Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Arctic permafrost is thawing fast (nationalgeographic.com)
41 points by sohkamyung 11 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 18 comments

I highly recommend getting to know the work of Randall Carlson on the subject.

Joe Rogan had him on podcast [1] few times.

[1] https://youtube.com/watch?v=G0Cp7DrvNLQ

Back in the late 80's early 90's I remember reading some articles written by climatologists who believed that things were far more dire than the mainstream climate industry accepted.

Quoted from the article " researchers now suspect that for every one degree Celsius rise in Earth’s average temperature, permafrost may release the equivalent of four to six years’ worth of coal, oil, and natural gas emissions—double to triple what scientists thought a few years ago. Within a few decades, if we don’t curb fossil fuel use, permafrost could be as big a source of greenhouse gases as China, the world’s largest emitter, is today."

This article from NatGeo is the first modern writing I've seen that has put forth such dire warnings about the permafrost thawing. The warning is not as dire at the papers I read, but nonetheless it something we haven't seen before. I wish I still had those original papers, but they were in fact paper and not electronic, and I don't remember who wrote them or where they were published and I doubt they are cataloged anywhere. I do remember the people who wrote the papers were all older scientists, so I don't think any of them are still around.

Most of their models were based on the fact that oceans, glaciers and eventually the permafrost would get locked into a positive feedback loop using greenhouse gases as the fuel.

They postulated that humans tipped the balance and we keep skewing the balance until the earth and climate hit a tipping point at which time the earth and climate would get locked into a few positive feedback loops, warming oceans, melting glaciers, and thawing permafrost.

Most of the papers felt the thawing of the permafrost was the point of no return. It was the point where human activity was no longer the driving force in climate change. Even though the thawing of the permafrost would start out small it was the indication that we passed a warming event from which reducing human output would no longer alter the warming trend. The increase in temperature and forces required to start large scale permafrost warming could not be stopped simply by slightly reducing human output.

The authors mostly felt that 20-40 years of future climate change was already locked in, and once we passed the permafrost thawing event, even large scale changes in human output would not alter the next 20-40 years and during that time the permafrost itself would start to rapidly accelerate it's thawing, eventually coming to release yearly, as much greenhouse gases as all of humans emit, in effect accelerating the warming.

The underlying basis for their theories was that the release of greenhouse gases caused the planet to warm, which in turn caused oceans to warm, glaciers to melt, and eventually permafrost to thaw, which caused more greenhouse gas emissions, which caused more warming, etc. They felt that once the permafrost started to thaw that the final piece of the puzzle was in place and that the three systems, all fueled by greenhouse gas emissions would self sustain the feedback loop.

The papers believed that while in the beginning the permafrost greenhouse gas output would be small, but it was enough to sustain the feedback loops without human input, the feedback loops would slow but they would sustain. Since it wasn't possible for humans to cut emission by 10 or 20% overnight the best humanity could hope for would be a 1-2% reduction yearly, and even if humans reduced by 1-2% yearly the permafrost would actually make up the difference, thus not changing the trajectory of the warming trend. In the models they used it took almost 5% year over year reduction so that the permafrost thawing couldn't sustain the positive feedback loops.

Positive feedback loops typically don't stop until they exhaust their resources, which in his case is greenhouse gases. What we've learned recently is that the permafrost is releasing significantly more Co2m, significantly more methane which is now thought to be 76 times more impactful than co2 and significantly more nitrous oxide which is now thought to be 300 times more impactful than co2.

When I read those papers they all made way more sense than than the other more generally accepted models. As a systems guy I could never accept the thinking that if we reduced our output that it would stop the warming, I thought it would slow the warming trend, but never made any sense to think that the warming would stop.

At the time the papers were written most climate scientists believed that the permafrost wouldn't thaw for hundreds of years, which is why people stopped getting funded to study the thawing, it's only been recently that scientists started to monitor the permafrost thawing and discovered the amounts of co2, methane and nitrous oxide are much, much higher than anticipated.

The models put forth in the papers I referenced needed 5% human output reduction starting in the early 90's in order to avoid the permafrost from self sustaining the warming trend. Not only did we not reduce our output, but it's soared since the early 90's. Most of the models had the permafrost starting to thaw on a large scale in the mid to late 20's, with things getting really bad by the mid 50's.

If those rejected models are right, and it's starting to look like they are, then we are actually about 10 years ahead of schedule if we base it on permafrost thawing trends.

To me, it's mind bendingly frustrating that we're even considering things in terms of a 'reduction from current emissions'.

It's like someone deeply in debt cutting their spending by 5% or whatever.

What is actually required is that we start from zero emissions and work upwards - e.g. if we need some agriculture, that's some unavoidable CO2 right now until we have electric solar powered tractors or whatever, and so on.

The reduction method is so far from the correct approach that even if it works, it doesn't work, as you've stated, because it's based on the idea that we just go on as normal with small tweaks.

It's looking like we actually need to create a completely different economy, rapidly, in order to survive. Oh boy.

Yeah, but that's completely politically infeasible. There's no way to get people to just stop using existing resources to improve their quality of life - or even to keep their quality of life at current levels - without any immediate tangible consequences. And of course, by the time the disaster arrives, it'll be too late to change.

Or, correction, there's one way to get them to do that: Point guns at them.

(Un?)fortunately, the vast majority of the developed world lives under democratic government, and the same people who would rather not massively and suddenly reduce their wealth and quality of life in response to future predictions also would rather not have martial law imposed to convince them to do so.

So the "tiny ineffectual reductions from current emission levels" is the only possible framework under which any kind of preemptive climate action can actually happen. You're correct that there's no way this can solve the problem; the correct response is to understand that we're just basically fucked and the only ways out include things like "establish, by force, oppressive totalitarian global state oriented around climate management" which would damage the future world we live in just as much as climate change would, but in a different way.

We're just fucked. And there's a certain liberty in that! You don't have to worry about whether or not we'll fix the problem; we won't, so there's no troublesome uncertainty. Just go see the sights around the world you'd like to see before they're destroyed.

What you're saying is probably fairly accurate though I don't like to accept it.

We're in a world full of people grabbing and using as much as they can with no care for what that means for themselves never mind other people. Unexamined lives. People would have to change habits that are nothing worth fighting for to begin with.

I don't care for seeing the sights, though I do care for the world to not become some sort of theme park terraformed (... ha) nightmare for humans to survive.

The answer for me is going to be to continue to do my best regardless because to do otherwise would be barbaric. In a lawless world I wouldn't become a mass murderer just because society allowed it.

>that are nothing worth fighting for to begin with

Frankly, air conditioning alone is worth fighting for. The wealth and comfort generated by our carbon-spewing economy is the greatest achievement in mankind's history - and developing nations reaching towards it would be right to fight for it.

Having to make the kind of far-reaching sacrifices needed to prevent climate change at this late stage would (if we actually did it) be among the greatest tragedies in human history, second only to the tragedy of what will happen if we don't.

Ah well, since this is a representative democracy, we've delegated the murdering to our elected representatives.

Assuming you're USian or EUian, our governments already fuck with refugees who want to move to a livable part of the planet because (amongst other things) climate change made their part of the planet not livable. And this fucking has lead to many deaths for sure...

>Yeah, but that's completely politically infeasible. There's no way to get people to just stop using existing resources to improve their quality of life - or even to keep their quality of life at current levels - without any immediate tangible consequences. And of course, by the time the disaster arrives, it'll be too late to change.

So, to paraphrase, it's like we're on the Titanic, sinking, but there's no way to stop people from dancing and dining on the upper deck, and start getting on the lifeboats or helping close the rift.

Here's a closer analogy: We're on the Titanic. It's sinking, probably, but it's still mostly possible to ignore it. Some very smart people have calculated that the lifeboats cannot possibly hold the weight of everyone aboard; if we are going to save ourselves, either we have to start throwing some people overboard, or we all have to cut off a limb to meet the weight allowance.

Nobody is especially eager to do either of those things - the people who would have to be thrown overboard are especially not enthusiastic about it, and nobody's exactly enthused about the alternative solution of choosing our least favorite arms. So as long as it's possible to pretend that everything's going to be fine and we're not sinking and the hole isn't that big anyway and even if it was, we could always patch it eventually, and even if we can't, maybe rescue will get here in time ... we're not going to resort to that. Not until we absolutely, really have to.

By the time we're desperate enough to resort to such things, it will be too late and there will no longer be time to select who to throw overboard or conduct the necessary amputations.

I get that you're having a bit of fun with this, but is there a reason you're throwing about words like 'amputation'?

Globally we currently burn coal for 30% of electricity consumption. All fossil fuels put together is like 90%.

We have people jetting around the world for short-term thrills or business meetings that could be done over the phone. We have people in the US who think it's appropriate to drive 7mpg trucks and throw clouds of shit at pedestrians.

We have such a ridiculous amount of waste in the system that could be completely eliminated with minimal impact.

It may politically be difficult, or impossible to achieve, sure. And perhaps it won't be enough anyway. But it seems to me like you're imagining literally any change in lifestyle to be an 'amputation'.

Am I, or you, 'amputated' relative to some arbitrary person who has double, triple, quadruple the carbon footprint? If not, why not?

Why must the standard for amputation be whatever people have right now rather than considering that at the moment perhaps we're running around with Iron Man suits we have to take off?

Or are you saying that forcing the ignorant masses to make those changes would be a sort of amputation? Because there are too many people who will just tell you 'fuck u gon burn ma oil' or whatever?

There aren't even lifeboats in this analogy... or has someone built a spaceship to sustain life off earth?

"Get into lifeboats" I just meant as "do something to stay alive", not as in "escape somewhere else" necessarily.

For agriculture, the tractors themselves are producing negligible CO2. Most all farm emissions come from fertilizer and right now we produce nearly all of our commercial fertilizer from fossil fuels. In order to synthesize fertilizer from the air and other renewable sources we are looking at a near 100 fold increase in power requirements. IE, our current total world energy production would have to go almost 100% towards fertilizer production to produce what we currently use. And we aren't anywhere near producing that much renewable energy yet either. We are basically fertilizing our fields with fossil fuels, and that fossil fuel fertilizer accounts for around 60% of the world's total crop yield.

Yeah, we need a "reboot to safe mode" economy... stop all economic activity for luxury and just allow things for survival. So, mangoes from Latin America? Gone. Hollywood movies? Gone. That stupid Uberesque startup? Fuck off and take this shovel, they want you to plough the field!

You might be joking, but I think that really is what we need, globally. An example could be - I should go to the supermarket, and just not be able to buy anything outside of a tight range of 'sustainability per nutrition'. Not rice and beans, but ridiculous offenders like say, fruit with air miles could be right out.

The idea that it'd be somehow terrible for this to happen baffles me.

Why couldn't it be more like WWI/WWII but without the explicit killing involved?

We are at war, and we need a war effort.

> fruit with air miles

So put a couple of billion farmers in developing nations out of work?

It's going to be complex and messy either way, I guess.

Yeah, because their harvest failing is going to be much better.

Anything that changes ever puts someone "out of work" temporarily until they figure out another way to make a living.

There's probably a name for this sort of 'but jobs' thinking. It feels like some variant of broken window fallacy. If your job is dependent on enormous negative externalities, then yeah, it's probably not sustainable, and someday it won't exist any more.

It's tragic, for example the German government is weak on environment because, well, VW (including Audi and Porsche), BMW, Mercedes, and their many suppliers. They're afraid of manufacturers having to lay off workers...

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact