Related, but different, is what Mitchell Anderson, blogging a paper by Werner Kurz et al in Nature, calls the holy crap factor (Anderson is Canadian, hence the politeness).
Mistah Kurz, he bring bad news: in this case that warming in western Canada, likely to be anthropogenic, has unleashed a chain of events that will release close to one billion tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere by 2020. The 'holy crap' part is that this may be just one several unplanned accelerations of climate change by human agency.
The Nature paper is new research, of course, but as a media piece it is of a familiar type, certainly for anyone like me who has been trying to keep up with the issues since the late 80s. I happened to read it on the same day as I read a piece from Der Spiegel, circulated by Paul Ehrlich, on melting methane in Siberia. The broad brush strokes of this second piece will be familiar to anyone aware of the tipping point hypothesis:
The permafrost has grown porous, says [Natalia Shakhova Pacific Institute of Geography at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Vladivostok] and already the shelf sea has become "a source of methane passing into the atmosphere." The Russian scientists have estimated what might happen when this Siberian permafrost-seal thaws completely and all the stored gas escapes. They believe the methane content of the planet's atmosphere would increase twelvefold. "The result would be catastrophic global warming," say the scientists. The greenhouse-gas potential of methane is 20 times that of carbon dioxide, as measured by the effects of a single molecule.Whether the Russians have evidence to indicate this may happen more quickly than previously thought, and so whether this is really a news story, may remain to be seen. What's sure is that when taken in combination with the relentless daily accretion of evidence that the appetite for new sources of carbon-based fuel is relentless (be it in Japan, India, Brazil or wherever), such stories do not encourage optimism.
I wonder how much is my own weakness, cynicism and learned helplessness (flaws perhaps already well established before my brain turned half to mush during the last year or so) and how much, if any, is sound judgement when I see the situation as close to desperate (Paul Kingsnorth caught some of the issues quite well here; but this is probably completely insane). Asked to take part in a workshop next month with good people who think it may be possible to take capital out of carbon, I wonder: who am I kidding?
[P.S. 30 April: See also Holy crap 2]