A controversial new study, published in the science journal Nature, has claimed that unprecedented melting of the Arctic region may be about to dramatically accelerate global warming.
So how seriously should we view the new claims and, if true, what can be done to avert a coming disaster?
The new study claims that the north-polar ice cap is melting faster than previously predicted, and that such melting could release vast amounts of methane gas.
This would bring forward further warming of the planet by decades.
According to Cambridge Professor Peter Wadhams. who led the study, “We are looking at a possibly catastrophic effect on global climate that’s a consequence of this extremely fast sea ice retreat that’s been happening in recent years.”
Huge deposits of methane are stored in the frozen soil of the Arctic seabed. Previous studies have pointed to the potential danger of such deposits.
Like carbon dioxide, methane is a greenhouse gas that traps the sun’s energy and causes global warming, but methane is 20 times more powerful.
Until recently it was assumed the release of methane by global warming would be a gradual process.
In contrast, the new study claims as much as 50 billion tons of methane could be liberated in a gigantic “belch” over the next few decades.
The study also calculated the effects of such a scenario on the world economy.
Many capitalists coldly view the melting of the ice-cap as a business opportunity, giving them access to previously blocked shipping routes, and new gas and oil reserves.
The climate chaos unleashed by methane gas release would dwarf any such benefits.
The study’s authors estimate this to be almost £40 trillion—the equivalent value of the whole global economy in 2012.
Of course this tells us nothing about the human misery such a catastrophe would cause.
The people most affected would be in developing countries, which are more likely to be affected by rising sea levels, agricultural destruction, and effects on health.
But it would be naive to think that such a catastrophic event would not severely affect ordinary people in the developed world, given the unpredictability of global weather.
Some scientists challenge the claim that methane will be released in the dramatic manner predicted.
They cite a lack of evidence for such rapid release in past periods of our planet’s history when global warming occurred due to natural causes.
Wadhams answers such critics by arguing that the speed of melting is leading to new mechanisms of release.
He points to the huge methane plumes up to a kilometre in diameter, detected by Russian scientists off the north Siberian coast.
Whatever the truth of the new claims, every serious scientific expert now accepts global warming is occurring at an alarming rate.
Tragically, we already possess the technologies to stop and even reverse such warming.
But our capitalist rulers have shown their inability to take even the most basic steps to halt the coming catastrophe.
The planet’s fate is bound up with ordinary people battling for them for true democracy.