Warming Is Being
By John James
03 February, 2007
“One of the hardest
tasks we face in life is to be the bearer of seriously bad news …
I now have to bring the worst of news … that civilisation is in
James Lovelock, The
Revenge of Gaia.
number of simply gigantic reserves of greenhouse gasses that nature
has stored for our benefit are now beginning to flood back into the
atmosphere, as described in www.planetextinction.com.
In addition to what nature
gives back to us, our own greenhouse pollution has almost doubled since
2001. There are a number of major natural sources, besides our own.
We are beginning to have some idea of the total on the planet, but the
speed at which these ancient stores will be released is still completely
Scientists have made estimates,
and we will list them here. However, though we don't know exactly when,
it is absolutely certain that much of this material will be released
during this century.
The totals are given at the
end of this article, but first we need to “warm you up”
a little. We need to discuss Siberia and Alaska, the Amazon, Indonesia
and the deep oceans before we get to the totals.
The numbers given in journals
can be very confusing. People use many units in describing these things:
we shall use billion metric tonnes for mass [Bts] and CO2-e for the
carbon dioxide equivalent of all greenhouse gasses combined, including
methane, and fluorocarbons with increasingly powerful impacts. Water
vapour in the stratosphere is not included, though the amount has been
Changing personal behaviour
does matter: political action will matter more !
The frozen bogs of Siberia are melting
There are two gigantic stores
of carbon held in arctic soils, in the permafrost and in largely organic
material called Yedoma. Together they have held 950 Bts of carbon and
methane for tens of thousands of years. If converted into gas it would
equal 3,500 Bts of CO2-e. Humans at this moment emit merely 1¼%
of that in a year. [Katey Walter et al, Nature 443, 71-75, 7 September
Because southern Siberia
is heating faster than any other part of the planet - some 4 degrees
C last year - the arctic and sub-arctic ecosystems have only recently
turned into a source of greenhouse gasses instead of continuing to be
As every increase in greenhouse
gas leads to further burping, the summer of 2006 saw an area larger
than France and Germany combined beginning to "boil" furiously
[Freeman, Nature, 2006, 430, 195].
The year before, Walter found
that the amount being released was 3.8 million tons, or five times the
previous estimate. As a tonne of methane warms the planet's atmosphere
21 times as much as the same amount of CO2, this is equivalent to 80
million tons of CO2-e emitted in 2005. And this was from one part of
We would expect that last
year’s boiling would have increased that figure, and the promised
“super-summer” this year will extract even more. We should
therefore expect that the higher the temperature gets, the more permafrost
will melt, the more it will become a vicious heating cycle.
Before Katie Walter's report,
Lord Stern estimated that quite soon methane emissions could be 10 Bts
of CO2-e a year. That is a tremendous amount of global warming when
it is believed that even a couple of billion tons of methane a year
would be catastrophic. [Strern, The Economics of Climate Change, 2006]
Some 55 million years ago
1,000 Bts of methane were suddenly and mysteriously released from frozen
stores on the seabed. This caused global temperatures to soar 10 degrees
C, causing an immediate mass extinction of species.
“The great party
of the twentieth century is coming to an end.”James
But massive and immediate action by governments can save our Earth
The Amazon rainforest
and El Nino
Though last year's El Nino
was not as strong as in 1997 and 1998, its combination with the steady
increase of temperatures is likely to make 2007 the world's hottest
year ever recorded [Britain's Meteorological Office]. Last year the
average temperature in Britain was higher than at any time since records
began in 1659.
It is significant that even
a moderate warming event today is enough to push the global temperatures
over the top.
The signs are all around
us: Little winter snow in the Alps, continuing droughts in Africa and
Australia, glaciers melting faster than at any time in the past 5,000
years, disappearing Arctic sea ice while Greenland slides into the sea.
In the Amazon the higher
temperatures are forcing the trees to get bigger, and they are being
fertilised by excess atmospheric CO2. The whole forest could be absorbing
2 billion tons of carbon per year, which is added on to the 430 Bts
of CO2-e that is already stored there. This is not entirely a good thing.
The greatest danger to the
Amazon during the coming northern summer is that a strong El Nino denies
rain to the forest. It is already suffering from a two-year drought
when rivers dried up and wildfires burned large areas. Experiments showed
that the Amazon cannot withstand more than two consecutive years of
drought without breaking down, because the trees can no longer put water
vapour into the air. It has just experienced its second year, and if
that continues this year an unstoppable cycle will have begun.
The crucial factor determining
the development of a rain forest is the length of the wet season. In
the Amazon it lasts 8 months, and during the rest of the year remains
wet enough to prevent fire. But the nearby savannah has a shorter wet
season and catches fire every five years or so, destroying most of the
vegetation and preventing the savannah recreating itself as a rainforest.
If this year's dry season
becomes longer then the forest would start to dry out, collapse and
burn. It would not then be able to re-establish itself and would turn
into savannah. It has been estimated that burning could release up to
30 Bts of CO2-e in a matter of weeks. [Woods Hole Research Center, Frank
Merry et al, Science 21 March 2003, 299, 1843]
The Amazon is already in
a vulnerable state. Seventeen percent has already been cleared for soya
bean production. Models show that when more than 30 percent is lost,
its rain-making system could destabilise and the land will irreversibly
turn into savannah.
To this must be added logging
and other deforestation everywhere. This contributes about 7.5 Bts per
year – a figure that would be readily doubled when the Amazon
forest falls over. And these higher emissions would then continue to
heat us up every year.
“The saddest thing
is that Gaia will lose more than we do. Not only will wildlife and whole
ecosystems go extinct, but the planet will lose a precious resource:
human civilisation. We are, through our intelligence and communication,
the nervous system of the planet.”
Transform our thinking and agendas - politically put the Earth first
from South-East Asia
Monsoon rains will diminish
as global temperatures continue to rise. Not only was 2006 one of Indonesia’s
driest on record, a climate model indicates there will be prolonged
and severe droughts in the future. [Nerilie Abram et al, Nature 445,
299-302, 18 January 2007]
That would devastate the
country's tropical agriculture and spark more haze-producing wildfires
each year. Fires in South-east Asia peat lands were some of the worst
in the late 90s and 2002. In each year over 1.5 to 2.2 million hectares
of peatland burned in Sumatra and Kalimantan. The emissions were between
3 and 9.4 Bts of CO2-e each year.
This shows what a huge impact
comes from fires of all sorts.
In addition land clearing
causes the oxidation of peatland top soil. This then emits about 65
tonnes of CO2 per hectare per year. Currently, millions of hectares
of peatlands are drained and are decomposing in Indonesia and Malaysia.
Together these have produced annual emissions of 2 Bts tonnes CO2-e,
most of it from fires [Wetlands International and Delft Hydraulics].
This is more than all the
emissions from India or Russia, and almost three times the German emissions.
If peatland emissions are included in the national audit, Indonesia
is the third-largest greenhouse polluter in the world.
“Unless we now start
preparing our survival kit we will soon be just another species eking
out an existence in the few remaining habitable regions.” James
When everyone gets active politically, politicians will change their
Carbon held in the
Most studies suggest that
oceanic gas hydrates hold about 10,000 Bts. Considering that our atmosphere
contains about 700 Bts of carbon, even relatively small emissions from
the seas would have a major impact on temperatures. [Nisbet, Nature,
347 23, September 1990].
This carbon pool is extremely
sensitive to small changes in deep-ocean temperature and sea levels.
Thus, in the past, gas hydrates may have destabilized, releasing methane
into the atmosphere through gas bubbles rising rapidly through the water
column or gas hydrates floating to the surface. A fraction of those
hydrates are located in shallow water, where the heat from global warming
will be felt soonest.
In 2005, researchers from
the Scripps Institution of Oceanography found clear evidence the top
half-mile of the ocean has warmed dramatically in the past forty years.
A more recent study by the National Centre for Atmospheric Research
found ocean temperatures in the tropical North Atlantic more than one
degree C above normal; this turned out to be the predominant catalyst
for the monstrous 2005 hurricane season – Katerina was the most
violent ever recorded.
Phytoplankton is the basis
of the entire marine food chain. It absorbs CO2. But the warming ocean
restricts rising nutrients, and this has reduced plankton activity up
to 30%. This means that the amount of CO2 being absorbed decreases.
Meantime most fish stocks are declining, mainly from acidification caused
by carbon. Therefore the overall ability of marine life to sequester
carbon is reduced. Acid is accumulating 100 times faster than at any
time for millions of years.
Arctic ice-melt and the now
rapid collapse of the Greenland glaciers are all contributing to the
heating of the oceans. The July issue of the Journal of Climate reported
trials on eleven computer models of the complex climate-carbon cycle.
All agreed that as the world heats, the oceans and the land become net
Guy Kirk of the National
Soil Resources Institute found that the soil of Britain is releasing
more CO2 into the atmosphere than a quarter of a century ago because
increasing temperatures are speeding up the rate of organic decay. He
estimates that Britain's soil has been releasing 13 million tons of
CO2 a year.
If we multiply this by the
total world agricultural land area less a factor for being conservative,
and jump this process forward a few years, we estimate that quite soon
the earth’s soils will be releasing 13 Bts a year, or one third
of all our human emissions.
“Mankind has declared
war on Gaia.” James Lovelock
The sleeping US giant
is waking up ! When she does, success will be possible !
“Hope is the thing
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without words
And never stops at all.”
Possible world emissions by 2010 – in only 4 years
Chinese coal power stations
are being erected at one per week. China’s emissions will increase
from 4.9 Bts in 2000 to 7.5 Bts or more in 2010. China will then be
the largest greenhouse emitter in the world.
On present rate of global
pollution, plus China, world emissions will increase from 42 Bts in
2000 to well over 48 Bts in 2010 – mainly from energy production.
[Strern, The Economics of Climate Change, 2006]
This is well known. But in
addition we have to include the triggering points that have the potential
to release enormous quantities of emissions into the atmosphere. These
· Siberian permafrost
methane burping estimate – 10 Bts a year, or greater.
· Soils returning
CO2 rather than being a sink - 13 Bts a year.
· Burning the Amazon
could release billions of tons of CO2-e in a matter of weeks. Assuming
one third of the Amazon forest dries out and begins to burn –
· Current logging
and burning in Indonesian peatlands – 7.5 Bts at least. One large
fire could double that.
· Allowing for higher
ocean temperatures, 2010 could see a huge level of methane emissions
from the depths.
Together these could easily
double human greenhouse emissions over the next few years.
This means that a 5 degree global temperature rise is possible –
with all its awesome consequences.
Since current emissions of
42 Bts per year CO2-e have already increased the average world temperature
by 0.78 degrees C and the oceans by 0.45 degrees, a doubling of that
rate over just a few years would have the most profound impact. [US
national Climate Data Center]
Another way of putting it,
for every ten Bts of CO2-e released, the number of particles per million
[ppm] in the atmosphere increase by 30. Releasing even a conservative
70 Bts extra over the next 3 years would shoot us up from 425 ppm (includes
methane etc) to well over 600 ppm.
Whether this happens in three
years or twenty, we are headed for over 600 ppm in the atmosphere and
straight into an unstoppable 5 degree average global temperature rise.
[IPCC report March 2006] Lovelock’s Revenge of Gaia will have
arrived in earnest.
And this does not take into
account the flywheel effect of CO2 emitted but not yet in a position
to affect global heating, an delay that would in time add a further
70 ppm. And on top of that the aerosol haze layer that shields the earth
would disappear in a few days adding a further degree or two.
This level of warming would
literally burn-up whole agricultural regions into dust, causing famine,
anarchy, diseases, and war on a colossal global scale. Billions of people
I write this not to scare you, but to WAKE YOU UP ! Stop waiting for
the others !
“If you want to know the past, examine how you are today.
If you want to know the future, examine your present actions”
All this is possible. Not
necessarily in four years, but certainly during the next few decades
we will be in the midst of an unstoppable warming sprint in which all
the dire outcomes described on the www.planetextinction.com site will
be ours to share with our children.
This is serious – and
urgent. Either we act now to prevent even the possibility of this happening,
or we abandon the society and culture that nurtures us, and the hopes
of our children whom we hoped to nurture.
“We should not let
our fears stop us from pursuing our hopes or our dreams.” John
Personal web page www.johnjames.com.au
Therapy web page www.cruciblecentre.com
Crisis Coalition web page www.planetextinction.com
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