|Chapter 22||Table of Contents||Chapter 24|
The Ax Falls, November 20, 2055
A friendly guy took charge of me in the trailer. I stumbled back through the rings of security in a daze and was deposited at the train station like a lost child. I had to wait a couple of hours to catch a train east. By this time it was mid-afternoon. I barely remember that time. My mind was in a whirl. I couldn't stop seeing that amorphous Henry-goo thing. I sat staring at nothing. When they announced the train, I got on board and it was only after staring out the window for another hour or so that I began to feel half like myself.
I was starting to go over my Amazon research notes trying to focus my sluggish mind when an email from Doc Y arrived. It said simply, "Read this paper," and had a link to a preprint by McNamara, Jones and Gottlieb out of Colorado. It was a climatology journal, but I clicked through and began to read: "Methane in the Carbon Cycle Since 2000."
The first line struck me: "2053 was the year the ax fell." For 100 years scientists had been measuring the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. They charted its rise in what was called the Keeling Curve named after the scientist who took the first readings. From pre-industrial levels of 275 parts per million (ppm), carbon dioxide had risen to its current level of almost 550 ppm.
Similar measurements had been made for methane. From 1775 parts per billion (ppb) at the turn of the century, methane levels had slowly increased to just over 2750 ppb in 2050.
Now, McNamara, Jones and Gottlieb informed us that large scale feedbacks had kicked in. They had documented that methane hydrates in shallow Arctic waters were melting and releasing huge quantities of the gas. Massive eruptions were happening all across the Arctic. Since 2053, methane levels had increased at a rate of over 500 ppb per year. Current levels were over 4500 ppb. and there was no end in sight. A great methane burp was underway.
Unlike carbon dioxide, methane is not broken down by plants. It is primarily oxidized by the hydroxyl radical formed at a steady rate by ultraviolet light, which means... that a massive belch of methane will tend to stick around longer than one might think.
The conclusion of the article was stark. "Since the establishment of the IPCC in 1989, for a variety of reasons, mitigation and adaptation have been the preferred responses. Mitigation has failed. We have lost control. Positive feedback processes control the climate now. We now have no option but to move to full-fledged, large-scale geo-engineering preferably backed by all the countries of the world."
I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. I read and reread that paper looking for a way out, looking for an error, a flaw in the logic or a hole in the evidence that would allow me to say it wasn't so. There was no error I could see.
I sat gazing around at my fellow passengers, thinking they didn't know and wondering how long it would be until they found out. And how then would they react? Nobody knew the exact number, but we had lost between 1 to 2 billion people when the ocean levels surged and the Great Hunger struck. How many would we lose now?
I was one of a handful of people around the world who knew the dreadful news. I foresaw the process over the next few weeks. It would build slowly. There would be rumours and leaks. By the time the paper was published, anybody who was paying attention would know. And then it would break into the mainstream media. How would people react? I didn't know, but it worried me. It might seem like just one more piece of bad news, along with all the others --- flooded cities, starving millions and super storms --- but it wasn't. It was a guarantee things were going to get worse, a lot worse.
McNamara, Jones and Gottlieb were right. Mitigation was off the table. Severe adaptation would be necessary and geo-engineering was now front and centre.
Excerpted from _The Bottleneck Years_ by H.E. Taylor
For further information see:
A Gentle Introduction.
Last modified January 14, 2012