Monday, March 26, 2012

Climate Crisis Update: Planetary Emergency

One of the major focal points of concern regarding the Climate Crisis is the Arctic. Professor Stephen Salter, described by the BBC as an "eminent engineer," made recent headlines in the UK by telling members of Parliament that imminent release of methane in the Arctic constitutes a "planetary emergency."

As scientists observe Arctic melting proceeding faster than their worst predictions, there is fear that it will all be gone in summer in a few years.  If that happens, there could soon follow a catastrophic release of methane into the atmosphere, which would accelerate global heating and change the world's climate dramatically.  Though scientists warning of the Climate Crisis get called alarmists by their oil-fed opponents, thus conveniently mollifying the fearful, ironically those scientists have been slow to talk about the methane problem.  But it is certainly contributing to the marked increase in pessimism among them.

Salter is himself promoting a kind of technological fix: a series of towers that would send ordinary seawater in very small droplets into the atmosphere to whiten clouds and slow down the melting.  Being an engineer he's worked out the plans so the project is doable, and the actual technology appears to be almost ready.

But while the world government on Star Trek could declare a planetary emergency, no such body exists on planet Earth at the moment.  That doesn't preclude action but it makes it more complicated.  Further, there is a lot of suspicion of technological fixes, especially since one of the most prominently proposed--and backed by such towering intellects as the authors of Freakanomics--is proving on second look to not only be useless but counterproductive--contributing to increasing Arctic temperatures and hastening the heating.  Still, it would help if Salter were taken seriously enough to have his approach discussed and tested.  Or we could wait until Rick Santorum gets around to taking care of it.

One effect of Arctic melting and other Climate Crisis phenomena--the rising of sea levels along densely populated coasts--got another round of estimates last week, and they are not good.  A new analysis of the U.S. coasts where nearly 4 million people live suggests coastal flooding may soon become much more frequent.  (There's an interactive map about this at Climate Central.)

Too much water in some places is a big problem, calling for infrastructure investments now.  But potentially a greater problem is too little water--especially fresh water--elsewhere.  The concerns about the effects of droughts and pollution, of environmental degradation and the Climate Crisis as they erase water supplies for huge areas and populations is being taken with increasing seriousness and urgency.  Last week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the latest to warn--to officially warn--of the growing possibilities of massive water shortages, and of wars over them that would threaten to involve a great many nations, including ours.  Global and U.S. issues related to water resources was the topic of a recent roundtable discussion here.  All of these are urgent issues, and not even in the future.  But so far they are not being urgently addressed, except incrementally.  What is an evolving planetary emergency is lost in the fog.

No comments: