By way of an introduction please take a look at this short video which shows how methane is stored in the permafrost and in frozen lakes:
2010: University of Alaska Fairbanks Professor Katey Walter Anthony takes us onto a frozen lake in Fairbanks, AK to demonstrate why methane gas is a key ingredient in global warming.
The continuing climate change protests , the Greta Thunberg appeals and Sir David Attenborough’s dire warnings in his TV programme Climate Change – The Facts may not be top news now but climate change is the biggest issue facing the future of life on Earth. I implore everyone to watch it. …… Click here for the full 58 minute BBC iPlayer recording of the programme If you don’t have time to view the whole programme the TV guide Radio Times has a great summary including some dramatic video clips. Or follow Twitter: #ClimateChangeTheFacts
For my part, the climate change threat is so important to us here on Earth I have tried to repeat some of the key warning and advice from scientists and university researchers filmed in the BBC programme in this article …………
2019: Climate Change – The Facts by
Sir David Attenborough:
Sir David Attenborough’s excellent programme takes us step by step through the history and revelations in terms of the evidence and attempts to get governments and organisations to realise the catastrophe facing us, but later on in the programme the real crunch point is reached. It’s probably where the TV programme should have started. It’s the “tipping points” which will really decide the future of our planet. If action isn’t taken before one or more of these tipping points the planet’s temperature will rise dramatically beyond control, putting life on Earth at a terminal crisis point.
Sir David Attenborough says, “What happens now and in the next few years profoundly affects what happens in the next few thousand.” He continues, “Standing here in the English countryside it may not seem obvious, but we are facing a man-made disaster on a global scale.” Greta Thunberg appears during the introduction, saying, “It’s our future – we can’t just let it slip away from us.”
Sir David says, “We are running out of time but there is still hope.” He believes that, if we better understand the threat we face, it is more likely that we can avoid such a catastrophic future. Professor Peter Stott of the Met Office and University of Exeter says in the last 100 years what we have seen is a steady and unremitting temperature trend. He adds that 20 of all the warmest years on record occurred in the last 22 years. Sir David refers to four decades of research on land, at sea and in the far reaches of our atmosphere, saying that the evidence is now unequivocal. Professor Stott says that these temperature changes can’t be explained by natural causes and he focuses on the use of fossil fuels as the cause of temperature rise. He says, “We burn fossil fuels – coal, gas and oil – to power our energy generation, power our cars and to travel around the world. When we burn fossil fuels it produces carbon dioxide as a waste product.” Dr James Hansen, former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, says, “Carbon dioxide acts like a blanket – it keeps the world warmer.” Dr Richard Black, director of the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit, says, “The problem is that we are adding extra carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to this blanket. Climate changes are causing the collapse of the world’s ecosystem.”
Professor Stott adds, “This is about basic physics. With 1°C warmer more moisture will evaporate from the oceans. When there’s more moisture in the air you are going to get more rain. You can get super storms and more flooding events.”
Attenborough says, “This isn’t about losing one species – it is about destabilising the whole of the world’s ecosystem.” The TV programme reviews disasters around the world, from raging wildfires to extreme storms. Sir David adds, “Thousands of miles away and out of sight for most of us another threat is building; Earth’s ice, frozen for millennia, is melting.”
Professor Andrew Shepherd, climate scientist at the University of Leeds, says that “Earth’s temperature has risen by what most people would think is a small amount over the past century, about 1°C, but that is too much for Earth’s ice to withstand.” He goes on to tell us that the Greenland ice sheet is melting; it has lost 4 trillion tons of ice and is losing five times as much ice as it was 20 years ago. Antarctica is losing three times as much ice as it was 25 years ago. We know that sea levels have risen about 20 cm in the last 100 years. The programme goes on to show us that rising sea levels are already displacing hundreds of thousands of people from coastal areas. Sir David Attenborough says, “Sea levels are not only increased by melting ice; the world’s oceans are expanding because they’re getting warmer.” Over 90% of the increase in heat trapped in our atmosphere has been stored in the oceans. He says he’s witnessed the devastating effect that this has had, In the last three years, repeated heat stress has caused a third of the world’s corals to first bleach and then die.
Much of what we are now experiencing was warned about by scientists over 30 years ago. Dr Hansen gave a warning to a special US Senate committee in 1988 that the world was warmer than it ever had before in the history of instrumental measurement. He said that the world is warming by an amount which is too large to be a “chance fluctuation”.
Speakers on the programme talked about the cycle of climate change denial having a delaying effect on taking action. A clip from a Donald Trump speech is shown, where he says, “All this with global warming, a lot of it is a hoax.” There is a clip of Lord Lawson (the ex-Conservative Chancellor) in 2009 saying that there is plenty of evidence that global warming will bring benefits.” Another clip from 2009 shows him at an International Energy Agency (IEA) meeting, saying, “There are huge benefits from a warming planet.” The previous year, the Climate Change Act 2008 was made law in the UK, the first to make a legally binding target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Sir David then continues, “Since those early warnings over 30 years ago greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise and the problem gets harder to solve. Trees and plants absorb carbon dioxide in the process of photosynthesis to help build out the plant or tree and build leaves. In this process of photosynthesis they have sucked up nearly a third of all carbon dioxide emissions. Forests are one of the ways out to control climate change. They are like the lungs of the planet. They are big climate regulators at a global scale.”
Professor Matthew Hansen, a remote sensing scientist at the University of Maryland, says that since 1972 we have been tracking and taking pictures of the world’s surface. He refers to this photo-mapping. These photos provide shocking evidence of massive forest clearance on a global scale. Professor Hansen says, “Forests are cleared and burned. Forests are replaced with soya beans, rubber plantations as well as pasture for cattle but one of the big drivers for forest clearance to provide for the production of palm oil. Professor Hansen says “It’s like a magical fruit. We all have palm oil in our houses.” Another speaker continues, “It’s in almost every product; it’s in soaps, in shampoo, in chocolate, in bread and it’s even in crisps. What we are doing is causing deforestation in other countries because of our demand for these products.”
Professor Hansen continues, “Without these forests our ability to mitigate climate change will become vanishingly very small.” Sir David adds, “Trees are being cut down at such a rate that nearly a third of our carbon dioxide emissions are being caused by deforestation.”
Sir David continues, “Looking ahead to the future, we know that if we keep releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere temperatures will continue to rise and the consequences will get progressively worse.”
Scientists predict there may be “tipping points” which will take global warming into a phase completely out of our control. We don’t know what will happen as a consequence of these “tipping points” but an example they give is the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps going into complete meltdown. Another example of a tipping point is where a climate dieback of the rainforest is triggered, turning it into a savannah. Once you’ve crossed a catastrophic tipping point then it’s out of control and it’s going to carry on getting hotter and hotter. In other words, you’ve triggered something you can’t undo. One of the most worrying consequences of reaching one of these “tipping points” is that, if global temperatures continue to rise, large amounts of methane gas, currently trapped under the permafrost in the Arctic Circle, could be released.
See this BBC video which shows the massive number of methane bubbles stored in lakes and in permafrost:
Above: Exploding methane gas bubbles – Earth: The Power of the Planet – BBC (a four-minute video. Skip forwards to three minutes to see the effect)
Methane is 21 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. Professor Mark Maslin, climate scientist at University College London, says that for global temperature rises to be limited to 1.5°C by 2050, global emissions would have to be halved by 2030 and hit zero carbon emissions by 2050.
But Sir David says there is still time if we act now. What do governments, industries, nations and we as individuals need to do? The programme reminds us of the Paris Agreement, an agreement reached by almost all nations globally to hold temperatures to an increase of no more than 2°C by 2050.
Sir David says that this is a huge challenge. Carbon emissions have to be cut by half from every part of industry.
Sir David also says alternatives to fossil fuels are within our grasp. Professor Naomi Oreskes, a science historian at Harvard University says it’s not that difficult. We need to move from fossil fuels, which produce greenhouse gases, to renewable energy. The programme reminds us that, thankfully, there have been rapid falls in the price of renewable energy recently, with wind power performing better than other technologies. Here in the UK we’re building some of the biggest offshore wind turbines. The bigger the turbine, the more wind can be captured. Just one revolution of these wind turbines can power a house for a day. So far, 30% of the UK’s power comes from renewable sources. We are told that the bit that comes next is to “decarbonise” industry, including decarbonising the transport sector. That means using things like electric vehicles and even hydrogen-powered vehicles. We know what we have to do – we just have to get on and do it.
Chris Stark, chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change, says, “This is the political decision – the brave decision that has to be taken now. Do we incur a small cost now, not an insignificant cost? Let’s be clear on it. Or do we wait?” He adds, “The cost of action is dwarfed by the cost of inaction.” Sir David goes on to say, “If we take action now, we may buy ourselves some time to crack some of the most challenging sources of emissions like aviation. Recently we have seen strides in the making of much lighter batteries. The first flight has been undertaken by a battery-powered aeroplane, which flew across the English Channel…”
We also need to find ways to reduce the vast amount of CO2 that is already in the atmosphere. We have the technology to do this and they’re called trees. If we reforest areas of the world, then we can lock up huge amounts of the carbon that is currently in the atmosphere, but, if we are to meet emission targets, action is needed now to reduce carbon emissions. The average UK person has a carbon footprint of approximately 13 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent gases per person per year.
David Attenborough says he truly believes that together we can bring about the transformative change that is needed. The young Greta Thunberg speaks out near the end of the programme: “The more I read about it the more I understood how dangerous it is for everyone.”
The program ends with children from all over the world marching to protest about climate change. David Attenborough concludes by saying there is a message in the voices of all these young people. It is, after all, their generation who will inherit this dangerous legacy. Sir David concludes, “We now stand at a unique point in our planet’s history where we must all share responsibility for both our present well-being and for the future of life on Earth. Every one of us has the power to make changes and make them now! A wonderful natural world and the lives of our children, grandchildren, and all those who follow them, depend upon us doing so”.