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June 12, 2019

Permafrost

Opinion

June 12, 2019

Permafrost covers 25 percent of the Northern Hemisphere. It is the world’s largest icebox, and its landmass is 4.5xs larger than Antarctica, 6.5xs larger than the United States. It is stuffed full of carbon locked in frozen ground accumulated over eons, which, by way of contrast, makes coal power plant emissions look bush-league.

Most notably, permafrost has an image of permanence and slow/gradual change, “the sloth of the north.” But, that slothful image is now out-of-date. Global warming has changed the equation. Nowadays, permafrost disintegration is officially hot news.

Scientists that have long studied the gradual thawing of permafrost are now experiencing a dramatic switch from their former “eyes wide shut” viewpoint, i.e., refusing to see something that’s in plain view because of preconceived notions. That slothful image of yesteryear has been shattered via numerous studies, as for example: Merritt Turetsky, Canadian Research Chair in Integrative Ecology, University of Guelph, “Rapid Permafrost Thaw Unrecognized Threat to Landscape, Global Warming Researcher Warns,” Nature d/d May 1, 2019.

Gradual permafrost thaw is now passé: “Turetsky and an international team of researchers are looking at something very different: Rapid collapse of permafrost that can transform the landscape in mere months through subsidence, flooding and landslides,” Ibid.

Based upon observations as recorded by the Turetsky research team, a climate crisis has already set in. It is here now: “We work in areas where permafrost contains a lot of ice, and our field sites are being destroyed by abrupt collapse of this ice, not gradually over decades, but very quickly over months to years,” said Turetsky.

According to team member Miriam Jones, a US Geological Survey research geologist: “This abrupt thaw is changing forested ecosystems… resulting in a wholesale transformation of the landscape that not only impacts carbon feedbacks to climate but is also altering wildlife habitat and damaging infrastructure.”

“It’s happening faster than anyone predicted,” Turetsky.

Still, the scientists behind the study remain optimistic that something constructive can be done to limit the dangers implied in the details of their study, to wit: “If we can limit human emissions, we can still curb the most dangerous consequences of climate warming,” blah, blah, blah.

Most scientists and media sources claim it’s still not too late to do something to mitigate climate change. But, lingering questions remain, like what, when, how and who? Where’s the leadership? When it comes to fixing the blistering pace of climate change, talk is cheap, whereas, only action counts.

In that regard, there is a well-defined approach to the climate crisis as well as answers to the aforementioned Turetsky study, which clearly delineates big time trouble right around the bend. Indeed, when the world’s largest landmass literally crumbles apart, as stated in Turetsky’s study, “right in front of our eyes,” then alarm bells should be going off all across the land, especially in the office of the president responsible for one of the world’s largest permafrost regions, Alaska.

Under current climate conditions, the danger of runaway global warming and subsequent burn off of mid-latitude agriculture cannot be overstated. The implications are dreadful. Still, the provocative question remains “is it too late” as publicly stated by some climate scientists, without doubt the world’s most disturbing Debbie Downers, and unfortunately, verily truly, they have scientific evidence that backs up their predictions. Hopefully, fingers crossed, they’re wrong.

Still, the movement to fixit has “legs,” and it’s important to remember that nobody knows what the future holds. The big fixit could work!

For answers about what to do in the face of the climate emergency, hands down, the best essay extant is Margaret Klein Salamon’s “Leading the Public into Emergency Mode: Introducing the Emergency Climate Movement”.

Excerpted from: 'The Permafrost Nightmare Turns (More) Real'. Courtesy: Counterpunch.org

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