So many people want so badly to believe either that there is nothing unusual about the weather, or at least that climate change is part of a cycle that we cannot do anything to affect. They have been comforted by lying talk show hosts and politicians who are backed by numerous companies foolishly dedicated to protecting their current profits rather than spending even a penny to insure their–and our–future survival. However, the era of climate change denial is about over, because reality is in the process of revealing these liars for what they are. Of course, skilled spin artists are always able to wriggle out of their lies, so I suppose they will continue to have a following no matter what.
In 1985, when I first started warning about climate change in Nature’s End, there was plenty of time for us to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and there was initially a lot of public support. But that support was steadily eroded by the money of the deniers and their mouthpieces in the talk show industry.
That’s a shame, because it is hardly conservative to be tempting nature like this. These ‘conservatives’ are about to completely change our world, and not in ways that they or anybody else would want.
Why do I know this? There are two reasons: first, there is a growing mass of fresh water in the arctic ocean that is there because of polar melt from last summer and the summer before; second, massive methane release took place all across the arctic last summer, and is going to occur again this summer. These are the two most important elements of sudden climate change, which we know from reading ice cores that chronicle other periods of climate change.
So, surely that must mean that the second level of climate change denial is correct: sure, it’s happening, but it’s a natural cycle. Nothing we can do about that. The subtext, of course, is that companies like Exon don’t need to spend a penny trying to prevent what is actually a foregone conclusion.
If we had started making serious inroads into our carbon dioxide emissions in the 1980s, we would not be in nearly as bad shape now as we are. the United States is a highly organized country and has the innovative capability to actually reduce our emissions, unlike the Chinese. Had we led the way, the world would have followed, and we would not be facing the catastrophe that will now unfold over the next few years.
If carbon dioxoide levels in the atmosphere were just 20% lower than they are now, we would have at least another fifty years of climate stability ahead of us, and had the US been aggressive, we could have accomplished this even without the slightest bit of co-operation from the rest of the world. And we could have led the world.
Instead, we listened to the big companies and their media flacks. It was a seductive choice, but, in the end, it will prove to be a gravely mistaken one. These companies, and the many who follow their lead, care about the next few months profit, not about the long term–not even their own long term.
This type of behavior is inevitable in the corporate environment, and it is why corporations should not be allowed so much power as they have. But, in fact, our elected representatives for the most part represent their corporate "clients" first and their constituents second, if at all.
Here is what is going to happen over the next few years, and I state this without equivocation, because I am as right now as I was in 1985 or in 1998 when I listened to the Master of the Key, and understood how climate change actually works.
As I have stated many times before, a combination of methane outgassing in the arctic and fresh water moving from the Arctic Ocean into the Atlantic cause sudden climate change. At present, there is a huge amount of fresh water in the Arctic Ocean, and after the summer that will unfold this year, there will be much more.
It is there because of unprecedented melting of the north polar cap, which has come about because of massive methane release throughout the Alaskan and Siberian tundra. In 2010, methane hydrates frozen under the Arctic Ocean showed signs of outgassing. Now it’s much worse. According to a recent report by an international research team, outgassing has started.
This is the next phase of climate change. Here is what we can expect: first, there is going to be a lot more extreme weather, with ferocious storms especially across the US midcontinent. Many people are going to die and see their property destroyed, I am sad to say. There will be fewer hurricanes because the South Atlantic is warmer, but if a storm should project high enough into the upper atmosphere, it is going to be very dangerous. As methane outgassing increases, heating that now seems fantastic even to contemplate will strike the arctic and the northern hemisphere. With the heating will come generalized drought on a scale that we have not seen before. The soutwestern US is particularly vulnerable, and we can only hope, at this point, that the current drought afflciting Texas will break, but it would not be surprising if that doesn’t happen. And the governor of that state is asking for prayers for rain while not acknowledging his leading role as a climate change denier. For shame.
Over the next ten to twenty years, the methane outgassing will abate. Since methane deteriorates quickly, it will disappear from the atmosphere as suddenly as it appeared. When this occurs, there will be weather of profound violence, unlike anything we know now. The reason for this is that the primary mechanism of the heating will disappear. At the same time, negative environmental effects will have reduced our carbon dioxide emissions, due to substantially reduced economic activity. The result will be a sudden snap back to much colder conditions, which will be accompanied by more fierce weather than we have ever previously recorded.
This report is almost certainly correct, I am sorry to say. I have been right about climate change for thirty years. I am still right about it.
Can anything be done? Not if methane outgassing is indeed building. If so, it’s too late. In any case, it would require a huge change in national will in the United States, and probably also, at this stage, in India and China. But none of these countries are even remotely able to take the kind of draconian measures that would be necessary to change things now.
A great deal depends on what happens in the arctic this summer. If the heat buildup is as intense as it was last summer, or more intense, then sufficient methane will be released to cause the situation to become self-amplifying. The more methane that is released, the hotter it gets, and the hotter it gets, the more methane is released.
We are observers now. The time that we might have been able to slow down climate change, or even plan for it as Art Bell and I suggested in Superstorm, is gone.
Whatever happens next is up to nature. Nature has reasserted its mastery of life on planet earth. Whatever our fate, it is no longer in our hands. It belongs to the earth who made us. The human mind, for all of its brilliance, has allowed itself to become a passive observer as nature confronts us with what is likely to be the greatest challenge this species has ever known.