Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Not with a bang but with a sustained leak

Real Climate: Why Arctic methane release is bad, not catastrophic. This is a very important post. Many have been deeply worried about the possibility of a so-called "methane gun" in which truly staggering volumes of frozen methane clathrates that sit on and under the ocean floor of the Siberian continental shelf are released in a runaway feedback as the Arctic Ocean warms. Since methane (CH4) has something like 100 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide over a twenty year period, it has been hypothesized that a rapid release of large volumes of stored methane could cause a sudden and likely catastrophic surge in global temperatures. A variation or accompaniment to this scenario is the rapid release of methane from thawing permafrost in Siberia. In the linked post, a senior climatologist argues that it is far more likely that methane release will be chronic rather than acute, and given methane's relatively short atmospheric residency (about ten years), this will lead to a dangerous (though not immediately catastrophic) rise then stabilisation of methane levels, supplementing but not overwhelming warming from carbon dioxide. However, since atmospheric methane gradually degrades to carbon dioxide in the presence of oxygen, a slow release would not only give a bump to methane levels but would also see carbon dioxide levels continue to rise. Unlike methane, carbon dioxide is basically forever, with about half of any increase in atmospheric concentration we experience likely to remain for centuries and about a quarter likely to remain for at least ten thousand years. So a relief (of sorts) for us. It's a bit like finding that the Nazis don't, as feared, have a nuclear weapon, but they do have twice as many conventional forces as was thought.

CD: A recent NASA study suggests that climate change may modify 40% the earth's surface from one biome (e.g. forest, savanna, tundra, etc.) to another.

ABC Religion and Ethics: The New Evangelicals: How Christians are rethinking Abortion and Gay marriage. Despite being published by the ABC, this piece (an extract from a new book) has its eyes on the US scene. How applicable are the trends it identifies elsewhere amongst evangelicals?

Guardian: More farmers needed. Feeding seven, eight, nine, ten billion without strip-mining the soil, using the atmosphere as a carbon dump, squeezing out biodiversity, depleting finite fuels or overloading rivers, lakes and oceans with nutrients requires more organic poly-cultural farming, which can often be more productive per unit of land overall than present industrial monocultural farming. However, it is less productive per unit of labour, meaning more people employed (again) in growing food, which probably means higher food prices and a greater share of incomes devoted to food. This in turn may help address obesity, though at the risk of increasing malnutrition associated with poverty. Hence, addressing inequality is also critical.

Peter preaches on the parable of the talents (Matthew 25.14-30). This passage is often used as a key plank in a justification of usury. There are elements in the narrative and context that suggest a very different reading. Peter highlights the key theological question lying behind this hermeneutical issue: which kind of God do we serve?

McKibben: On being hopefully naïve about getting corporate money out of US politics and why being cynical is hopeless.

Guardian: What have trees ever done for us?

NYT: My Guantánamo Nightmare. There are good reasons due process has come to be highly cherished in all civil societies.

Monbiot: The limits of vegetarianism, in which George changes his mind and shifts to ethical semi-vegetarianism. The Conversation publishes an even more provocative piece against ecological vegetarianism, and a very interesting discussion in the comments ensues.

SMH: Energy and water. In the 20thC, global energy use increased thirteen-fold and water use increased nine-fold. The two are related and any future has to consider our water habits, which might be less about having short showers than having cold ones, since energy production is one of the most water-intensive things we do (though conversely, where water is scarce, desalination is one of the most energy-intensive things we do).


byron smith said...

Real Climate: More on methane - a worst case hypothetical in which David (Archer?) makes some "flamboyant" assumptions about methane and reaches the conclusion that they worst they could be is comparable to CO2 (i.e. very bad, but not "blow-the-door-off" catastrophic in a short term runaway feedback).

byron smith said...

Al Jazeera: The world can't afford to keep wasting soil.

byron smith said...

CarbonBrief: Drop the Methane Bomb. More background on the methane clathrate issue.

byron smith said...

Mongabay: Arctic warms to highest level yet as researchers fear tipping points.

byron smith said...

CC: New study looks at methane from wells and concludes that fugitive emissions have actually declined 21% between 1984 and 2010 due to better leakage control from wells.

A piece of somewhat encouraging news.

byron smith said...

Anarctica: Methane clathrates aren't just in the north.

byron smith said...

NYT: Legality doesn't affect abortion rate.

Guardian: Anti-abortion campaigns are more about controlling women than saving lives.

byron smith said...

NPR: Morning after pills don't cause abortion.

byron smith said...

Christianity magazine: A different kind of coming out.

byron smith said...

Last Hours. A 10 min video laying out the dangers of methane release. I note that the experts they quote are not all talking about precisely the same issue. Jason Box for instance is talking about land methane.

byron smith said...

Guardian: US abortion rate drops to lowest levels in decades. Most likely due to recession + improved access to long term contraceptives.