Dec 10, 2013
Let Us Now Sing About the Warmed Earth
Posted on Jul 29, 2013
By Subhankar Banerjee, ClimateStoryTellers
I pointed out earlier that the rapid loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is a key contributor to—thawing of terrestrial permafrost. It is also a key contributor to—thawing of the subsea permafrost in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf.
With all of this background information, I’m finally ready to discuss the Whiteman–Hope–Wadhams study.
Arctic nations, including US, Russia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, as well as some non–Arctic nations, including China and India—are eyeing on the Arctic Economic Prize: “oil and gas” underneath the Arctic seabed. It is estimated that the Arctic Ocean contains 13 percent of undiscovered oil and 30 percent of undiscovered gas. These nations are also working to open up the Arctic sea route for moving all that crude around. It’s a great irony that the rapid melting of the summer sea ice is making the Arctic Ocean accessible for extraction and shipping.
Whiteman, Hope, and Wadhams point out that this frenzy for short–term profit is ignoring the long–term huge “economic impacts of a warming Arctic.” By using modeling they tried to understand the global economic impact of methane release from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf.
That’s just the beginning, because there is much more methane in the Arctic than what is in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Furthermore, Whiteman, Hope, and Wadhams write, “The full impacts of a warming Arctic, including, for example, ocean acidification and altered ocean and atmospheric circulation, will be much greater than our cost estimate for methane release alone.”
“The economic consequences will be distributed around the globe, but the modeling shows that about 80 percent of them will occur in the poorer economies of Africa, Asia and South America,” Whiteman, Hope, and Wadhams write. The $60 trillion number is astounding, beyond the comprehension of most human minds. It has the capacity to cripple the economy of many small nations, that are already stressed from global economic crises. This is what I’d call—economic dystopia.
Is anybody listening?
Whiteman, Hope, and Wadhams point out that “neither the World Economic Forum in its Global Risk Report nor the International Monetary Fund in its World Economic Outlook recognizes the potential economic threat from changes in the Arctic.”
They also point out that oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean will make warming worse, as gas flaring emits “black carbon, which absorbs solar radiation and speeds up ice melt.” Is Shell listening to any of this? Certainly not! Is Obama listening to any of this? Certainly not!
Like Shakhova and Semiletov, my engagement with the Arctic is also ongoing. Over the past fourteen years I met so many wonderful people all across the world who are working on various Arctic issues. I danced to Gwich’in fiddle music in Arctic Village, and to Iñupiat drumming in Kaktovik. There, I learned that singing and dancing are not just for celebration, but also to heal from past wounds, and to fight for a more just future—for “the diversity of life” on Earth.
But what should we do to move away from the state of dystopia that we find ourselves in, you might ask? No one has the answer, but many are offering ideas, are engaged in conversations, taking various actions.
Update: The article uses methane’s Global Warming Potential (GWP) over a 100–year horizon, which according to the IPCC is 25 times more than carbon dioxide. But the 20–year horizon GWP for methane is 72 according to the IPCC 4th assessment report. This means methane is 72 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over a 20–year period. And according to Drew Shindell and his group at NASA, taking into account aerosol responses, the numbers are even higher, 105 for 20–year and 33 for 100–year. We ought to be using the 20–year value because the short to mid–term is far more important than the 100–year horizon (it’s hard to even imagine what Earth would look like 100 years from now).
Subhankar Banerjee is a photographer, writer, and activist. His most recent book Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point will be published in paperback on August 20 (Seven Stories Press). He was recently Director’s Visitor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, Distinguished Visiting Professor at Fordham University in New York, received Distinguished Alumnus Award from the New Mexico State University, and Cultural Freedom Award from Lannan Foundation.
Copyright 2013 Subhankar Banerjee
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