Saturday, September 1, 2012

The biggest story of all time

[scroll down for AMEG news release]

What is happening in the Arctic is what Peter Wadhams, myself and others in AMEG have been dreading – that our deductions from the physics of the Arctic sea ice situation have come true. We also understand some of the dreadful repercussions from a sea ice collapse, which nobody has wanted to believe. But it is also like a cloud lifted, because now we can tell the world that we’ve been right all along. The sea ice extent was bound to start collapsing within the next year or two, because the thickness was decreasing steadily. Now it’s happened. Now people will have to face up to the repercussions. Now people can realise that our only choice, if we want to avoid decent into a hellish nightmare, is to geo-engineer like mad – use all the measures and techniques at our disposal that we can deploy immediately or at least before next summer’s melt, in the hope of trying to prevent further collapse.

We have left action awfully late. The first sea ice collapse in 2007 should have prepared us for further collapse in the following years. The physics is elementary. It was not put in the climate models, which have continued to forecast that the sea ice would last for decades. The Hadley Centre models were predicting end century demise. This is what is cemented into IPCC AR4 on which all climate negotiations are based. These models have now proved rubbish. Yet it was the chief scientist at the Met Office, Prof Julia Slingo, ultimately responsible for the Hadley models, who rubbished the PIOMAS data on sea ice volume, saying that her models would prove Wadhams and AMEG wrong. This is on public record, because she gave this as evidence to the Environment Audit Committee hearing on “Protecting the Arctic”.

But far more serious than the denial of physics and the laws of nature was the denial of the precautionary principle – if our concerns about sea ice loss and repercussions (particularly a methane excursion) had even a small probability of proving correct, it would have been sensible to prepare for the worst by developing the geoengineering techniques that could provide enough cooling power to avoid a sea ice collapse. The cost would have been minimal in relation to the cost of trying to deal with repercussions – which some of us fear could be the end of civilisation. But nothing happened, so no geoengineering has been prepared.

AMEG has had a predicament – a dilemma. If we say how bad the situation really is, people will brand us as doom-mongers and not want to listen. If we don’t, then nobody will learn the truth.

But now it’s different. Our predictions on the sea ice have proved correct. We have the credibility. Our timescales are appropriate. (Only the other day a student wrote an article for the Ecologist saying that, after consulting experts at UEA, he was convinced that AMEG had got its timescales wrong.)

The most visible repercussions of sea ice decline and rapid Arctic warming (it’s warming five or six times the global average by my reckoning, and that ratio will leap up as the sea ice disappears) are the escalating emissions of methane, now seen to be bubbling in vast plumes from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf seabed, and the global weirding, seen to be affecting farmers all over the world as the Arctic warms, polar jet stream meanders more, sticking in places to cause weather extremes, long periods of both hot dry weather and cool wet weather. These two repercussions have been AMEG’s focus of late, see press release.

Never in the history of the human race has there been so much danger to confront. We have the brains – we should have the intelligence – to deal with it. Psychologically we have real problems, continuing to believe that we are immortal and “it can’t happen to us”. It is.

Best wishes,

Chair, AMEG


AMEG press release, 1st September 2012

The record low Arctic sea ice extent, reached in the past few days, shows that a collapse
in the sea ice is underway, and the minimum to be reached in a few weeks, could be
as much as a million square kilometres below the September 2007 and 2011 minima
(which were almost the same). AMEG has repeatedly warned that this could happen,
raising the issue in their submission to the UK Environment Audit Committee (EAC)
hearing on “Protecting the Arctic”, on Hansard record. The complete collapse of sea ice,
till practically none is left for at least one day of the year, is now likely by 2015. The
extreme danger lies in the repercussions of the sea ice loss, especially those resulting
from seabed methane emissions and from altered jet stream behaviour – the latter already
being experienced with extremes of drought and floods in different parts of the northern
hemisphere. However AMEG is confident that a crisis can be averted if immediate
action is taken to cool the Arctic, but this will inevitably involve a degree of intervention
known as geoengineering because of the large cooling power required. Preparations
need to start straightaway for deployment of the best candidate techniques, with a view to
rapid deployment, hopefully in time to head off a worse collapse of sea ice next summer.

The repeated warnings about the sea ice by AMEG sea ice experts (including Professor
Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University) have been ignored or scorned as doom-
mongering by climate scientists, who claim that the sea ice will last for decades. So the
current collapse may come as a nasty surprise to many people. However the collapse
could have been expected from observed trends, particularly of sea ice volume. The
Arctic has been warming, sea ice has retreated leaving open water in summer, and the
relentless Arctic summer sun has warmed the water to produce further thinning of the
ice. Each year, come the minimum ice extent at the end of summer, the thickness and
volume of the ice has been less. The trend reaches zero volume before September 2015,
by which time the extent must obviously have collapsed.

The AMEG warning on methane emissions has also been ignored or scorned by climate
scientists, who claim that the emissions will be too slow to have an appreciable global
warming effect this century. However AMEG has been advised by Russian scientists,
Natalia Shakhova and Igor Semiletov, that escalating emissions from the East Siberian
Arctic Shelf seabed pose a threat of abrupt climate change, as the protective and
insulating cover of the sea ice disappears. There is so much methane stored under the
seabed that only one percent release of this potent greenhouse gas, e.g. as a result of a
large earthquake or rapid seabed heating, could cause intolerable global warming.

AMEG has recently warned of increased climate extremes and a global food crisis that
will deepen as the Arctic warms. This year’s severe drought in the US is not an isolated
event; much of the world has been afflicted by extreme weather in one form or another,
with floods and droughts impacting agriculture. Such extremes have been on the increase.
Recent research by scientists, such as Dr Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University, shows
convincing evidence that this increase is related to dramatic warming of the Arctic and
changing polar jet stream behaviour.

Droughts and floods have been gradually increasing in intensity for a great many years,
as the IPCC AR4 report (2007) predicted would occur with global warming. However
the Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the planet. This has weakened the jet stream,
increasing the frequency and duration of warm/dry spells and cool/wet spells, and thereby
making matters much worse. This year we have seen widespread crop failures and a rise
in food prices*. Unless emergency measures are immediately taken to cool the Arctic and
restore the sea ice, one can expect an ever worsening food crisis in years to come, with
the prospect of famine on a biblical scale.

There are other serious repercussions of sea ice disappearance and Arctic warming, such
as a disintegration of the Greenland Ice Sheet to cause massive sea level rise. But AMEG
has chosen to focus on methane escalation and the food crisis because they can be seen to
be already under way, with apocalyptic results if Arctic warming continues unabated.

AMEG’s conclusion is that we have a planetary emergency as a result of the downward
spiral of sea ice. Only by grasping the nettle and applying geoengineering with great
determination, as in a war effort, do we have a chance of remedying the situation before it
is too late. International collaboration to fight this common “enemy” of Arctic meltdown
must bring all nations together, simply in the cause of survival.

* Severe Droughts Drive Food Prices Higher, Threatening the Poor - World Bank


  1. The situation warrants calling into effect writ of law known as 'Act of God' to enable alteration of standing contract law and to realign the worth of money away from slush fund of do-as-one-would to instead benefit what serves the common good by keeping Earth alive and her ecosystems services, too long taken for granted whole as well. The scale of change needs to be enormous and affect needs to be done suddenly and with uniformity..

    1. I hate the idea of martial law, but what do we need to show the incompetence of world governments and the UN in the face of this disaster. The Pentagon, in their last Quadrennial Report, has shown more sense on this issue than I've seen coming from the IPCC or any national government. Do they have to wait before the momentum is too great before at least delivering an strong warning to our US government. Is Obama going to fire the whole branch of the Pentagon involved in these projections? If so, that would be an incredible wake-up call right there. I'm hoping that a sense of duty among our military command will lead them to at least make a veiled threat to intervene.

    2. Need for speed and to maintain peace while a transition is made in the way business is conducted in the world makes this a worthy test of man..
      Too long this world has been ruled by man and literally so in power too.
      Persuasion is needed not force, so- Peace let's make it so and change..
      Knowledge is power, spread the word.. What the world is up against is a force to unite the world and to amount to something. The foe of going foe crazy to defeat an ambiguous foe as heat since we have practice with foe enemy of our own creation of terrorism, terrorist and the like.
      This should be noting if we believe in truth, religion and care foe others.. - No we need to change and stop thinking of each other as foe.. we are all needed in an effort to keep the Home of all alive.. Make sense/ I'm not sure but I do know that without peace we are all defeated.. And Earth will die.. Her natural systems will be defeated.

  2. It is incredible what we are witnessing!

  3. Terrifying. We need to act now.

  4. To AMEG.

    It is not the first time that modern technological civilization is significantly endangered. And in fact, it's not the worst case. Famous clock of doomsday was 2 minutes before midnight few decades ago. And the reason it was? High risk of world nuclear war, Carribean crisis.

    So, AMEG, please realise: very system you are trying to convince, - _is_ the largest danger to this planet. It is that system which produced 2 "super states" - USA and USSR - and put them into "cold war". It is that system which still keeps thousands of nuclear missiles and bombs in full ready state, and thousands more stored. It is that system which keeps close to a billion people of this planet in permanent starvation state or close to it. It is that system which destroys forests, poisons and dry rivers, contaminate our - and all other species' - water and food supply.

    The system is capitalism. AMEG, huge war effort, which many humans of Earth were part of during WW2 - especially in my country, - was only possible exactly because two main sides of the war, - Germany/Italy and USSR - were at the time under control of ideologic, - not capitalist - regimes.

    Today, USSR is no more. Capitalism won the world. It will not mobilize citizens into war-like effort to combat anything, unless it'd be highly profitable project in short-term. Profitable in terms of money, of course. And geo-engineering the Arctic is not such a project: huge costs, no direct monetary rewards.

    The world has chosen to be capitalistic. Now it will learn consequences of it, the hard way. The best thing you people of AMEG can do - is to prepare and adapt beforehandedly to harsh world of the future. Develop technologies which allow for local communities (up to small countries) to keep having metals, healthcare, power, transport, etc. Create reserves. And most importantly, try to change ourselves into creatures who crearly know how essential it is to keep our environment healthy and sustainable, if we - the people, - are to survive on this planet for any long.

    With respect and sympathy from Russia,

    F. Tnioli

    1. Thanks for commenting. Many people do indeed seek short-term personal financial gain, yet many people also spend a lot of time and effort on improving the world without seeking personal financial gain. I'm confident that enough people will recognize the dangers to convince the world that we will all be much worse off if 'business as usual' continues and that we all must commit to comprehensive action to reduce the dangers.

    2. Well said, F. Tnioli. You have hit the nail squarely on the head. It's a damned hard job saving the world when you have to do it cheaper than the cost of digging up and burning coal, or else have no one even take you seriously.

      I have started a novel which delves into these issues, but one part of me can't help but feeling that I am writing it for the remnant population who will cling to some sort of existance in a few pockets here and there. This part of me hopes that at least they might benefit from it, because it despairs for their ancestors, who are of course ourselves and our children.

      But another part of me says NO! All praise to AMEG, it cries! I am not going down the gurgler silently, and neither are they. Or let me say we, because while I have only just found you I am with you shoulder to shoulder. While there is such a crisis, there is still hope. Because in times of crisis communities pull together in ways they never do otherwise. And a global crisis may just spawn a global community. Unlikely and very late, to be sure, but if it did arise it would be made up of human beings, and human beings are a damned clever lot in the few moments they spare themselves from being so pig headedly stupid.

      And, yes, I have read much of the comments surrounding this reply, but I guess I just can't give up and die a grumpy and bitter old man. So in the course of this reply the two sides of me have faced off against each other, and the mad optimist has won at least a temporary reprieve. If geo-engineering is what it will take, then geo-engineering it is. Desperate times summon desperate measures, and the history of some of them hasn't been a total disaster. So where there's life there's hope.

      So the research needs be done, and that will take noise. Let the noise begin!

  5. We must not act now unless that action is to reduce the root causes: pollution and overpopulation.

    The problem with taking immediate action is that it will encourage people to go back to "business as usual". If transiently successful it might even persuade the politicians that all future global impacts of pollution and overpopulation can be tackled with piecemeal solutions. The root causes of the problems will still be active.

    I can imagine a geo-engineered future in which we live under continuous cloud as was portrayed in the film "Blade Runner". A drab world of huge, dank cities. Then one day a war breaks out or we simply exceed a global tipping point that cannot be simply fixed and we all die anyway as the man-made interventions become unmaintainable.

    Did you see how the write-up for the Cryosat satellite project mentioned how it would help us to extract gas and oil from the Arctic? On the one hand the governments that financed the satellite are saying they are ecologically pro-active and on the other hand they are saying that they are happy to continue business as usual. The objectives of the current generation of politicians, business leaders and the engineers they employ is incompatible with human life. People will only realise that this is the case if they face catastrophe rather than narrowly avert it for the time being.

    1. John, population isn't the problem, the problem is a failure to choose the right technologies. AMEG is not proposing to use geo-engineering as a piecemeal solution, but instead advocates comprehensive action to bring the atmosphere and oceans back toward their pre-industrial state, as well as to improve soil quality. After all, such efforts are needed to both reduce the immediate and the longer-term dangers that warming in the Arctic will trigger huge releases of methane. Let's try and improve things, instead of diverting efforts into stalling the necessary action.

  6. For those of us following closely the events in the Arctic, past & present, we know the trends; arctic ice volume losses with 2007 & 2012 defining years, coupled with increasing methane releases from arctic ocean caltrates and CO2 emissions from thawing tundra. We understand the implications of these trends continuing unabated - catastrophe in one or numerous forms, threatening life as we know it, for us and many of the other lifeforms.

    Simultaneously there is peak oil. World crude oil production peaked in 05 and has since been on a plateau as every effort to extract oil from existing fields and non-conventional, such as tar sands and shale oil in the Bakken oil fields of N.D. proceeds at full tilt. The price of Brent is now at 114, but what the economy can handle is more like 80-90. This means near zero growth in the US and near flat to recessionary growth in the EU, in spite of ever burgeoning debt loads. The cheap oil, which was what drove profits and an expanding civilization is gone. The high price of oil has forcing many of the developed governments to borrow to stay out of recession, while China builds empty city's.

    While we yell from the grandstands about ice volume loss and increasing methane releases, the powerful in world governments are distracted by lack of growth. Instead of focusing on the impending dire environmental possibility of runaway global warming (without geo-engineering intervention), they are conjuring up ever more creative ways to damn up their economies with QE's and other forms of stimulus. They cannot hear us, but we sure are trying to be heard. Keep yelling people. I'm right there with you!

  7. Sam: "AMEG is not proposing to use geo-engineering as a piecemeal solution, but instead advocates comprehensive action to bring the atmosphere and oceans back toward their pre-industrial state, as well as to improve soil quality"

    I have read your plan for action and agree that the whole plan would work.

    The non-geoengineering part of your plan is devoted to fixing the underlying problem, it cannot be ignored. It is the most important part of the plan. Environmentalists have got to play "hard ball" and insist its either the whole package or nothing.

    My point in the comment above is that politicians are going to pick and choose bits of the plan and that this will leave us in a worse long term position than before. Life recovered after the "Great Dying" but it won't recover if we patch the arctic and carry on as usual then patch the next problem and carry on as usual, eventually a war, an economic collapse, a natural event etc. will strip our patches away and there will be no way out.

    A geo-engineered world is by its very nature less stable than a natural world and inherently more dangerous in the long run.

    1. John, I agree! It's good to stress that the world needs to commit to the full comprehensive plan.

    2. The full comprehensive plan is critical however, John is correct. The root problem is overpopulation. No amount of geoengineering will save us from consuming everything of use to us on earth and polluting the rest. Anyone who is clear-headed enough to understand the emergency in the Arctic, and the existential threat posed by the nitrogen cascade, ought to be able to understand that growth is never sustainable on a finite planet, and that includes human population.

      I would recommend Chris Clugston's work on non-renewable natural resources:

    3. Gail, let me confirm again that I fully agree that it's critical that all elements of the proposed comprehensive plan of action are fully implemented.

      As to what caused the dire situation that we're in, I must say that I disagree with you. I'm convinced that the problem is not overpopulation, but the use of polluting products, as I've said for years, e.g. in this post written more than four years ago. I repeat that what's needed is for governments around to world to commit to a comprehensive plan of action to effectively deal with the dangers associated with climate change.

  8. Much of what is said here is to do with how to convince/heavy politicians into doing something about the environment,but there are two bogiemen which frighten politicians into inaction,it's higher taxes and unemployement.We cannot go on producing more and more goods and services using less and less people and still keep low unemployement without 1]casting off the sick and unemployed and thus killing them off{no compassion]in which case you would lose a chunk of the market for your goods or 2]borrowing money to create a bubble of high employement which ultimately has to burst.The "one nation,two systems"principle that China has adopted{a needs based and a greeds based],a slow lane and a fast lane seems to be something that would alleviate this pressure on governments with the fast lane earning and the slow lane concentrating on saving{conserving or making the little go farther] both Europe and America should adopt this as it would eliminate this idea that taxes went to the lazy and use the unemployed to sequestrate carbon by composting and growing higher quality food thus eliminating the further burden of sickness on the taxpayer.

    1. Whether one is communist or capitalist, religious or atheist, it should be clear that we need to reduce the risks of climate catastrophe. In my view, this is best done by means of a comprehensive plan of action that reduces pollution while also using geoengineering responsibly and appropriately.

      I'm convinced that, to facilitate the shift to clean products, local feebates work best; when explained well, people will understand that this helps make clean products become cheaper, while also creating plenty of local job and investment opportunities. The economic benefits are quite convincing, in addition to the many other benefits such as better health, more energy and food independence and security, the many environmental benefits, etc.

  9. I think we should take a wait and see approach. Let the downward spiral of multi-year ice loss go as far as it will go, then watch Greenland's massive ice sheet flow into the ocean quicker than experts predict. React to sea level rise rather than plan ahead. Once the methane is releasing en masse, simply sit back, drink a mint julip and see just how hot it gets while complaining it seems hotter than ever. Then we can banter back and forth on MSM between the climatologists and regular people (with no education in that field) to get a balanced debate about the pros and cons of whether to take any action. Nothing will happen, but we will 'feel' like we did our best because we took notice and yammered on about it.

    1. I believe that we cannot afford complacency; the situation is already this dire that we must act now. We live in a world with sophisticated communication facilities such as the Internet, we can explain things to people around the world, so that they understand what changes are necessary. Once infrastructure starts to collapse, and food shortages start to kick in, it will only become harder to explain things to people.

  10. Sam -
    I'd agree with the reasoning you've expressed here and elsewhere for proposing Geo-E as a requisite part of a commensurate response to climate destabilization. Yet I'd differ somewhat with the approach taken by AMEG since it seems to me essentially frail and rather easily deflected by the status quo when compared with more measured sober proposals.

    The focus on the near-term threats - of methyl clathrates, permafrost melt and anaerobic decay, albedo loss and jet stream disruption, etc, invite the dismissive response of a predominantly complacent scientific community - that is both unable to model interactive feedbacks and has yet to even consider apologizing for misdirecting the UNFCCC negotiations with regard to which century would see an ice-free summer arctic. And without majority scientific support, there is negligible prospect of generating the concerted global political action required.

    Thus I'd suggest building that consensus around the readily identifiable certainty of a future need of Geo-E, from which it is then a minor step to acknowledging that the sooner it can be mandated, researched, trialled and applied, the better our prospects. Under those conditions highlighting the rising evidence of immediate threats is an accelerator of action, not a means for its deflection.

    The basic case for the certain future need of Geo-E consists of summing unavoidable warming under a best-case 'emissions-control-only' strategy, and considering its predictable effects. I.e.:-
    0.8C (realized), + 0.6C (timelagged in pipeline), + 0.7C (from phase-out of emissions by 2050 under an early stringent treaty) = 2.1C. The loss of the sulphate parasol due to phasing out fossil sulphate emissions raises that warming by a median 110% (+/- 30%) according to Hansen et al, (whose 2010 report has yet to face credible refutation). Thus unavoidable anthropogenic warming 'sans Geo-E' would be: 2.1C x 210% = 4.41C (+/-0.6C) which, under a 30 year timelag, would be realized by about 2080.

    Added to this degree of warming would be the inputs of the interactive increases in the mega-feedbacks' outputs during the intervening 68 years, with at least six out of seven of them already accelerating under 0.8C, and with several having the potential to dwarf the warming impact of anthro-GHG emissions.

    Considering just what substantially more than 4.41C of warming would do to global food production, given the rising impacts under just 0.8C, makes further discussion of an 'emissions-control-only' strategy simply invidious. Even with (an unlikely) substantial refutation of Hansen et al and a cut in the warming to be expected from sulphate parasol loss, 68 years of feedback interactions (~2.25 timelag cycles) on top of the 2080 anthro-GHG warming would pose a patently untenable prospect in food-security terms, not least because feedback outputs would have long since swamped the natural carbon sinks and would be adding to airborne CO2e ppm up to and after 2080.

    In short, the 'emission-controls-only' strategy cannot prevent the patently untenable degree of warming that is now inevitable without Geo-E, even under radically optimistic assumptions.

    There are further aspects of effective strategy for change on which I'd be interested to hear your views, but they must wait as this comment is already long.



    1. Good points, Lewis. It makes sense to use a number of ways to get the message across; one of them is pointing out that geoengineering has to be an indispensable part of the plan of action, as rising temperatures would otherwise lead to catastrophe in many respects, including large abrupt methane releases from the seabed in the Arctic. To both reduce such threats and to bring temperatures back to safe levels, geoengineering will have to be an essential part of the plan of action, along with cuts in emissions and other more conventional action points. One simple move for governments would be to stop their support for fossil fuel and instead support clean energy. After all, clean energy from facilities such as wind turbines is already more economic now, while the surplus energy they provide at night could power transportation. Indeed, there are clean products and clean ways of doing things that are already more economic, and this in itself is a good argument for governments to facilitate the necessary shifts.

      While there are many ways to reduce the dangers and each of them can contribute in one way or another, we cannot rely on just one or two methods. We will have to use a range of methods, while continuously monitoring and evaluating them, in order to safely and effectively reduce the danger of climate catastrophe and to return back to safe levels. And yes, supporting scientists to research all this, including geoengineering methods, has long topped my list of action points, but perhaps to most important issue of all is to now get the message across and to get governments to commit to a comprehensive and effective plan.

  11. Sam -
    I had a run through the arguments at Climate Progress (whose editor Joe Romm is a very long way from demanding Geo-E) here:
    and thought you might be interested in the responses -

    There are two sections of the discussion, about the middle of the thread and near the bottom. Once laid out clearly, the long-term arguments for the prudential use of Geo-E ASAP have clearly swayed some strongly opinioned people - the closer being the question: "How many . . . are you willing to see dying of famine . . . before demanding Geo-E ?

    I should be very interested to read the views of others within AMEG on this critical issue of an effective communications strategy, if they could spare the time.

    All the best,


    1. Good point, Lewis, I believe that responsible geoengineering should be accepted as an indispensible part of the comprehensive plan of action that we need. Such a plan can avoid many human casualties, as well as avoid great loss of biodiversity and avoid huge damage in many ways. I believe such a plan has many benefits, such as improving soil quality, sea ice, oceans, reducing risks of wildfires, improving health, etc. I believe it is also more economic in many ways. So, while famine is a huge threat, I really like to highlight a whole range of benefits.

      Within AMEG, there is a variety of people each with their own expertise and their own views as to where to focus on, so I better let others within AMEG speak for themselves.


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