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Hullabaloo


Friday, February 22, 2013

 
The ticking carbon bomb will explode soon

by David Atkins

While most of Washington obsesses over which grandmothers and minimum wage workers the nation will place on a cat food diet in order to please David Brooks, the Confidence Fairies and Bond Overlords, a ticking time bomb is about to explode in the permafrost:

Nearly a quarter of the Northern Hemisphere’s land surface is covered in permanently frozen soil, or permafrost, which is filled with carbon-rich plant debris — enough to double the amount of heat-trapping carbon in the atmosphere if the permafrost all melted and the organic matter decomposed.

According to a paper published Thursday in Science, that melting could come sooner, and be more widespread, than experts previously believed. If global average temperature were to rise another 2.5°F (1.5°C), say earth scientist Anton Vaks of Oxford University, and an international team of collaborators, permafrost across much of northern Canada and Siberia could start to weaken and decay. And since climate scientists project at least that much warming by the middle of the 21st century, global warming could begin to accelerate as a result, in what’s known as a feedback mechanism.

What happens when the permafrost bomb explodes, guaranteeing a 4 degree Celsius rise in global temperatures? This:

A 4C rise in the planet's temperature would see severe droughts across the world and millions of migrants seeking refuge as their food supplies collapse...

"Drought and desertification would be widespread ... There would be a need to shift agricultural cropping to new areas, impinging on [wild] ecosystems. Large-scale adaptation to sea-level rise would be necessary. Human and natural systems would be subject to increasing levels of agricultural pests and diseases, and increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events..."

"This world would also rapidly be losing its ecosystem services, owing to large losses in biodiversity, forests, coastal wetlands, mangroves and saltmarshes [and] an acidified and potentially dysfunctional marine ecosystem. In such a 4C world, the limits for human adaptation are likely to be exceeded in many parts of the world."
Kevin Anderson, one of the lead scientists for the Royal Society Journal report, put it this way:

"A 4 degrees C future is incompatible with an organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and has a high probability of not being stable.” Double whee!
But that's not all. Once the 4C threshold is hit, the feedback loops involved almost certainly guarantee even more warming, leading to even more instability, migrations, war (possibly nuclear), food and water shortages, and utter economic collapse.

America's budget deficit is simply not a problem by contrast. Insofar as an improving economy doesn't eliminate the deficit on its own, any lingering issues can solved very simply. Raising the payroll tax cap funds Social Security into the forseeable future. Enacting the People's Budget easily resolves the rest. Fixing the deficit without slashing Medicare and Medicaid would simply be a matter of political will, much more easily accomplished after 2022 when the ultra-conservative rump of old white Republicans will no longer have the demographic or representative power to block needed changes.

But failing to defuse the climate bomb has much more catastrophic consequences that mere human decisions will likely be unable to fix. Once the climate hits the 4C threshold, there will likely be no political will on earth able to stop it. It will be too late.

Our generation certainly faces a moral crisis. But that moral crisis has nothing to do with the deficit.


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