Earth Changes – Positive feedback loops

In the middle of a recent conversation with a dear friend who has similar perspectives on the Earth Changes I noticed a long silent pause. Such a pause is a rare thing, we spend our time together sharing details on the current situation as reported by the science and then speculating on the calamities we, as a species, are facing. There is always plenty to discuss: the ever warming of the North and South Poles, unusual weather events, the failing ocean currents, the Amazon, permafrost, plastic … It is a very long list and we are busy men so there is rarely a chance to pause! The pause itself had texture and colour, it was not a pause because we had momentarily run out of words. It was a pause of reflection, a pause caused by an old horror viewed from a slightly different perspective. A pause of sober contemplation as we both faced this new perspective and we both breathed gently through the rush of fear as it passed. We have been researching the details around the Earth changes for years, this has happened before. We both have stories about the crippling terror that can accompany new understandings. Indeed, in the past we have both been incapacitated for months with the deep depression that has now been labelled “Climate Grief”. After years of study into the causes and effects of the Earth Changes I am pleased that I no longer become emotionally paralysed from understanding the horror to come for months at a time. I am also pleased that I retain enough humanity to still be brought up short occasionally, when a new perspective on this issue warrants, and have a deep reflective pause.

We were discussing positive feedback loops. An oxymoronic term for when humanity’s continued incremental damage to our environment triggers a massive tipping point and causes nature to start to contribute to the Earth Changes independently to our own actions. These possible independent contributions to the Earth Changes invariably dwarf humanity’s actions and hugely accelerate the process of environmental destruction whilst also removing any chance that humanity can stop the process. When considering the Earth Changes there is absolutely nothing positive about positive feedback loops.

One of the easiest positive feedback loop to understand is the melting of the permafrost in the Arctic. A positive feedback loop that is teetering on the edge of being triggered. We know that the planet is warming, we also know that the Arctic is warming 2-3 times faster than average. The land surrounding the Arctic has been permanently frozen, hence the name “permafrost”. During the last few decades of warming this permafrost has started to thaw. As the carbon-rich soil thaws the trapped microbes reactivate and start releasing methane. Methane (CH4) is a greenhouse gas that is at least 20 times more effective at warming the planet than carbon dioxide (CO2). As the methane is released it allows the planet, particularly the Arctic, to warm further thus thawing the permafrost faster and hence releasing even more methane. At some point this feedback loop will become self-sustaining, regardless of how humanity responds. Arctic scientists are currently debating as to whether this tipping point has now been activated. If it hasn’t quite tipped into becoming self-sustaining this year then maybe it will happen next year! The Arctic has the potential to release as much greenhouse gas from its permafrost as humanity has released in the last 300 years. Those 300 years of emissions could be released over a few decades. It is generally agreed that this is an extinction level event for all of life, not just ours. And it may have already started. If we are lucky and it hasn’t then we are merely years away.

I recalled during this conversation another discussion that I had, many years ago, with another friend and old colleague who was, at the time, a climate change sceptic. The argument that he was making was that the planet may be warming but that it was a natural process and nothing to do with humanity. My response at that time was: “we have to hope that it is our fault because if we are responsible we have a chance of changing and stopping it. If it is nature, by Herself, this warming will, indeed be unstoppable.”

If this blog has caused you to pause… just breathe for a little while and then seriously consider what you can change to help. The imaginalCollective is all about discussing the changes that we need to make, join us, put yourself on the map. We welcome all contributions.

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