Sunday, November 15, 2020

The Fuse Is Lit

                                                                                                 written 8 November 2020

                                                                                           published 15 November 2020



            News agencies have called the election for Biden, though there are still votes being counted.  Trump says he will contest this in court, and there is no telling what his supporters may do.  But at this point, the American democratic process seems to have survived this polarized election cycle, and that is something to celebrate.  

            However, almost half the country supported Trump, even after four years of experience.  I acknowledge I am an unapologetic progressive, and live in the blue bubble of Mendocino county, but I am still surprised at the apparent lack of self-preservation and critical thinking required to support Trump.  

            For example, Trump has denied the seriousness of the pandemic from the beginning, claiming the whole world and the news media are lying in order to make him look bad.  Last week he announced that "no one will talk about Covid the day after the election", and that the numbers are high because "doctors are on the take".  Yet American cases have exploded, with the daily case increase hitting 150,000, for a total of 780,000 cases and 7,100 deaths in the one week since his crooked doctor statement.

            But Trump supporters apparently believe him and ignore evidence to the contrary.  Red states are some of the hardest hit, because their Covid denial has allowed the virus to spread unchecked.  Surely some people there have noticed their hospitals being impacted, or their friends and family members getting sick, maybe even dying.  But the political divide means half the nation is in denial of inconvenient facts.

            This does not bode well for the future of our country.  As it stands now, the Senate is still under Republican control, and McConnell has declared his intention to block anything President Biden tries to accomplish, as he did during the last of Obama's administration.  This might change with the January 2021 Senate runoff elections in Georgia, or maybe in the 2022 elections, but we don't have years to waste.  Covid, and the economic consequences, require unified action, and they are not the only the serious problems facing us.

             Denial of Covid has been made a test of Republican purity, as is denial of climate change.  Covid has grown in impact because it was ignored, and so has the climate problem.

            One of the global climate tipping points is Arctic methane.  Atmospheric methane only lasts two decades, but is 80 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas.  Several trillion tons of methane are frozen in the Arctic Ocean seafloor.  Where there is surface ice, the methane stays frozen, but as ice disappears, the seafloor warms and the frozen methane transitions directly to a gas, which is released into the environment, accelerating warming even further.  

            The Arctic is already warming several times faster than the rest of the planet.  In the middle of last winter, the temperature at the North Pole rose above freezing.  In addition to increasing air temperatures, warm water is coming in from the Atlantic Basin.  In 2020, Arctic sea ice receded faster and earlier in the spring, reaching the second lowest summer minimum, and began refreezing later in the fall than any time since Arctic sea ice records began.  

            Last year, small seafloor methane plumes were detected in hundreds of locations.  The Oct 2020 Guardian reported this year an area 6 miles by 90 miles was found to be releasing methane, with concentrations 400 times above normal at the seafloor.  Most of the methane is still being absorbed into the water, but levels at the surface were 8 times normal, suggesting the oceans ability to absorb is becoming saturated.

            A release of 50 billion tons, just a few percent of what is there, would raise the global temperature 1°F within a few years.  Think about that for a moment.  Our current warming of 1.8°F has occurred over two centuries, a rate considered to be 1000 times faster than the geologic record of previous warming periods.  Such a methane induced heating would be 100 times faster, a methane bomb.  The fuse has been lit, we just don't know how long we have.

            Our culture is unsustainable.  To avoid collapse, we must work together, at a global level, to make fundamental changes.  Our current partisan divide makes this more difficult.