Eden to Hell and back Again
- 18 Oct 06, 10:19 AM
There are vast amounts of frozen methane sitting beneath the seabed. Methane is 60X as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide and there is twice as much methane ready to blow as all the carbon dioxide contained in the global reservoir of crude oil and coal. How are we supposed to think about this planetary bomb shell?
We have just made a delightful series called Gardens of Faith. These are simple programmes where faith leaders talk about the value of a garden and how the design of the garden symbolises the faith. We covered Islam, Sikhs, Hindu, Buddhist and Judaism. They are all interesting and different.
The Jews, of course, believe the first wilderness was a garden, the garden of Eden. In it was everything for Adam and Eve. And Jews today believe they have a responsibility to Eden in their working and everyday lives. Like the Jews, the Sikhs aren't especially into gardens but believe there is a responsibility towards the natural world where there is solice and of course a relationship. The living world supports humanity.
We've just interviewed University of California Sandra Barbara marine geologist Jim Kennett. He spoke of an enormous reservoir of Methane gas on the seabed that could thaw and let rip into the atmosphere causing a step-change (i.e. rapid) increase in global warming. He says this has happened before (more than once) and he can see the evidence of global climate change in the past simultaneously in both the sea bed off Santa Barbara (N Pacific) and in the ice cores of the Greenland ice sheet. In the past when there have been mass warming events he proposes the liberation of frozen methane as the mechanism. He says the methane in the seabed is unstable and warming can stimuate it's release. More directly, he says human induced climate change could trigger this methane eruption putting global warming into a step-change trajectory. Not all agree the methane is unstable. Jim Kennett says you can see pot marks on the seabed where this has happened in the past - And other geologists tell us there is further evidence in the geological record. Methane eruption has been suggested as a mechanism for the extinction of the dinosaurs 65M years ago.
So here we have another reason to worry about the future. This mechanism seems to have planetary cycles attached to it - when it happened before we weren't around. What with the liberation of carbon dioxide from a thawing Arctic Tundra and the awesome shadow of a mega methane eruption you can't help but think, is there any point in going on?
Who do we turn to to ease our worried and over heated heads? These concepts are vast and their implications for the human race horrific.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams told colleagues of mine in an interview "....that we have to look at our humanity freshly, we're no longer brains on stalks, we're part of a system and answerable to other parts of that system..".
Clare Short, who was the UK Secreatary of State for International Development until 2003 said .."we have to cease finding the meaning of life out of more and more goods and wealth.....we're trashing the planet...And it's making us unhappy"
It made me laugh in an interview with the venerable E. O. Wilson, when I met him at his beloved Waldon Pond Nature Reserve - we were lisening to bull frogs calling. He imitated their call in a hilarious way - And also referred to them as "moaning like the condemned in hell" !
All faith leaders seem to value the relationship we have for the natural world and their religions offer different versions of caring for our environment. Archbishop Rowan Williams has stated that climate change is a moral issue, implying there is a right and wrong in our role in its causation. Clare Short seems to have resonance with the idea we just want everything and we're levelling the Earth to the ground doing so.
That acoustic image of moaning like the condemned in hell looks like a reality if you believe only a small proportion of the scientists and analysists in the field of climate change.
The Earth has come back from Hell many times before - but we weren't part of the picture then. Today we are. We're intelligent and technologically competant (as Jim Lovelock says) - Perhaps those who can tap into what it means to be human are the ones to lean on as the concepts and messages of the future get so big, unweildy and hideous.
"Think about our humanity freshly" has as much resonance as "moaning like the condemned in hell".
Surely, no competition.