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The Methane Time Bomb
And The Triple Meltdown

[Triple stands for: (1) ice sheets; (2) global economy; (3) trust in governments.]

By Andrew Glikson

10 October, 2008

Recent reports of enhanced methane (CH4) leaks off the eastern Siberian coast (about 100 times the background level of about 1780 parts per billion CH4) and off Svalbard (Norway) have been overshadowed in the media by the collapse of the global credit bubble.

At the root of both is a common thread, deregulation, including open-ended permits to pollute the atmosphere and the oceans, little-regulated financial systems and economic globalization, representing failure by governments to protect the life and welfare of their hapless populations.

None can come as a surprise.

For some time now, climate scientists warned that melting of subpolar permafrost and warming of the Arctic Sea (up to 4 degrees C during 2005–2008 relative to the 1951–1980) are likely to result in the dissociation of methane hydrates and the release of this powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere (methane: 62 times the infrared warming effect of CO2 over 20 years and 21 times over 100 years).

The amount of carbon stored in Arctic sediments and permafrost is estimated as 500–2500 Gigaton Carbon (GtC), as compared with the world’s total fossil fuel reserves estimated as 5000 GtC. Compare with the 700 GtC of the atmosphere, which regulate CO2 levels in the range of 180–300 parts per million and land temperatures in a range of about – 50 to + 50 degrees C, which allowed the evolution of warm blooded mammals.

The continuing use of the atmosphere as an open sewer for industrial pollution has already added some 305 GtC to the atmosphere together with land clearing and animal-emitted methane. This raised CO2 levels to 387 ppm CO2 to date, leading toward conditions which existed on Earth about 3 million years (Ma) ago (mid-Pliocene), when CO2 levels rose to about 400 ppm, temperatures to about 2–3 degrees C and sea levels by about 25 +/- 12 metres.

There is little evidence for a extinction at 3 Ma. However, by crossing above a CO2 level of 400 ppm the atmosphere is moving into uncharted territory. At this stage, enhanced methane leaks threaten climate events, such as the massive methane release and fauna extinction of55 million years ago, which was marked by rise of CO2 to near-1000 ppm.

There is little evidence in Garnauts Final Report that this possibility was taken seriously into account. Nor do the consequences of metres-scale sea level rise for a civilization hinged along deltas, low river valleys and coastlines appear to prevent governments and business from "business as usual" behavior.

The $700 billion donated by the US Congress to save corrupt financial dealers are required for fast-tracked conversion from polluting to clean energy utilities and vehicles. The trillions of dollars spent since WWII on bombing peasant populations in their fields in the name of democracy and freedom are needed for replanting deforested regions of the Earth.

The people need leaders who will place the life and future of humans and other species ahead of the three-years election cycle, oneswho will rise above the power game of vested interests and be prepared to lead civilization our of the morass in which it finds itself.

In Australia, Dietrich Bonhoeffer* is a "household" name since our PM, Kevin Rudd, is a great admirer of him. Leaders, who have the example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in mind, need to act accordingly.

Words in the absence of timely follow up in actions, as is exemplified by Bonhoeffer's efforts, can never be sufficient onto themselves. As such, their meaning is of likely negligible consequence and worth when any admiration, itself, leads to no constructive ends.

* 'Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born on February 4, 1906, in Breslau, Germany. He studied in student [days] in Tubingen, Berlin, and at Union Theological Seminary in New York. He became a college professor, a noted writer on theology, poet, musician and a Lutheran pastor. Although he was safe in London at the outbreak of the war, he returned to Germany to resist Nazism. Bonhoeffer's theologically rooted opposition to National Socialism first made him a leader, along with Martin Niemueller and Karl Barth, in the Confessing Church (bekennende Kirche), and an advocate on behalf of the Jews. His leadership in the anti-Nazi Confessing Church and his participation in the Abwehr resistance circle make his works a unique source for understanding the interaction of religion, politics, and culture among those few Christians who actively opposed National Socialism. Bonhoeffer was condemned for his involvement in "Operation 7," a rescue mission that had helped a small group of Jews over the German border and into Switzerland. He had also been involved in planning an unsuccessful assassination attempt on the life of Adolf Hitler. His participation in the murder plot conflicted with Bonhoeffer's position as a pacifist. He explained: "If I see a madman driving a car into a group of innocent bystanders, then I can't, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe and then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver." He was hanged in the concentration camp at Flossenbürg on April 9, 1945, at the age of 39, one month before the end of the war. He was one of four members of his immediate family to die at the hands of the Nazi regime for their participation in the small Protestant resistance movement. The letters [that] he wrote during these final two years of his life were posthumously published by his student and friend, Eberhard Bethge, as "Letters and Papers from Prison."' (This above biographic note was derived from:

Dr. Andrew Glikson is a Earth and paleo-climate research scientist at Australian National University. He spends much of his free time invested in efforts to address climate change issues in a timely fashion and can be contacted at

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