Thursday, July 25, 2013

Climate change: A climate bomb

As the climate crisis has rolled on, it has become increasingly clear that we are going to lose the ice cap over the North Pole. Generally, our leaders have regarded this as a Good Thing, leading to reduced transport times from Europe to Asia, and to a resource rush for oil and gas in the region. The costs of this aren't considered, or reduced simply to the extinction of the polar bear - something those leaders regard as secondary to increased GDP and political donations from oil companies.

But there are costs, and they are immense. The Arctic is a climate gateway. Billions of tons of methane - a powerful greenhouse gas - is buried in its permafrost. As the Arctic warms, that methane is already bubbling out, driving warming even faster. That's bad enough, but if it comes out too quickly, it could trigger sudden warming and impose enormous costs:

The sudden release from the melting Arctic of vast quantities of methane – a greenhouse gas at least 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide –is an “economic time-bomb” that could explode at a cost of $60 trillion (£40tr) to the global economy, a study has concluded.

A scientific assessment of the costs associated with the release of Arctic methane into the atmosphere has found that the financial consequences to the world would almost equal the entire global economic output of one year.


Using the same computer models employed by the 2006 Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, the researchers found that the effects on the global climate of a relatively sudden release of methane over a period of a decade or so could be catastrophic in terms of drought effects on crops, rising sea levels, coastal flooding and extreme weather.

“What we have got is an incredibly compelling set of data that the price tag of just this one feedback effect in present-value terms is $60tn. This is an economic time-bomb that at this stage has not been recognised on the global stage,” said Professor Gail Whiteman of Erasmus University in Rotterdam.

Even if it is released more slowly - over 50 years rather than 10 - then we're still looking at substantial costs due to the faster warming. So one way or another, we're going to be paying this. Unless of course we decide to pay the much cheaper cost of reducing our emissions to stop it.