A double-barreled blast for climate change.

A polar bear climbs out of the water to walk on the ice in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago’s Franklin Strait on July 22, 2017. Climate scientists point to the Arctic as the place where climate change is most noticeable, with dramatic sea ice loss, a melting Greenland ice sheet, receding glaciers and thawing permafrost. David Goldman/Associated Press

The recent U.N. climate report showed another increase in CO2 emissions worldwide; last November, COP27 showed no significant movement regarding fossil fuel emissions.

To begin, some personal history. I sojourned to Alaska circa 1975. Driving up a slight incline, I encountered a searing first impression: telephone poles. Like a line of drunken sailors stumbling down the hill, the poles leaned every which way.

There were other warnings. Discrete patches of forest disappearing from sight. Buildings tilting and subsiding like amusement-park crazy houses. Rustic log cabins, victims of terrain disequilibrium, ultimately fracture, the V-shaped domiciles sinking into the not-so-permafrost, the frozen layer on or under Earth’s surface.

In an overly optimistic New York Times op-ed on climate change last October, climate activist Greta Thunberg was panned as the “unyielding face of climate alarm.” That unyielding face appears so discouraged that she, castigated for years, did not attend COP27. Why? It is feckless. The fossil fuel lobbyists there attempted to list natural gas as a “green fuel.”

Climate-change scientists are too reserved in conveying their ideas. This is understandable, scientific precision and grants being their watchwords. Even David Attenborough, the renowned naturalist, has expressed optimism about solving the problem. I cannot see why. The data, intersecting with the predictable curve of human behavior and the perfidious influence of money, all prefigure a grim future.


Nathan Weyiouanna’s abandoned house at the west end of Shishmaref, Alaska, sits on the beach after sliding off during a fall storm in 2005. “About 31 Native Alaskan communities face imminent climate displacement from flooding and erosion,” and four of them – Kivalina, Shishmaref, Shaktoolik and Newtok – are trying to relocate because warming has thawed permafrost and eroded coastlines, Inside Climate News reported in 2021. Diana Haecker/Associated Press

Never a doomsayer, I have no optimism.

The inauguration of Earth Day in 1977 occurred with glorious optimism; now, carbon dioxide emissions are at their highest levels and continuing an unmitigated rise. I can only imagine the soul-eating anxiety of the younger generations. They have the intelligence and foresight to see the oncoming catastrophe, yet lack the political power to avert it. Tragically, the generations who will suffer are not the ones causing their catastrophe.


While attending the University of Alaska Fairbanks, I witnessed evidence of a warming globe in Alaska half a century ago. Jolting me from my historical miasma was a recent NOVA documentary, “Arctic Sinkholes.”

Unfortunately, some are not true sinkholes, rather blast craters. These craters are created by voluminous collections of methane in the subsoils. The development of these craters is recent and significant. Several such craters have been discovered on or around the Yamal Peninsula in northern Siberia.

There are two related yet separate phenomena. The methane produced from the thawing permafrost itself and the loss of the cap effect. The continuous zone of permafrost acts similarly to the Greenland ice sheet, serving as a cap on the ground below. If the cap is thawed, the geologic, biologic and microbial processes below are given free rein.


Recent disturbing research by UAF researchers on Esieh Lake is of profound significance. Esieh is one of the so-called bubbling lakes, a lake formed by permafrost thaw and land slump. The bubbling is caused by methane. The warmer lake waters form layers of unfrozen ground that lies in permafrost areas, which undercut the permafrost further. The UAF investigations found: 1) The thawing forms a conduit to deeper structures, including seismic faults and prehistoric methane deposits. 2) This fossil methane now tracks up the geologic faults, into the conduit (chimney), into the sinkhole in the lake bottom, through the water and into the atmosphere. 3) Although variable, at least 10 metric tons of methane are exuding every day from this one small lake in northwest Alaska.

I recently spoke with Vladimir E. Romanovsky, a geophysicist at the Geophysical Institute who has been studying the tundra and permafrost environment for decades. Romanovsky is not sanguine about the prospects for our near-term future. He said that the Arctic permafrost environs had reached an “irreversible threshold.” This, he notes, is on a human time scale, meaning the coming centuries of humanity’s existence.

Hyperbole? The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report estimates that 25% of the Northern Hemispheric land mass has underlying permafrost, an area equivalent to 7 million square miles. The thawing permafrost is becoming a massive hemispheric machine releasing enormous amounts of methane, ultimately becoming carbon dioxide.

This geological machine is a positive feedback cycle – by positive, I don’t mean good. Simply stated, the product produced – methane – released into the atmosphere, causes warmer temperatures, which result in more permafrost melting, which produces more methane at accelerating rates; a self-perpetuating global engine.

The global nature of Arctic feedback will preclude our ability to rapidly or efficiently control or ameliorate it.



Most climate models have seriously underestimated the carbon released from the Arctic and the pace of Arctic warming, already long known to be warming twice as fast as the global average. These methane-producing phenomena have been poorly studied up to recently.

In an interview in 2022, the distinguished Arctic researcher Sergey Zimov said that one half of Siberia was melting. He further remarked that methane was at least a 40-fold more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2 over short periods of time and that the top 3 meters of permafrost, containing 1,000 gigatons of potential methane, thawed rapidly. Noting this process is difficult to stop, he added, “under these conditions, the goals of the Paris Agreement … become meaningless.”

These new findings, commingled with the continued uncertainties of Arctic permafrost-driven emissions, give the lie to the whole concept of the carbon budget, the amount of carbon emissions human activities can safely allow for 1.5 Celsius warming limit. The Arctic emissions from permafrost thaw are not well characterized.

Indeed, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report contained a paucity of information on permafrost thaw, arguably the most important potential source of greenhouse-gas emissions next to anthropogenic emissions, those associated with human activity.

One of the most concise, straightforward and lucid reports summarizing the permafrost crisis was composed by Susan Natali and colleagues, representing the Woodwell Climate Research Center in Falmouth, Massachusetts. The paper addresses many facets of the problem, including the great record-breaking Arctic heat wave of 2020 and the subsequent unprecedented Arctic wildfires; the catastrophic rapid-thaw events these created; that rapid-thaw events create increases in greenhouse gases, and that permafrost carbon emissions are not well accounted for in most climate models. Because of these factors, “rapid Arctic warming threatens the entire planet,” and “limiting warming to 1.5 C without overshoot is likely unattainable.”

No kidding. Observing our leadership, or lack thereof, and the recent COP27 failure, my personal view is that 1.5 C is presently a nonsensical target. And carbon budgeting, without the necessary information, is frighteningly tantamount to the accuracy of my checkbook.


Have you noticed that most climate changes are occurring more rapidly than predicted, some strikingly so? We need a sense of panic, a Pearl Harbor moment.

As with a chronic disease, the trajectory of panic – or, in other words, our epiphany – lags significantly behind that of causality. The perception of the problem, just like the consequences, can march decades behind the invisible nature of causation. We are lulled into complacency by the drone of daily life, continued denial and the foreknowledge of sacrifice.

Simply put, all the green energy development will not save us if we continue burning fossil fuels.


Take your pick of animal-allegorical denialism: Frogs in a frying pan, lemmings to the sea, ostrich heads in the sand. This, mated with unwarranted optimism: We’re going to Mars; we’re crashing vehicles into asteroids to save the Earth from futuristic dangers; we have COP pledges and promises.

Our denial is a collective delusion, a national group-think that places expediency, convenience and getting elected above necessity. With the Republican Party off the rails with their election deniers and climate deniers, and the likes of Sen. Coal-Dust Joe on the other side, what optimism should I have?


Disturbingly, my own Rep. Jared Golden ran a campaign ad saying we need more drilling for American petroleum in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. Note the NIMBY hue – not the Gulf of Maine, the Gulf of Somewhere Else. The irony of this ad: In it, he is playing with his daughter, a beautiful child of about a year old. So, what of the future of little Ms. Golden? (Unfortunately, she wasn’t on the midterm ballot.)

Our time to act is now. Loving your children is not enough; you must protect their future, and the future of their children.

For those of you who believe that technology will save the day, why are you so willing to bet the future of others on that assumption? And as you stand at the pump, shaking your head and wondering, the petroleum industry rakes in massive quarterly profits. If that makes you feel bamboozled, there’s good reason for it. You are. Stop electing the pandering, lying hypocrites who personally profit from delusional thinking while mortgaging an oblivion for your progeny.

I am not without hope. Dedicated scientists and researchers work tirelessly around the world to solve the problem. Thousands of scientists and volunteers attempt to preserve endangered species. A few dedicated leaders are speaking out. António Guterres, secretary general of the U.N., is telling it like it is. And thank your stars there are individuals as brave as Greta Thunberg.

The sterling collective accomplishment during World War II is our lodestar. But then, the enemy was quite obvious. Today, we need petroleum rehab, moderate sacrifice and attitude adjustment. After all, we are not the only living beings on this planet. So stick this in your carbon budget: Within 15 years, we could turn much of this horror around. But will we? You want to make America great again? Here is your chance.

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