The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has calculated that the average temperatures in permafrost areas have risen significantly since the 80’s. In Siberia the temperature rose by 2°C; in Northern Alaska this was as much as 3°C. A higher temperature causes the soil to warm up. Bacteria are activated causing organic material to decompose. In turn, greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O) and methane (CH4) are released.
The release of methane is a particular cause for concern since this can greatly speed up the process of climate change. Not only because of the direct emissions of methane, but also because of the risk of a self-reinforcing effect: an increasing amount of methane is released, leading to an exponential, unmanageable growth in climate change. By comparison: at the end of the Permian Age (250 million years ago) there was also an exponential increase in temperature to +10°C. Ultimately, that was enough to wipe out 95% of all life on Earth.
So it’s no surprise that in the media there’s talk of a ‘Permafrost Methane Time Bomb’. If the current trends continue, we can expect a doom scenario. Taking the ever increasing world population into consideration and the associated growing demand for energy, there is every reason to sound the alarm. And yet that only happens to a limited extent. How is that possible?
Man has the tendency to think in terms of linear relationships: if the temperature rises by 1°C with an x-amount of greenhouse gasses, then there is a tendency to believe that this pattern will repeat itself and is therefore manageable. But that is not the case, because history has shown that climate change is an extremely erratic process. A good example of that is the melting Arctic ice cap: the expectations need to be continuously revised because this just keeps going faster and faster.
In his famous documentary, Al Gore spoke about ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. And rightly so, because it is not a cheerful message. Yet there are some encouraging developments: the electric car is already a rage and an increasing amount is being invested in solar energy and wind farms. But it’s not just about large technological innovations, relatively small actions are also important. For example, did you know that swapping a normal light bulb for an energy saving light bulb, eventually reduces emissions equal to 250 kilos of coal? We are all responsible for climate change. We must deal with it together.
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