In Which I Rant in Capital Letters


You may have seen some stories recently about several mysterious craters that have suddenly appeared in Siberia. Sad to say, there’s increasing evidence that methane, shooting up from underground, was the cause of those craters. Why should anyone give a rat’s rear end about methane-produced craters in Siberia? Because, in terms of global warming potential, methane is about 20 to 85 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Ever since the 1990s (if not before), some scientists have warned that global warming could lead to the melting of Arctic permafrost, which could, in turn, lead to the release of massive amounts of methane.

Here’s a passage from a book about global warming, published in 1996:

“There are millions of tonnes of methane locked in the permafrost of northern regions, in what are called gas hydrates. These are ice-like mixtures of water and organic gases which only form at high pressure and low temperatures—in this case probably during the last ice age. But because the world is warming the permafrost is beginning to melt. . . . The release of methane in large quantities from the arctic tundra could make a substantial difference to global warming, in what some people call a ‘runaway greenhouse effect.’ Research is continuing into this alarming possibility.”[1]

And so, here we are, with permafrost melting, leading to methane escaping, leading to more global warming, leading to more permafrost melting, and round and round.  It’s this kind of stuff that makes me want to rant in CAPITAL LETTERS. It’s the stuff that I learned years ago might happen and now appears to be happening that is transforming me (even as I type) from a mild-mannered Ph.D. into a wild-eyed blogger. And my wild-eyed message is this: WE CAN’T CONTINUE BUSINESS AS USUAL.  THE NATURAL WORLD ON WHICH WE ALL DEPEND—FOR AIR, WATER, FOOD, CLOTHING, AND SHELTER—IS COMING APART AT THE SEAMS.  THE RIGHT WING IS DOING WHATEVER IT CAN TO KEEP THE GOVERNMENT FROM ACTING.  GREEN TECHNOLOGIES CAN’T BE DEPLOYED FAST ENOUGH, AND EVEN IF THEY COULD BE, THEY INEVITABLY HAVE DETRIMENTAL ENVIRONMENTAL SIDE EFFECTS.  WITH EACH PASSING DAY IT BECOMES CLEARER: THERE’S NO MORE TIME TO WASTE.  EACH OF US MUST ACT.  WE—AS INDIVIDUALS—MUST REDUCE THE STRAIN WE’RE PUTTING ON THE ENVIRONMENT, AND WE CAN DO THAT BY REDUCING OUR SELF-INDULGENT CONSUMPTION OF STUFF.

A few days ago, the Washington Post ran a story about the Siberian craters. Here’s a link to that article: 

[1] Brown, Paul. 1996. Global Warming: Can Civilization Survive? London: Blandford, p. 57.


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