Well, whether you believe human’s cause or significantly contributes to climate change or not, the evidence is starting to pour in that not only is change occurring – above our long term averages – but that it is also accelerating.
In the past weeks there have been at least two items reported prominently in my local newspaper that confirm the trajectory that the best scientific minds with the most evidence can currently discern:
1. Average temperature is set to rise by 4 degrees centigrade over the rest of this century. It has long be held that a rise of only 2 degrees centigrade would be sufficient to significantly imperil our – that’s humanity’s – current way of being in the world. Think failing food chains, significant ice cap loss like the entire Greenland ice sheet, massive disruption and dramatic variability in local weather conditions around the globe.
2. Average sea level is set to rise by 1 meter or more by the end of the century, if the global average temperature increase is at or more than 2 degrees centigrade. Remember that a centimetre sea level rise can lead to an increase of sea water encroachment on land by up to 1 meter – due to storm surges, beach and headland erosion etc. Obviously this would be most prominent in coastal regions that are closer to sea level; but also note that the majority of the world’s most populated cities are built around low lying ports, docks and river systems.
There are, unfortunately, massive feedback loops poised to take an increasing global temperature average and accelerate its change even faster. The one that most concerns me, and fascinates me, is Methane Clathrate deposits – increasingly becoming known as the Clathrate Gun Hypothesis. Methane is a potent energy source yet if it is released directly into the atmosphere it delivers a significant warming impact. It presents to my mind a double-bind problem.
If methane clathrate is released through increased temperature, then runaway climate change will result. The only way we are likely to stop such a release, however, is to tap the deposits and convert them to a fuel – the emissions from burning it will also contribute to climate change, but at a far lower rate. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Whether the result is global cooling (atmospheric debris from burning methane blocks sunlight/heat from entering) or global warming… or global warming first followed by sudden global cooling… the outcome and process in getting there is highly problematic for humanity’s volume and quality of survival. The burning issue currently, if you pardon the pun, is how to tap the deposits… work has only recently begun.
One of the earliest and still best, in my opinion, introductions to the risk-opportunity of Methane Clathrates was published by the Aon Benfield UCL Hazard Research Centre (ABUHRC – Europe’s leading multidisciplinary academic hazard research centre). Lots of good diagrams and charts that help explain it. For less detailed overviews, mainstream journalism style, there are two items I think stand out: one from the UK, and the other from Australia. Well worth the read.