390 - the Four Horsemen | Scoins.net | DJS

390 - the Four Horsemen


The End is Nigh

Well, not immediately it isn't, but we still don't quite recognise the significance of the need to change. I have noticed a number of more extreme articles on climate change, prognostications of dire consequences, the beginnings of estimates of the margin by which we're going to miss the 1.5ºC target. This causes me to review what I think I know about this.

1.  Methane is worse than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. ¹ We generate a lot of methane from cows and, presumably other ruminants. The UK herd is around ten million (check) so this argues for a reduction in dairy and beef. Essay written already about milk sustainability (and a slow move to oat is occurring in our household). But since that essay I've learned that we haven't changed the area of land under cultivation for a generation or more, and that the volume/tonnage of food has been pretty constant for a similar length of time. Question, then, over whether Brexit should be a cause or excuse to change that position. 

A lot of methane is stored in bogs, peatlands. I learned recently that 9% of UK land fits this description. Apparently about half of the total peatland is—or was until recently—also permafrost. So since increasing temperature implies a lot less ice and frozen ground, that presumably has consequences for methane production. I'd call this an indirect consequence of permitting warming to occur.

2. Sea level, Gulf stream, ice melt

Still thinking of Greenland (Essay written way back in 2010) I've written before about that melting ice screwing up the Gulf Stream (look up AMOC, and essay 282 among others). Loss of that, which moves a load of heat from the tropics to northern Europe, would change UK weather hugely and suggests to me very cold winters, since we're north of Korea and Japan (known for cold winters).

 If that weight of ice disappears, does that suggest that we'd get more vulcanism? I have no idea, but I found discussion of this very thing, such as here. Is the word volcanism? ³ As reported earlier, loss of ice is a self-reinforcing trend; less light reflected means more heat to be absorbed – simply, more heat. Lost ice anywhere and everywhere means more heat.

3. Migration, famine, food precarity

As the planet warms, so an awful lot of people are going to want to move to better climate. While they'll bring with them some appropriate skills, that need to move also strongly suggests a significant loss of usable arable land and in turn that implies we're going to have even more demands on land to produce enough food. So, at a time when even Britain might see a need to increase the land under crops, there is, at the same time, a need for more land as housing. If the non-jungle tropics are largely emptied, southern Europe (for example) is going to be overwhelmed. This suggests to me that more wars are likely – and war is already known to be not exactly good for crops. So a shortage of food is expected and famine across large swathes of land is likely.  The four horsemen of the apocalypse are stalking the land.

To me, we'd make significant progress with fewer people. We are the problem and we're fouling our nest. Yes, we have to change the behaviour of all of us, something I see unlikely to occur. We have to achieve this without going to war, which seems increasingly unlikely (§385 applies).

4. Loss of habitat, scarcity of water

We have not yet gone to war over water sources, as essay §114 discussed. However, such a statement is at risk as sources dry up. There is such a lot we could be doing, largely opposite to what we have been doing, that would maintain the water table. However, it looks increasingly as though we're about to get it wrong with a double whammy, more sea—higher levels, more acid with the excess of CO₂ absorbed—and less fresh water, because we do so little to capture what falls from the sky and we manage to waste so much of what is potable. We could do so much: more forest (wet enough to not disappear in wildfire), a lot less run-off, far better use of the water we've turned potable, better choice of crops to not waste water.

We do not seem to be joining the dots. Extremes of weather are more likely we are told, supported by repetitions of events that were supposed to be once a century. Extreme weather and its associated events affects what we can do but we don't seem to get much further than dealing with the disaster. That suggests that our economies are misdirected. Naively I thought that Russia's invasion of the Ukraine would prompt large-scale moves of economies: I thought that the reliance upon Russian oil and gas and trying to move away from that would let the military action provide instant impetus to drastically reduce that reliance. I had hoped that the resilience learned from the pandemic would be applied to the lack of energy. But it appears that more the opposite is occurring, that the costs of the pandemic become a reason and then an excuse for inaction and for, more or less, demanding a return to whatever the memory of 'normal' was.

At the very same time we appear to be holding opposing views as some sort of equal. We must act upon climate change but we can't afford to do that so we'll put it off just a little longer. We have to change out attitudes (say towards sustainability) quite radically but there too it is comfortable to only talk about it to put it off and, ideally, to make it someone else's problem.

George Monbiot  ²  has written extensively on matters ecological. Among the terms he introduces is MCB, mico-consumerist bollocks, where we have been persuaded to worry about plastic straws and single-use plastics on food as individual problems to be solved at an individual level, rather than tackle, even discuss in any practical way, the nation-sized structural problems. Such as: what the nation does instead of use gas; such as how to reduce transport to a level that might affect climate change; what we're going to do about mass migration. Really big problems that will affect us all. At the very same time you can see who benefits from moving the discussion from the large-scale to the individual: i really do want to know what I could be doing at an individual level, but, for example, I want help and support in not having to use single-use plastics (e.g. the pile we take of the vegetables when home from the supermarket – what has to change to make those plastics disappear?)

1  Methane is more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Over the last two centuries, methane concentrations in the atmosphere have more than doubled, largely due to human-related activities.   Ref

Methane has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere. Even though CO2 has a longer-lasting effect, methane sets the pace for warming in the near term. edf

Methane is a powerful greenhouses gas with a 100-year global warming potential 28-34 times that of CO2.  Measured over a 20-year period, that ratio grows to 84-86 times. UNECE

Why this confusion. MIT  the answer changes depending on how far in the future you look. Let’s say a factory releases a ton of methane and a ton of CO2 into the atmosphere today. The methane immediately begins to trap a lot of heat—at least 100 times as much as the CO2. But the methane starts to break down and leave the atmosphere relatively quickly. As more time goes by, and as more of that original ton of methane disappears, the steady warming effect of the CO2 slowly closes the gap. Over 20 years, the methane would trap about 80 times as much heat as the CO2. Over 100 years, that original ton of methane would trap about 25 times as much heat as the ton of CO2. So the point is that newly emitted methane will do most of its damage in the first few decades after its release. 

Warming up the permafrost produces arctic methane release.  Ref diagram, Y-axis is methane concentration, not a year.   Recent observations in the Siberian arctic show increased rates of methane release from the Arctic seabed.[4] Land-based permafrost, also in the Siberian arctic, was estimated in 2013 to release 17 million tonnes of methane per year – a significant increase on the 3.8 million tons estimated in 2006, and estimates before then of just 0.5 million tonnes.[11][12][13]This compares to around 500 million tonnes released into the atmosphere annually from all sources.[11] . So if the diagram was representative we'd be looking at a steady 8% increase in methane concentration over 30 years, a quarter of a percent per year compound; the 2006-2013 tonnage figures suggest 450% change over 7 years, a 24% annual change that implies a 2025 figure of 225 (±1) million tonnes and something like a 50% increase on the total methane released. Of course, that assumes the methane is there to be released, but the same article says there is several thousand times as much locked up in the arctic.


What about peatland or bogland with trapped methane that is has not been permafrost? That's about as much again in area.  Warming the bog accelerates the gas production (of course it does, adding heat to a reaction would do that) so this is something that is going to get very much worse until we reverse the warming trend. That is, it will continue to worsen even if we managed to stop temperature increase. We're talking increasing gradient, process acceleration and disaster, here.

DJS 20220802

2   George Monbiot, Guardian writer.




MCB; micro-consumerist bollocks; obsessing, or being persuaded to, over plastic straws, bags and coffee cups rather than the huge structural forces driving us towards catastrophe. (source). George, in the same article, suggests we should aim for private sufficiency, public luxury”, by which latter term he means high quality infrastructure, shared spaces and facilities.

Top pic: I hunted for an image that I thought best fitted with what I'd written. Some older images have the first horseman as Christ, where here that is represented by the Lamb overhead. I chose Viktor Vannetsov's painting of 1887. wikipedia

 Many say the spellings are entirely interchangeable. I found one site (part two not found) suggesting a subtle difference. 

*VULCANISM = Is an eruption of molten materials both endogenically(internally) and exogenically(externally) while 

 *VOLCANICITY = Refers to the eruption of molten materials exogenically.  OR;

•VULCANISM = Is the term which include both intrusive and extrusive igneous activities while •VOLCANISM = Is the term which include extrusive igneous activities.

The features formed due to extrusive Vulcanicity are volcanoes. VOLCANOES are the hills (mounds) formed due to accumulation of lava.

So in both cases the VO form is only exo- or extr- and the VU form is exo and endo, extr- and intr-, making the VU form the larger descriptor. Exogenic means arising from outside and so means the range of things an astronomer is interested in such as cratering and meteorites while endogenic processes, arising from inside, include tectonics, movement of magma and eruptions. Extrusive igneous activity means magma reaches the surface while intrusive means it doesn't; these result in features such as dykes and sills; examples in northern UK. I think Cheviot is an example of intrusive igneous movement, vulcanism rather than volcanism.

4   The four horsemen of the apocalypse were Death, Famine, War and Pestilence. Wrong: Death, Famine, War and Conquest; pale, black, red and white respectively. Revelations says the order is conquest, war, famine and death and I find it odd that conquest comes before war. Then I learn that Conquest is also Pestilence. Suitable for a lengthy foot note. Ref to Ezekiel and Zechariah, whose list—of four predicted disasters—was sword, famine, wild beasts and pestilence (also translated as plague). I found a version of the Revelations set as: capture or the threat of conquest; slaughter or violence people do to each other; economic hardship and insecurity; and death.

I found several pointers to articles that say the fifth horseman would be us. Pick a colour for the horse, then, or make it some other sort of horse, such as zebra, donkey ass - or mule.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/aug/01/climate-endgame-risk-human-extinction-scientists-global-heating-catastrophe    The current trend of greenhouse gas emissions would cause a rise of 2.1-3.9C by 2100. But if existing pledges of action are fully implemented, the range would be 1.9-3C. Achieving all long-term targets set to date would mean 1.7-2.6C of warming.

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