Arctice Methane Time Bomb And Emission Economy
By Omar Rashid Chowhdury
27 July, 2013
As the Arctic is agonized with thawing permafrost and a probable resultant release of methane with an economic cost the size of the 2012 global economy (1) a storm is likely brewing in both environmental and global economic offing. A largely unexplored reserve of methane resides within the binds of the Arctic permafrost. The sheer economic effect of the released methane can be both devastating and radical.
The Arctic was found, in a study by Eric Kort back in April 2012 as part of HIAPER Pole-to-Pole Observations (HIPPO) airborne campaign, to be emitting methane. The scenario even back then looked threatening. The methane level was about one-half percent larger than normal background levels, Korts team found during five HIPPO flights at low altitudes over the remote Arctic Ocean, north of Chukchi and Beaufort Seas from 2009 and 2010. They specified the source of the emission to be the ocean surface, through cracks in the Arctic sea ice and areas of partial sea ice cover. Seawater exposed through the cracks interacts with the air and allow the methane in the surface waters to escape in the atmosphere. (2)
Kort hinted biological production from living things in Arctic surface waters to be the culprit, and spoke of the possibility of increasing methane production as large areas of sea ice melt and expose more ocean water. "While the methane levels we detected weren't particularly large, the potential source region, the Arctic Ocean, is vast, so our finding could represent a noticeable new global source of methane," said Kort. "As Arctic sea ice cover continues to decline in a warming climate, this source of methane may well increase. It's important that we recognize the potential contribution from this source of methane to avoid falsely interpreting any changes observed in Arctic methane levels in the future." (3)
The prediction has now indeed come to be devastatingly true with unearthing of a $60 trillion economic cost of the emission below the East Siberian Sea, as said a commenting piece in the journal Nature. "The global impact of a warming Arctic is an economic time-bomb," said Whiteman, who is Professor of sustainability, management and climate change at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM). (4)
The study brings to notice significant economic and social impact of the Arctic methane release. Arguments for a warmer Arctic that generally center on easier oil and gas drilling, opening up of new commercial shipping routes and billion dollar investments meet a deep abyss as melting Arctic permafrost poses a far greater and deeper global impact with a $60 trillion tag.
Adding ocean acidification makes the scenario even bleaker. The Arctic, accounting for about 25 percent of the global net carbon sink, has the potential to change the world climate. It has been a carbon sink since the end of the last ice age. With world warming, the Arctic that once acted as a sink is now reverting into a source of carbon in atmosphere (5). Irony indeed!
But the irony does not conclude. In the face of a world economic crisis, the Arctic carbon crisis signifies the deeper conflicts and contradictions within the prevalent global system. The capital that plunders, pollutes, burns and blunders with the global resources and in the process jeopardizes the environment is trying desperately to shake off the crisis. Money in the name of ‘bail outs’ are being pumped in and meaner manacles of extortion in the name of ‘austerity measures’ are being forced upon the masses. The amount of money that has been extensively squandered to bail out Spain, Greece and Ireland could well be covered with the economic cost of the Arctic methane emission. But, it turns out those $60 trillion are, according to conventional economics, going to be a mere ‘loss’. The world wide crisis that capital is going through is only going to be intensified with this “development”.
Desertification, soil degradation, water scarcity are global problems. While it’s difficult to find money to face these problems a larger problem with price tag of $60 trillion is being created. Bloody wars that cost billions are fought while financial help for Syrian refugees is scarcely found, Palestinians desperately try to rejuvenate a dying economy, and millions suffer from AIDS, malnutrition and hunger. Millions still struggle in a world of illiteracy and ignorance. With $60 trillion funding schools and other educational programs and salaries of teachers can easily be assumed. Dire poverty reigns supreme in most parts of the world and real wages are getting reduced alarmingly. The same is with the issue of better source of nutrition for the children of the world. But the world property and distribution system is indifferent to these questions. It simply “creates” a $60 trillion ‘Pandora’s box’ with ‘promises’ of more hunger, scarcity, death and destruction.
Investments in food production, renewable resources, disaster forecast and control, education and agriculture that can practically save millions of lives could also be made with $60 trillion that is going to turn into mere trash at the cost of ecological, humane and resource damage. The world financial institutions are, broadly and fundamentally, indifferently ‘unaware’ of this looming crisis while these interests keep on preaching prescriptions of ‘prosperity’ and ‘poverty reduction’, and a part of it funds climate crisis denial game.
The Arctic methane emission may well be a slap in the face of climate crisis deniers. Those who even went as far as to claim positive economic results of a warm Arctic, may well have a tongue-bite with these recent data.
The Arctic emission crisis, primarily a product of the ever-increasing global warming process, has its roots into a desperate extraction and extortion effort by the dominant global system. The system has achieved mammoth technological advancements that surpass myth and imagination, generating an increasingly rapid, destructive and invading profit making process that conspires to conquer the whole world. In its wake this process has uncompromisingly polluted the world resources and environmental processes. It has expanded inexhaustibly and has resorted newer processes to create profit as more contradictions have surfaced to terminate the older ones. From manufacture it has resorted to financialization, speculation a part of its modus operandi, all the while indifferently destroying the ecology.
Although the system has been able to mitigate its ‘losses’ by resorting to more aggressive assaults on ecology and ecological processes and social resources, all the while creating dormant conditions that have increasingly limited the system’s capacity to mitigate these ‘losses’. Now the dormant conditions have finally begun to work in subtle ways, which naturalists term as nature’s reprisal. But it’s, the “output” that the humanity now finds, is a product of the global economic system.
The system that singularly runs for profit is now at a stage where it creates more loss and destruction than it profits. It’s its structural contradiction. As the basic forces driving and supporting the structure tend to act against each other the system desperately strives to invent and engage auxiliary forces. In its ‘endeavor’ the system creates more mayhem, as the hurriedly invented auxiliary mechanisms often act against the basic conditions for existence of the system. The Arctic methane emission crisis is a result of that global crisis of the prevalent system, as is the world financial crisis. Both crises have been generated in the womb of the system itself as manifestations of deepening contradictions within the system and are interconnected.
Economic impact of the emission in Arctic will be disturbing and deteriorating the conditions of existence of the system and the social structure that it has created. As always, those in the periphery will suffer the most. With the Arctic warming violent changes in the climate will be observed along with more frequent disasters. The tremors of trillions turning to trash will be felt worldwide.
As the periphery will suffer so will the center that depends on it. The center will find itself more at odds with itself as the world economy goes through recession with an addition of $60 trillion economic cost. The system will impose more desperate, destructive measures to come to terms with the crisis of its own making, which it will miserably fail to do.
The Arctic methane emission will have grave ramifications for the present system both in economic and societal terms. And that future may well be knocking at the doors.
(Omar Rashid Chowdhury is a student of Civil Engineering in Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology)
1. “Cost of Arctic Methane Release Could Be $60 Trillion, The ‘Size of Global Economy’ in 2012”, Countercurrents.org, 25 Jul. 2013
2. “Study finds surprising Arctic methane emission source”, NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory, ScienceDaily, 24 Apr. 2012. Web. 26 Jul. 2013
4. University of Cambridge (2013, July 24). Cost of Arctic methane release could be 'size of global economy', experts warn. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 25, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2013/07/130724134256.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=
5. Ecological Society of America (2009, October 15). “Arctic Has Potential To Alter Earth's Climate: Arctic Land And Seas Account For Up To 25 Percent Of World's Carbon Sink”. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 26, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2009/10/091014144729.htm
1. E. A. Kort, S. C. Wofsy, B. C. Daube, M. Diao, J. W. Elkins, R. S. Gao, E. J. Hintsa, D. F. Hurst, R. Jimenez, F. L. Moore, J. R. Spackman, M. A. Zondlo. Atmospheric observations of Arctic Ocean methane emissions up to 82° north. Nature Geoscience, 2012; DOI: 10.138/ngeo1452
2. Gail Whiteman, Chris Hope, Peter Wadhams. Climate science: Vast costs of Arctic change. Nature, 2013; 499 (7459): 401 DOI: 10.1038/499401a
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