Whitley's Journal

The Methane Danger

This is a journal entry I hoped I would never have to write. For most of my career, I have been fighting to prevent this, to slow it down or at least to plan for it.

What is happening is that methane hydrates are melting in the Arctic Ocean and along the US Atlantic seaboard. The methane they are releasing is adding to that already pouring out of tundra in Siberia, Alaska and Canada.

While methane releases have been taking place for the past 10 years, there is no precedent for what is happening now, and it isn’t reflected in global warming models. If the melt of methane hydrates commences an exponential expansion, which is what previous interglacial climaxes suggest will happen, we are could be dealing within less than a generation with a situation that will not be survivable for civilization, and possibly even not for our species.

The reason for this is that the temperature spike that is going to take place will profoundly disrupt things like rainfall, growing seasons, and even the viability of the human body. Summer temperatures across southern China, central and southern India, the middle section of the United States, southern Europe and North Africa could reach into the 130s Fahrenheit. (Many other areas would also be affected, and there would be no part of the globe without very substantial temperature increases.)

This is not a livable temperature for human beings, not for long, and there is not a single global warming model that predicts this.

However, if a methane spike takes place, it will happen.

Now that it has started, the methane release will not stop. How fast it will build is anybody’s guess, but it will build.

It’s a great tragedy that the debate about this was between the left, which took the position that pollution was entirely the problem and the right, which claimed that there was no problem.

Sadly, the reality, which is that carbon dioxide emissions generated by human activity was dangerously speeding up a natural process, was never part of the debate at all.

The result of this is that we have wasted too much time, and now it’s too late. Whatever cards nature deals us, those are the cards we are going to have to play. Unfortunately, those are going to be some very ugly cards indeed.

The most immediate problem in the Americas is likely to be drought. The eastern Pacific has warmed to record levels, and unless tropical rains roll over the US southwest, it’s likely that the drought presently taking place there will not be relieved this winter. In that case, areas of California and Arizona are going to be without water. Should the drought continue for another year, which is far from impossible, it will become the greatest environmental catastrophe in American history.

Indeed, drought is going to be a problem in much of the world, as increasing temperatures intensify evaporation. For example, it’s likely that the drought in the western US will extend into the Midwest next year, resulting in crop disruptions that could become extensive and, ultimately, catastrophic.

The reason for all this is that methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas, twenty times more efficient at retaining heat than carbon dioxide. However, unlike carbon dioxide, methane dissipates in a relatively short period of time, with the result that, twenty or so years after the outgassing, the methane will be gone.

At that point, human activity will be far less than it is now, so we won’t be causing much in the way of emissions of any kind. When the methane dissipates, all of that retained heat will be released into space and there will come a year in which the snow cover in northern latitudes survives the summer. From then on, a substantial ice cover will begin to grow until it becomes a new glacier.

By that time, this civilization will be a distant memory, a legend, no doubt, of a golden age in which the future will find difficult to believe.
How I wish that it had been different. I feel that I could have done so much more, but I simply could not break through into the center of the debate, which was where I needed to be.

Now, planning no longer matters. It might help a little to reduce our CO2 emissions, but I would be surprised if it mattered all that much.
What we have done is to hasten the end of the interglacial during which our whole history has unfolded. Instead of planning for the inevitable, we have made it worse.

In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare has Puck say of the young Athenians, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

Oh, Puck, you were wiser than ever you dreamed.

it seems strange to me that none of the prophets down through the ages spoke about this.
Did they see the result of human trajectory as if we were left ONLY to our own accord?

But nature has its own plan for us.

I can feel and see it happening.
It will heat, and then freeze us to a stand still, and the few people left in the habitable places will be forced by mere circumstance, to seek life together as One. With no more borders and flags. No more monkey shit slinging.
Where will the great Jehovah and Allah be? Those demiurges will have not much left of their great creation to plot and fight over. Those beasts have sold us a fools dream.

We only ever have had each other and our own private, silent centers.
We are each mirrors of God.
Peace and Love to you all, brothers and sisters.
Help each other as much as you would help yourselves and family.
Create...and laugh much.


“Great ideas, it has been said, come into the world as gently as doves.

Perhaps then, if we listen attentively, we shall hear amid the uproar of

empires and nations, a faint flutter of wings, a gentle stirring of life and

hope.  Some will say that this hope lies in a nation; others in a person.  I

believe rather that it is awakened, revived, nourished by millions of

solitary individuals whose deeds and works every day negate the crudest

implications of history.  As a result, there shines forth fleetingly the

ever-threatened truth that each and every person, on the foundation of his

or her own sufferings and joys, builds for all.” 

                                    Albert Camus

I am in mourning. I was recently intuitively, just out of the blue, prompted to look up methane and quickly found the latest research results of a joint American/Russian/Swedish Arctic team this summer. They witnessed and documented massive outgassing of methane hydrates directly from the Leptev sea. One of the researchers in an interview from 2012 has a very revealing moment at the end of this clip. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kx1Jxk6kjbQ Her moment of revelation at about 8:12 scared me deeply and prompted me to look further. Methane's global warming potential is even worse than Whitley suggests. Initially, before it begins to breakdown (to 37% of its warming potential after 12 years) its global warming potential is not 20 times but 130 times that of CO2. In a catastrophic release, this is the only number that needs to be used to calculate methane's GWP. Let it in. 130 times that of CO2. That's the only number that will matter soon. The methane veil, the blanket of methane developing over the arctic, is growing and spreading south towards the equator at the rate of 1 kilometer a day. We have triggered 26 identifiable warming feedback loops in the Arctic so the chance that this next part will go slowly is really a pipe dream. We only need a release of 1% of the methane hydrates in the Arctic to reach the end of this train and there are thousands of gigatons available. The last time there was an ice age we could return to a hunter gatherer existence, but not this time. We've seen the releases from one nuclear disaster kill the pacific ocean in three years. When the ionizing radiation is released from thousands of abandoned nuclear power plants I am afraid Whitley, that there will be no pockets of life left anywhere. We are all in hospice now. Treat each other kindly. Forgive the fools who brought us to this point. Hope fervently that the coming massive irradiation of the planet doesn't lead to the destruction of life at the soul level as well.

This is a searing read. The question of predicting and preparing for climate change has always rightly been a scientific question, not a political one. But willful blindness, greed and ignorance prevented us from seeing the truth and prompted us to view the issue through the egomaniacal prism of modern politics. We may very well take to our graves the sneering and mocking comments on global warming those on the right have made for so long.

So what now? I can't think of a thing except to do my best to walk with God and create a state of joy within myself.

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