Join or form your own discussion group on confronting global
warming. Here's one that's just getting started this month:
Form your own local group of concerned citizens active in preserving
the climate. Here's an example:
Now go tell a couple people about what your up to, and tell them to
tell two other people what they are up to, and ....