Thursday, September 25, 2008

Okay, we're really screwed now.

Via Boing Boing comes the first report of methane being released in colossal quantities from beneath the Artic ice (what's left of it): An Artic Sea "Foaming" With Methane, What Now?

If correct, this is seriously bad news. Methane is a much stronger greenhouse gas than CO2. I've been half-waiting for this news since reading John Barnes' "Mother of Storms", which takes this exact scenario of methane clathrates being released from ocean beds, and shows in narrative form some of the probable consequences for the world's climate.

Methane increases the greenhouse effect, trapping far more energy into the climate system than has ever been experienced before. One way in which this energy is expressed is by hurricanes. Increase the energy in the system enough, and it is possible to have hurricanes which never die out.

They spawn more hurricanes, every one of which is equal to a Katrina or a Hanna. And the hurricane season doesn't stop. The storms just keep coming and coming.

This scenario seemed to be on the verge of realisation this year, with Hanne, Ike, Josephine. And this is expected.

So we have the U.S. economy on the verge of collapse, and if it goes down, the world economy goes down with it. This is a country less equipped than ever to even rescue its own citizens, with the mayor of New Orleans stating openly that "we don't have the resources to come and get you".

Throw in a few more Katrina-level events, and we won't have to wait for global climate change to produce a Mad Max-like post-apocalyptic world. We'll all be living hand to mouth.

I am only half joking about this. It seems undeniable that the combination of a depressed (if not outright collapsed) global economy with an unusually severe hurricane season this year (which could well be continued next year) will by itself have profound effects upon all of us. Throw in a global climate that's having more energy pumped into it by orders of magnitude, and we have global disaster.

I am frightened.

UPDATE: George Dubleya, the man whose job could be descrbed as "appear calm while things go got shit", has warned that "our entire economy is in danger". When a politician uses that sort of language, he (a) is deeply frightened and (b) wants youto vote for his reforms now.

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