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Fri Feb 22, 2013, 09:03 AM

New Scientist - Major Methane Release Almost Inevitable - We're Likely A Few 10ths C Away

We are on the cusp of a tipping point in the climate. If the global climate warms another few tenths of a degree, a large expanse of the Siberian permafrost will start to melt uncontrollably. The result: a significant amount of extra greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere, and a threat ironically to the infrastructure that carries natural gas from Russia to Europe.

The Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the planet, and climatologists have long warned that this will cause positive feedbacks that will speed up climate change further. The region is home to enormous stores of organic carbon, mostly in the form of permafrost soils and icy clathrates that trap methane a powerful greenhouse gas that could escape into the atmosphere.

The Siberian permafrost is a particular danger. A large region called the Yedoma could undergo runaway decomposition once it starts to melt, because microbes in the soil would eat the carbon and produce heat, melting more soil and releasing ever more greenhouse gases. In short, the melting of Yedoma is a tipping point: once it starts, there may be no stopping it.

For the first time, we have an indication of when this could start happening. Anton Vaks of the University of Oxford in the UK and colleagues have reconstructed the history of the Siberian permafrost going back 500,000 years. We already know how global temperatures have risen and fallen as ice sheets have advanced and retreated, so Vaks's team's record of changing permafrost gives an indication of how sensitive it is to changing temperatures.

EDIT

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23205-major-methane-release-is-almost-inevitable.html

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Reply New Scientist - Major Methane Release Almost Inevitable - We're Likely A Few 10ths C Away (Original post)
hatrack Feb 2013 OP
Demeter Feb 2013 #1
hatrack Feb 2013 #2
phantom power Feb 2013 #3
hatrack Feb 2013 #7
GliderGuider Feb 2013 #4
phantom power Feb 2013 #5
GliderGuider Feb 2013 #9
phantom power Feb 2013 #11
GliderGuider Feb 2013 #12
mcranor Feb 2013 #15
CRH Feb 2013 #23
GliderGuider Feb 2013 #29
zeemike Feb 2013 #13
GliderGuider Feb 2013 #14
zeemike Feb 2013 #17
GliderGuider Feb 2013 #18
GliderGuider Feb 2013 #19
zeemike Feb 2013 #20
GliderGuider Feb 2013 #21
zeemike Feb 2013 #22
GliderGuider Feb 2013 #25
zeemike Feb 2013 #34
GliderGuider Feb 2013 #35
joshcryer Feb 2013 #27
GliderGuider Feb 2013 #30
joshcryer Feb 2013 #31
GliderGuider Feb 2013 #32
Javaman Feb 2013 #6
Bernardo de La Paz Feb 2013 #8
austinlw Feb 2013 #10
Exultant Democracy Feb 2013 #16
pscot Feb 2013 #24
Exultant Democracy Feb 2013 #26
pscot Feb 2013 #33
joshcryer Feb 2013 #28

Response to hatrack (Original post)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 09:07 AM

1. Not to mention the possibility of Fireballs

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Response to Demeter (Reply #1)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 09:11 AM

2. Oooh! Aaah!

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Response to hatrack (Original post)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 09:38 AM

3. ...


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Response to phantom power (Reply #3)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 11:01 AM

7. "May stick to certain types of planets"

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Response to hatrack (Original post)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 10:35 AM

4. Unfortunately the time we might have been able to address this was 50 years or more ago.

Now we're limited to tracking the changes and predicting with ever-increasing accuracy how soon the shit is going to hit the fan.

Unfortunately, there is literally no way we could have prevented this. Global culture and the state of the science didn't permit it. Even in the presence of improving science, global culture is loathe to slow down its ever-increasing growth - which is the only thing that would help.

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Response to GliderGuider (Reply #4)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 10:46 AM

5. excuse my tangent...

but what is it that self organizing principles govern the shape of?

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Response to phantom power (Reply #5)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 11:40 AM

9. Pretty much everything.

Last edited Fri Feb 22, 2013, 12:39 PM - Edit history (7)

In 1975 the American ecologist Howard T. Odum presented a natural principle that he called the Maximum Power Principle (MPP), that governs the structure and development of all open, self-organizing systems. In his book Environment, Power, and Society for the Twenty-First Century: The Hierarchy of Energy he showed how this principle governs the development of thunderstorms and the structures of river systems, as well as the shape of human societies.

For living systems, including human ones, everything begins with the energy-seeking behavior that's essential to all life. The MPP governs the nature of that behavior (given the environment and the energy sources of the organism) and feeds the fitness criteria so that natural selection determines the evolutionary outcome. In bald terms, organisms that use the most energy most effectively prevail over those that do less well.

Through natural selection the MPP gets encoded at the base of the genome, but it's really more of a structural principle than a genetic driver per se. As the organism evolves, the expression of its energy-seeking patterns evolve as well, to ensure the optimum efficiency at producing power. This has natural consequences, such as the development of hierarchies (which are not simple human failings, pace anarchists).

Our evolutionary development of conscious awareness, abstract thought and strong problem-solving ability was done in the context of these structural principles of energy-seeking and power maximization. As a result, our cultures also developed within this framework, which operates throughout the human experience at a level we can barely recognize.

This is why the genius anthropologist Marvin Harris correctly recognized that human culture is primarily driven from the bottom up rather than the top down. The environment and the technology that directly implements energy-seeking and the MPP forms the basis for our culture. Most of our social structures, thoughts, values and beliefs are formed in response to that basic physical level. They either support it, as in our economic, political, and educational systems, or they rationalize it through our values and beliefs. Our thoughts arise in the context of the energy and resource pathways that are available, and are largely directed toward promoting supportive beliefs, values and practices. (This is a very hard thing for those steeped in the traditions of humanism to accept.)

Natural selection operates at the cultural level as well as the level of the organism. This is why, for instance, capitalism won out over communism - not because it is a more humane system, but because it represents a more efficient approach to maximizing power. It's why agriculture superseded hunting and foraging. It's also why we have constantly increasing levels of hierarchy. Hierarchic systems are more effective than egalitarian systems at controlling the increasingly complex processes that are required to transform large amounts of energy into work.

And it's why we have climate change deniers and no progress on CO2 reduction. It's not because people are evil, it's because addressing climate change would require us to immediately reduce our use of fossil fuels. Such a reduction represents an energy devolution that is antithetical to the principle at very foundations of the human organism, and as a result to our culture that evolved from the same principle.

It also explains why we drive towards energy efficiency the way we do. Efficiency improvement represents an improvement in the amount of work that can be done in a unit of time with a unit of energy - i.e. power. The MPP drives us always toward maximizing it (hence its name). It also explains why efficiency improvements never cut our energy consumption - life always strives to use more energy more effectively in order to ensure its survival.

So basically the MPP plays a role in every self-organizing system, whether human or not. That's why I use the analogy between the MPP and gravity. The MPP is a fundamental force on the same level as gravity, and with the same pervasive influence on how things develop.

And in the end it means we will not be able to avoid eating the rest of the planet. The desires of environmentalists like Amory Lovins and Lester Brown, the resistance of deep green activists like Derrick Jensen and Edward Abbey, or the walking-away of the "new story" crowd like Daniel Quinn and Paul Kingsnorth - they amount to farting in a hurricane. Not even an encounter with physical limits will stop us from fulfilling this thermodynamic destiny. The Maximum Power Principle will keep working even in the presence of rising pollution, unfolding climate change, and growing food and resource shortages - just like gravity.

Is that understandable?

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Response to GliderGuider (Reply #9)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 11:52 AM

11. no, I mean you are missing a word in your sig line

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Response to phantom power (Reply #11)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 11:54 AM

12. D'oh!

Fixed it. I'd still be interested in your take on what I wrote...

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Response to GliderGuider (Reply #9)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 12:06 PM

15. "Is that understandable?"

Yes!! Very clear and useful exposition of some VERY important principles. Thanks for the effort.

mc

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Response to GliderGuider (Reply #9)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 07:39 PM

23. Question, ... do you consider energy seeking behavior, ...

to be gratuitous consumption for pleasure? Because that is what I see from the 'first world', rather than some instinctual need? A person can get as scientific as they want with natural selection, personal desire for excessive comfort does not equate to natural anything. We are what we are because we are obsessive, and out of control.

I can use the most energy to grow food, build dwellings, or create communal wealth. Or I can use it for my own gratification, my castle, at your detriment. I see it as more a spiritual, or lack there of, choice. Certainly not instinctual, unless humans are not worth saving.

Just my thoughts, nothing personal.

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Response to CRH (Reply #23)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 08:26 PM

29. No, it's everything from gathering wood for a fire to planting vegetables and smelting iron.

The excesses you see as "gratuitous", I see as simply the way the system works when it has this much energy at its disposal. I don't think this general behavior is under the control of our morality, spirituality, free will, or anything else. It's a system output, but we don't understand how the system is built - we don't understand what its "goals and values" are, so we assume they should be something like our own personal goals and values .

As individuals, we can choose not to participate, but when you start talking about big groups like countries, or systems like large-scale trade based on the abstraction of money - or even civilization itself - our personal values get overridden by group needs and desires, that reflect more closely the underlying "goals and values" of the system structure - the MPP. Those are beyond the reach of value judgments or cherished humanist shibboleths like "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity."

As individuals, the best thing we can do is put our own personal house in order.

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Response to GliderGuider (Reply #4)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 11:55 AM

13. And we could have addressed it then, if it were not for fear of change.

In 1969 I read a serious proposal to create a mas transit system that would not only make the auto obsolete as well as most air travel....and it was not a pie in the sky dream but a possibility then to do it....and that system would have reduced our consumption of oil dramatically...as well as eliminating auto deaths and traffic accidents.

But lets face it, The auto makers and the oil companies as well as all assorted industry was against such a thing and would make sure no proposal like that would ever see the light of day.
When profit is the sole motive for doing things not much will change.

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Response to zeemike (Reply #13)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 11:57 AM

14. Actually, we couldn't have.

See my post #9, above for the reason.
http://www.democraticunderground.com/112736975#post9

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Response to GliderGuider (Reply #14)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 02:39 PM

17. While that is an interesting observation.

I do not feel we are chained down by evolution...we have the power to think and act rationally.
I suggest that if we had taught our children to respect and follow science and rational decision making we could have built a mass transit system of the 21st century in the 60 and 70s and would now be using no imported energy.
It is because we look fro reasons to not act and think rationally that we have this problem...and evolution is just one way to explain it away....Darwin made me do it.
Nope, my contention still stands, greed and self interest keeps us from change, not evolution.

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Response to zeemike (Reply #17)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 02:54 PM

18. This is why I say that people steeped in humanism will have a very hard time with the idea.

Thanks for demonstrating my point.

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Response to GliderGuider (Reply #18)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 03:11 PM

19. Actually, I'll walk that back a bit. Almost everybody will have a hard time with it. nt

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Response to GliderGuider (Reply #19)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 05:02 PM

20. I understand it.

I just think it is one of those things, like if you learn to use a hammer you think everything is a nail.

No doubt natural selection has a part in everything, but to say it is set in stone and that everything is due to it strikes me as a narrow view of our world.
There are some of us that are driven by power and they do tend to rule, but that does not have to be how it is....people can break away from that kind of thinking...and we will have to, or we will not survive.

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Response to zeemike (Reply #20)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 05:53 PM

21. As you say,

"that does not have to be how it is....people can break away from that kind of thinking...and we will have to, or we will not survive."

"That does not have to be how it is" - Is that an expression of fact? I know we all wish that.

"people can break away from that kind of thinking" - Individuals can, but groupthink and social organization makes it quite hard for large groups to "break away". The rest of the system tends to treat them as heretics or infectious agents.

"we will have to, or we will not survive" - Yes, that is probably true, at least in some sense.

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Response to GliderGuider (Reply #21)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 06:45 PM

22. First it is the individuals, then it is society.

That is how all change happens.
But I have no illusions that it will be easy, and frankly I suppose I will never live to see it...and even then it will probably take a disaster to make it happen.
and if it happens it will be the young that will make it so...my generation lost the struggle to greed and self interest.

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Response to zeemike (Reply #22)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 08:13 PM

25. That's the fundamental misperception of how change happens.

We tend to believe that "wise men" (or strong men, or foolish men) lead, and eventually if they are right (or strong enough, or just lucky), things change.

I thought that way since I was born and raised by progressive, humanist, engaged, caring socialist parents. Then I noticed that the world didn't actually seem to work that way. Sometimes "good" people led the change, and often "bad" people led it. But the world seemed to march to its own drummer. Often the leaders, whether good or bad, wise or venal, simply reflected broader changes already happening in society. So I started turning over stones looking for why that happened. This is what I've found.

I no longer think that's the way change happens. What makes the most sense to me in terms of what I've observed about social change is this: Most change of the kind we're talking about doesn't happen in society's head, or its heart. I happens down in the guts, where society digests its food. It happens not at the level of thoughts or emotions, but at the level of raw feelings like hunger - hunger for better food, for a faster car, a better job, a better mate, hunger for acknowledgment and excitement, hunger for power - hunger for more.

Yes there is greed here, but we have to own it - greed is the value judgment we lay onto hunger. Greed isn't just the affliction of the men in mahogany boardrooms - they are simply the purest expression of the hunger we all feel. They are as trapped by the system I've identified as any of us who feel we are their wage slaves.

So let's say we do try and own our own hunger - what do we do then? This is where the power of the individual comes into its own. If I recognize those cravings in myself, then instead of projecting them angrily or sadly out onto those men in the boardrooms, I can learn to say, "Enough." I can recognize the consequences of satisfying my own hunger, and decline to play that game. I may not be able to turn 7 billion people aside from this path of hunger-ruin, but I can step off that path myself. I can tell others what I've done. And some of them may follow. Not a lot, it will never be a lot. But perhaps enough for right now, for right here. It's all I can do.

Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can. And the more you know about where you are and what you have, the more you can do.

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Response to GliderGuider (Reply #25)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 10:00 PM

34. Well that is an interesting perspective.

And you are not wrong in your observation, just that what you are observing is life out of balance...
The Hopi word for that is Koyaanisqatsi which is what you are seeing when you see people with the hunger as you put it.
There is nothing wrong with hunger it is there for a reason...but when you let that hunger dominate your life your life is out of balance...and the same is true of civilizations.
Our civilization is out of balance, and if balance is not restored it will fall of it's own weight.

But you are right, we must own it, and we must make our actions speak instead of our words.

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Response to zeemike (Reply #34)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 10:06 PM

35. I agree, this is Koyaanisqatsi.

But if we are to restore the balance, we need to know how it got this way. Assigning blame may not be a useful investigative tool, especially if the source of the imbalance is a force we didn't even know was in play.

Thanks.

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Response to GliderGuider (Reply #4)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 08:24 PM

27. We could've maybe done it 20 years ago.

But it would've required a Manhattan Project level of action. Across the entire planet. Basically stunting economic growth for twenty years straight.

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Response to joshcryer (Reply #27)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 08:29 PM

30. It might have been physically possible 20 years ago.

But could we have done it in the broadest sense of "could"? I don't think so, because we didn't.

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Response to GliderGuider (Reply #30)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 08:43 PM

31. We humans tend to usually act in response to catastrophe.

Not usually to prevent it. The Japanese tsunami comes to mind. Out of all the cities only one was prepared for it. And the guy who managed to actually get something done before he died was laughed at and mocked for preparedness.

There are areas where we are active at prevention, preventing disease, viruses, plagues, health care and the like, but those only exacerbate the problem since populations can, because of said innovations, prosper and grow.

Whether we could have done it? Preposterous. No, no fucking way in fucking hell. Maybe if some aliens descended from the skies and said we're fucking up our planet and we better get our shit together or they're going to enslave us or something... like I said, preposterous. Odds are infinitesimal.

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Response to joshcryer (Reply #31)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 09:27 PM

32. Yep, that's the way it works.

Do you know about Donella Meadows' Twelve Leverage Points to intervene in a system?

She started with the observation that there are levers, or places within a complex system (such as a firm, a city, an economy, a living being, an ecosystem, an ecoregion) where a "small shift in one thing can produce big changes in everything".

She said most people know where these points are instinctively, but tend to adjust them in the wrong direction...

However, she also felt that "this understanding would help solve global problems such as unemployment, hunger, economic stagnation, pollution, resources depletion, and conservation issues." From my new perspective, that's not necessarily (or even probably) true for the civilization-scale system I'm talking about. The more successful we are at pushing its levers, the more the system will tend to grow.

Growth is the system's imperative, not what's best for us as individuals or for life in general. Although there are a lot of people on the planet who will disagree with that statement, including a lot right here on DU.


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Response to hatrack (Original post)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 10:59 AM

6. Foom! nt

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Response to hatrack (Original post)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 11:31 AM

8. Election meltdown small potatoes?


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Response to hatrack (Original post)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 11:43 AM

10. If all this methane is released in the arctic

the earth may start smelling like a broken Carnival ship.

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Response to hatrack (Original post)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 02:26 PM

16. My guess is that we start playing fast and loose with geo-engineering before it happens.

Global warming probably won't kill us, I'm more afraid of the bootleg last moment cure we are almost certain to attempt.

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Response to Exultant Democracy (Reply #16)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 07:46 PM

24. I think it's easy to mis-underestimate

The potential of 3 or 4 degrees C of warming. No humans have ever experienced the temperatures we're likely to encounter in the next 50 or 100 years.

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Response to pscot (Reply #24)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 08:23 PM

26. I think you entierly missed my point, it's just not going to be allowed to happen we will cheat.

Of course 3-4 degrees of warming is terrible everyone agrees with that.

My point is that there is a lot of energy going into Geo-engineering right now. We have a team in England that has proof of concept for a technique to inject sulfur into the atmosphere. If that or something else smart doesn't pan out you can bet the Chinese or Russians will start setting off volcanoes. It won't be pretty, but its the cure I worry about with this one.

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Response to Exultant Democracy (Reply #26)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 09:29 PM

33. That's the point I was responding to

The prognosis is so horrific that heroic measures are probably justified. Chemo and radiation harrow the body, but without them, painful death is assured. If we do nothing, I believe we face a bleak, and brief, future.

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Response to Exultant Democracy (Reply #16)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 08:26 PM

28. Geoengineering will only happen as a response to AGW.

Not as a stop-gap. The methane will release, the arctic sea ice will be gone, massive decadal droughts will occur. That's what you need before we do geoengineering.

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