What’s up? Methane, carbon dioxide. That’s what’s up!

I tuned into the Public Broadcasting Service’s hour-long “Earth Emergency” documentary that aired Dec. 29, 2021 at 8 p.m. Pacific Standard Time and then a second time in an encore presentation rebroadcast the following afternoon at 2 p.m. All in all, the program was informative, easy-to-understand, practically all of it having to do with the warming world we’re living in and the broader issue of climate change.

Due to what is known as feedback loops, those connected with the atmosphere, forests, ice and permafrost, were each and all explained and discussed in the show in-depth. The feedback loop and its connection to permafrost will further be explored in a bit.

There has been over the past 150 million or so years at least four occurrences where the climate has transitioned from that of being temperate and tropical to one of being frigid and frozen. At this point, one may be curious as to the reason for the transitions, what was going on under the Earth’s crust, in the oceans, on the land and in the air during the inflection or transitioning points as well as prior to and subsequently, and, maybe most importantly, how the earth was able to make a recovery or experience climate reversal and not go off the “deep-freeze ends,” so to speak, or otherwise, meaning the polar opposite of that.

These transitions were no doubt the work of natural factors or forces, be they cosmic or seismic (we’re talking asteroid strikes- or major volcanic-eruptions)- related.

That was then. One thing that has been putting many on edge as of late regarding the exponential rise in the average temperature at the Earth’s surface since the introduction of the Industrial revolution in England circa 1760, is where, this time around, all of this could be going.

Okay, so, shadowing in a manner of speaking, the atmospheric rise in both concentration of methane and carbon dioxide is, according to numerous sources, the increase in global mean surface temperature (GMST). What is unknown at this stage is how much of a climb in temperature there will be. The hope, plan, if not the expectation, is for GMST to peak at no more than 2.0 degrees Celsius (C), but 1.5 degrees C, preferably, by no later than the end of the 21st century.

We know that the greenhouse gases (GHG) carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) have been and are increasing in the atmosphere. Over 80 percent of all GHG amounts in air is comprised of CO2, the remainder made up of CH4, nitrous oxide (N2O), sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and even water vapor (H2O). Some have greater potencies while others like CO2 are longer-lasting in the atmosphere. Greater potencies, as in their ability to absorb and retain heat. Methane is a much more potent GHG than carbon dioxide, but when in the atmosphere it is much shorter-lived.

We also know that a significant number of countries have pledged to cut GHG-emissions output considerably, the goal in many instances being net-zero emissions by 2050. At least one country, India, I believe, has set that as a target by 2070. The world, commitments-wise, appears to be stepping up. And this seems to be in part due to recent catastrophic events like monsoons and hurricanes and devastating floods as well as to prolonged droughts and the gradual onset and steady rise of seas.

Many, however, are frustrated at our efforts to attempt to stop the GMST jump and normalize or more normalize the change in climate, their worrying that not enough in terms of mitigating action is being done and/or that the work, in essence, in this context, is not being done fast enough.

Meanwhile, by virtue of the planet undergoing warming, in many locations throughout the northern hemisphere where there is a permafrost layer, there is that permafrost which is thawing. And, by virtue of this, that material which the permafrost contains – vast amounts of carbon dioxide and methane – stored in the ground for hundreds of thousands if not millions of years, is being released into the atmosphere. This, added to what is already there combines to yield even more.

If in fact this is what is fueling world warming, then the added CO2 and CH4 quantities, according to scientific consensus, is prompting further warming, driving more permafrost thawing, releasing more CO2 and CH4 into the atmosphere, etc., etc., etc. This cyclical arrangement put differently is called a feedback loop – a positive feedback loop in this case.

The question is will this be the norm over the next several generations? Or, will an overall and overarching change in attitude, behavior, sentiment in regard to reducing environmental footprints, both individual and collective, not only rule but win the day?

The bottom line is there could be a lot riding on the way in which humanity proceeds in moving ahead. Indications are so far we are contemplating our future intelligently, working on a course correction at least deliberately if but slowly, the hope and expectation here being – though perhaps not yet but in the long-run – considerable ground will be gained. That, folks, is what we are looking at.

– Alan Kandel

All material © 2022.

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