From the Department of ‘We’re Screwed’

While good news rarely comes out of Siberia, this article about thawing permafrost in Siberia is worse news than most. The thawing of the permafrost in the polar regions has the potential to double the amount of greenhouse gases reaching the atmosphere every year. The New Yorker, in a series on climate change (discussed here) talked a bit about the implications of melting permafrost from a carbon-release standpoint- basically, that the thawing of the arctic permafrost could release enough trapped carbon to put a series spike in the carbon dioxide and methane content of the atmosphere. The Siberia article focuses more on the methane issue- methane gas produced by the decay of biomass is trapped by permafrost, preventing it from reaching the atmosphere and doing its greenhouse duty.

The bottom line is that in a world where global warming is already a reality, we’re increasingly discovering more and more natural phenomena that can speed up the process- feedback loops like albedo increase from melting ice and snow, and the destruction of carbon and methane sinks due to permafrost thawing and deforestation. Meanwhile, the leadership of the United States continues to treat global warming like the search for the Loch Ness monster, and prefers to fund pie-in-the-sky dreams about the ‘hydrogen economy’ rather than take concrete steps to reduce current emissions.

As the New Yorker piece puts it, if all your neighbors tell you your house is on fire but only half think it will burn down before nightfall, and the rest think it will burn down before sunrise, you wouldn’t say that there was still debate over the whether your house was really burning. Why can’t the Bush administration follow the same logic with global warming?

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