Oscillating between pessimistic optimism (or optimistic pessimism), there are so many reasons to be hopeful for change. Amazing technologies. Increasing awareness. McSUV sales plummeting. Political leaders taking forthright stands. Optimism.
Reality can strike hard, ambusing surging optimism with reasons for dire concern. Today’s Chicago Tribune had a story of bubbling catastrophe …
Sergei Zimov waded through knee-deep snow to reach a frozen lake where so much methane belches out of the melting permafrost that it spews from the ice like small geysers.
Remember, methane is 23 times as potent as carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas (GHG). And, billions of tons of Siberian peat/such melting and we’ve crossed any sort of tipping point of humanity having a say about the direction of global warming in the next few years.
the Russian scientist struck a match to make a jet of the greenhouse gas visible. The sudden plume of fire threw him backward. … “Sometimes a big explosion happens, because the gas comes out like a bomb…. There are a million lakes like this in northern Siberia.”
A million bubbling, exploding lakes.
Out of sight of almost all of us (the US). Out of mind for most as well.
In Siberia, the permafrost entombs billions of tons of organic matter from the Ice Age, … Dormant for millennia, the permafrost is being thawed by global warming, triggering the microbial consumption that results in the release of greenhouse gases.
Positive feedback loops are not necessarily so favorable in their outcomes.
The process feeds on itself. As the climate warms, permafrost on the banks of Siberian lakes collapses into the water, supplying bacteria with more organic material to consume and further raising the level of methane released into the air.
And, Zimov’s analysis is not for the optimist.
The melting of permafrost cannot be stopped, Zimov said, but it could be slowed.
To slow it, Zimov is advocating aggressive geoengineering (perhaps on a local level).
Zimov is reintroducing the grasses and herbivores that dominated northern Siberian steppes 10,000 years ago, and he plans to bulldoze portions of the park’s larch forest and shrubland. Foxtail and cotton grass are taking root, providing fodder for Yakutian horses, reindeer, musk oxen and bison Zimov envisions on the park’s flatlands.
It’s nothing less than the creation of a new ecosystem, a daunting task aimed at building a bulwark against global warming. It will take years before the park’s herds are large enough to make a discernible difference. But Zimov hopes the park serves as a template for similar efforts across Siberia’s warming permafrost.
We’ve done so well at managing the ecosystems that we were given.