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May 3, 2010 – Stephen Leahy writes very informative articles for the Independent Press Service (IPS). In fact, I’ll be drawing upon an article he wrote on March 5th for my blog today. Stephen takes it upon himself to make sure citizens of the English-speaking world know about the latest developments happening to our climatically changing planet. I believe what Stephen and other members of the Independent Press Service do is so important, I’ve made a contribution to the Environmental Journalism Support Fund. Without this fund, Stephen and his colleagues will find themselves without the wherewithal necessary to research the truly significant climate change stories. May I suggest that you do the same? Just google “Environmental Journalism Support Fund,”
and give what you can. Thank you. (Want to read Stephen’s article for yourself? Go to http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=50565.)

The research results upon which Leahy’s article is based first appeared in the March 5th issue of the journal Science. The research, conducted by Natalia Shakhova and Igor Semiletov, both of the University of Alaska, revealed that billions of tons of methane are leaking into the atmosphere, due to the melting of permafrost which makes up a part of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Permafrost is frozen soil that has hitherto sequestered enormous amounts of methane and carbon dioxide. (Methane is as much as 25 times more toxic to human beings than carbon dioxide.) Shakhova and Semiletov led eight expeditions, the purpose of which were to measure emissions emanating from the Siberian seabed.

Global methane levels have risen every year since 2007. An atmospheric methane expert contacted by IPS suspects the emissions have been underway for some time, and says it is a matter of urgency that more research be conducted. Scientists familiar with the Arctic Ocean have reported gases bubbling to the surface in certain locations during the last few years, a phenomenon never seen before. Why is this happening?

Temperatures over land in the Arctic and Siberia have increased by as much as ten degrees C. during the summer in recent years. As a result, overflowing rivers carry the abnormally warm melt water to the Arctic Ocean, some of it feeding into the shallow East Siberian Shelf, thereby accelerating the melting of subsurface permafrost. A similar event has been taking place in Canada’s James Bay region, where the permafrost line has been retreating southward for 50 years. At this point, it has moved 130 kilometers to the south! As this has transpired, the land area has become darker because plants have replaced snow, thereby contributing to the temperature increase. Has a feedback loop been established, i.e., is more heating leading to – more heating? Should feedback loops begin to assert themselves, our ability to combat the causes of climate change decreases. The new “system,” with self-reinforcement built in, takes over.

It becomes ever clearer that the dumping of millions of years worth of carbon into the atmosphere over a period of a few centuries is leading to the breakdown of the natural systems that allow us to enjoy life on earth. Remember, petroleum is nothing more than rotted vegetation. Over millennia it has decomposed to the point of becoming a sticky, gloppy mess. Because carbon is the basis of all life, and because petroleum contains the rotted remains of millions of years’ worth of plant and animal life, the resulting fuel is a very highly concentrated form of carbon. When ignited and exposed to the atmosphere, the effluent incorporates oxygen, as well. Carbon dioxide. We cannot go on asking our environment to absorb, over a period of centuries, what took millions of years to form. With methane deposits being freed up as the earth warms, the toxicity of the very air we breathe is escalating.

What can we do?

Fossil fuel-powered cars must go out of existence within the next five years.
Our diets must become plant derived, with meat being eaten only once
or twice a week.
Farming and manufacturing can be undertaken only on a small-scale,
localized basis.
All buildings must be heated and cooled with alternative forms of energy.
Our “standard of living” will be based on our happiness, not our possessions.

Don’t expect that the government will show us how. We will have to show them, starting right now. Good luck to all of us.

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