Arctic Sea Ice - Methane Release - Planetary Emergency
AMEG declares there now exists an extremely high international security risk* of acute climate disruption followed potentially by runaway global warming. The collapse of Arctic sea ice will change the reflective properties of the Arctic from 90% reflection of the sun’s rays to a 90% absorber of the sun’s energy. A vicious cycle of Arctic warming started between twenty and thirty years ago, when currents from the Atlantic and Pacific, warmed by greenhouse gases, carried their extra heat into the Arctic to initiate an accelerating decline in sea ice and increase in Arctic temperatures.
Extra heat has gone into the shallow seas over the continental shelf, warming them all the way to the seabed, with the potential of causing widespread destabilization of methane hydrates and free gas contained in the permafrost cap, and greatly enhancing global warming. Incidental reports of increasing marine methane emissions are ominous signs that this process has already started.
Rapid warming of the Arctic has already led to a disruption in the normal weather of the Northern Hemisphere, leading to widespread crop failures and societal disruptions which now threaten the existence of our civilization. This existential threat demands of us that we cooperate on an immediate emergency-scale response in order to cool the Arctic and save the sea ice. There was a dramatic collapse of the sea ice this summer, and without action this collapse will be complete in one to three years (by 2015).
The immediacy of this risk is underlined by the discovery that substantial areas of the continental shelf are already in critical condition as a result of the warming of the Arctic Ocean seabed. Increasingly large quantities of methane are being emitted. Moreover, there is the possibility of methane held as hydrates or under thawing permafrost being suddenly released in very large quantities due to a disturbance such as an earthquake. The quantities of methane in the continental shelf are so vast that a release of only one or two percent of this methane could lead to the release of the remaining methane in an unstoppable chain reaction. Global warming would spiral upward beyond the 2 degrees which many scientists consider the safety limit.
The immediacy of the threat has been even more strikingly underlined by the precipitous decline in food production this year, as rapid Arctic warming has disrupted the polar jet stream, producing weather extremes (floods, droughts) of increasing intensity and frequency. In September the World Bank issued a global hunger alert.
A defeatist attitude toward this extremely difficult and dangerous situation cannot be adopted. It is analogous to the Allied effort during World War II. We have the talent, skills and technology to win this battle.
It is imperative that Governments collaborate and adopt a plan of action for cooling the Arctic in order to halt the retreat of the Arctic sea ice and therefore slow the release of methane being emitted from the continental shelves. A variety of means of cooling the Arctic are available, some of which may be classed as geo-engineering. Governments should support the moratorium on drilling in the Arctic as urged by the UK Environment Audit Committee in their report “Protecting the Arctic” (September 2012).
Governments must also take rapid measures to reduce short-lived climate forcers, such as methane and black carbon (commonly known as soot), especially where emitted at high northern latitudes.
Furthermore, Governments must put in place the necessary monitoring procedures for assessing the situation, allowing accurate modelling and determining the effectiveness and safety of the measures taken.
Intervention on a large scale has to be accepted immediately in order to cool the Arctic and avert the ultimate catastrophe of runaway global warming. No amount of adaptation could make runaway global warming survivable. We call on all nations to come together in a cooperative effort to fight this existential threat. It is a moral duty to combat the destruction of the climate system -- in order to protect the lives of all the world’s inhabitants.
Note that AMEG calls for cooling of the Arctic as one of many efforts of a comprehensive plan to bring the atmosphere and oceans back towards their pre-industrial state, especially since such efforts reduce both immediate and longer-term risks arising from Arctic warming, sea ice retreat and methane release. AMEG is fully supportive of these efforts.
* Risk is taken to mean the ‘combination of the probability of an event and its consequences' (IPCC 2007, AR4 WG 3)
Arctic Methane: Why The Sea Ice Matters
Methane Hydrates: Hazard or Resource
Paul Beckwith at Ecoshock
Saving the Arctic Ice
Nathan Currier describes responses to the emergency in the Arctic in the post Saving the Arctic Ice: Greenpeace, Greenwashing and Geoengineering (#1), concluding that geoengineering will have to be part of the action.
AMEG issues policy brief
AMEG issues policy brief, urging immediate government action.