Arctic Resources of Global Significance

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Arctic resources, with a reference to ACIA (Arctic Climate Impact Assessment), are of global significance. Although covering only about 2,5 % (per cent) of the world´s total surface, the Arctic region as one of the most scarcely populated areas on Earth is yet one of the most unexploited and has many resources of economic interest. These resources include: petroleum (oil and gas), and many minerals such as diamonds, tungsten, uranium, gold, coal, copper, and nickel. (The Arctic – With The Support of The Russian Geographical Society).

The Arctic Russia holds most (80 %) of the oil resources and is also home to all of the gas resources found in the Arctic region. What is the connecting link between the gas reserves in the Arctic Russia and the European energy market? According to Reuters, Kremlin is currently dependent upon oil and gas revenues and aims at increasing its market share in Europe by building Nord Stream 2, a project of Gazprom to build another gas pipeline connecting the Russian gas market directly with Germany, perhaps the most important of all EU member states which is yet depending much upon oil despite of its many developments in the renewable energy sector.

According to the European Commission, the EU has set a goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by a minimum of 20 % (per cent) by 2020, and by a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the European Union by 80-95% (per cent) by 2050 in comparison to the situation in 1990. What gas and gas pipelines from Russia to Germany have to do with these goals remains an open question, with a Europe determined to strive for and invest in renewable energy sources and minimize the usage of fossil fuels such as coal, gas and oil.

Learn more about natural resources in the Arctic region by watching Al Jazeera English´s video “Counting the Cost – The new cold war: The Race for Arctic oil and gas”:

 

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Climate Forcing Methane

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Referring to my previous posts about methane and its impacts on climate change and the environment;

Methane Release Poses Climate Risks

Climate Amplifier Methane

Methane is an Environmental Wildcard

methane is a powerful greenhouse gas which can be found naturally all around our planet. In addition, most human activities produce and release the invisible, odorless and tasteless greenhouse gas methane into Earth´s atmosphere, drastically increasing the greenhouse effect that is warming up our planet. The amount of methane in Earth´s atmosphere has never been as high as in the past 150 years, and this is due to industrialization.

The vast majority of anthropogenic methane release into Earth´s atmosphere is caused through agriculture and oil/gas production. Agriculture and animal farming, especially enteric fermentation, account directly for at least 50 per cent of all methane emissions (see figure below), followed by oil and gas with 20 per cent. Decreasing anthropogenic methane emissions through innovative and sustainable practices is thus necessary in order to stop our Earth´s climate from warming due to human activities. This can be accomplished through 1) improving and making current practices more efficient; 2) reducing/minimizing the usage of fossil fuels as energy sources 3) transforming agricultural and farming practices.

chart (1)

When greenhouse gas emissions constantly increase in Earth´s atmosphere, these warm the climate especially fast in the Arctic region, which acts as a natural refrigerator on our planet. With a rapidly warming Arctic region (and, a warming Antarctica), more and more methane is being released into Earth´s atmosphere, accelerating the warming of Earth everywhere, not only in the Polar regions. Exactly how strongly additional methane and other greenhouse gas emissions will affect the warming of the Arctic (and, the whole world), is not known. Methane is being referred to as a climate amplifier and an environmental wild card since the increase of this powerful greenhouse gas in Earth´s atmosphere can present us with sudden and unexpected changes in our planet´s climate system. This is why methane emissions have to be investigated and studied carefully, and caution must be taken in its additional production.

According to the Global Methane Initiative (GMI), reducing the amount of methane release in all sectors involved leads to many benefits, including better protection of the environment, overall health factors, workplace safety where concerned, less pollution and cleaner air.

Learn more about climatic forcings by watching Middlebury Environmental Geology´s video “Climatic forcings and feedbacks (class 21-v2):

 

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Methane Release Poses Climate Risks

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Methane, a powerful chemical compound also known with the chemical symbol CH4, is at least 22 times as powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide CO2. Methane can be found naturally everywhere on our planet. Due to methane´s attributions, it is commonly used for e.g. the production of energy. In fact, around two thirds of all methane sources on our planet today are anthropogenic, i.e. man-made, through the burning of fossil fuels. Methane, which today accounts for around 14 % (per cent) of total greenhouse gas emissions on Earth, is so powerful that it accounts for more than one third of all human-caused warming on our planet.

According to Global Methane Initiative, half of all methane emissions globally come from agriculture, coal mines, landfills, oil & natural gas systems and wastewater. The following chart, Estimated Global Anthropogenic Methane Emissions by Source 2010, shows the main methane sources through human activities worldwide, whereby rice cultivation alone accounts for 10% (per cent) of all methane released into Earth´s atmosphere. Enteric fermentation (animal farming) accounts for 29% of all methane emissions, biomass 3%, stationary and mobile 1%, agriculture (manure) 4%, coal mining 6%, landfills 11%, oil and gas 20%, wastewater 9% and other agriculture sources 7%.

chart (1)

 

According to the Global Methane Initiative (GMI), there are many economic and inexpensive ways of reducing methane emissions worldwide. Not only do we have the possibility worldwide to transfer our economies into using sustainable, renewable sources of energy such as solar energy and wind energy, but to make overall production more efficient in terms of methane releases within already existing technologies in industries that account for all anthropogenic methane (and, other greenhouse gas) emissions.

Learn more about reducing methane emissions in oil and gas production by watching Climate & Clean Air Coalition´s video “Reducing Methane Emissions in Oil and Gas Production”:

 

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Climate Amplifier Methane

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In my previous post, Methane is an Environmental Wildcard, I wrote a short introduction to what methane is and how it affects our environment. The Arctic Institute is one of the organizations worldwide that has been conducting research upon methane and its impacts in the Arctic region. As a reminder, the Arctic region consists of all the areas upon Earth that are located above the Arctic circle, all the way to the North Pole. The Arctic region thus, includes parts of the United States, Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia.

According to The Arctic Institute, with headquarters in Oslo, Norway, methane is the second most emitted greenhouse gas on our planet after carbon dioxide. The problem with methane emissions is that it is at least 22 times stronger than carbon dioxide, which makes it especially dangerous when released into Earth´s atmosphere. In addition, according to The Arctic Institute, most methane emissions are being released in geographical areas south of the Arctic region, but much of which end up IN the Arctic warming its climate faster.

The Arctic region itself is also a huge “storage room” for methane, which can be found under permafrost. When permafrost thaws, previously naturally stored methane reserves are released into our atmosphere, our soils and our oceans (and, other water sources), causing additional warming through a greenhouse effect. By now, everyone who has been following and reading my posts should be aware of what greenhouse gases are, and how they contribute to climate change and the rapid warming on our planet.

Greenhouse gases are natural to a certain extent on our planet, but with the rate they have been released through human activities into Earth´s atmosphere in the past one hundred years only, has drastically increased the greenhouse effect and the warming of our planet. This is why we have no other option than to transform our local/global economies into sustainable solutions. Sustainability means that we find completely new, fossil-free (free from the usage of coal, gas, and oil as energy sources) means of energy production, something that has been widely understood in many parts and countries in our world already.

Texas, which has always been known as an oil-producing state in the U.S.A., has since long transformed its energy production to using for instance solar energy and wind energy. China is doing the same, in addition to China investing immense amounts of money into the African continent with new solar energy plants. The United Arab Emirates is also investing heavily into renewable energy sources, as are Denmark and Sweden. In short, we have many options regarding renewable energy sources: solar energy, wind energy, ocean energy. We could easily provide the whole world with solar energy only, if we just wanted to. The need for environmentally damaging and harmful sources of energy, including dams, nuclear plants, oil drilling, gas drilling and coal burning will become less and less attractive. The sooner the better. We deserve to create and to live on a healthy planet, with clean air, healthy water sources (lakes, rivers, oceans), and healthy soils. A healthy, pollution-free environment is a basic human right, for every citizen on our planet.

Learn more about the Arctic region, the Arctic Sea and methane by watching Climate State´s video “Methane in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (2017)”:

 

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Methane is an Environmental Wildcard

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What does The Arctic Institute mean by methane being an environmental wildcard in climate change risk assessments? Should we call The Arctic Institute and ask, or perhaps find out more about methane by ourselves? We can do both, but let us start by finding out more through some research about methane.

According to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), methane is one of the greenhouse gases that pollutes our global environment. In the short-term, methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide. In the long run, methane is at least 22 times stronger as a greenhouse gas in comparison to carbon dioxide.

The chemical compound methane (CH4 ) is a powerful greenhouse gas and source of energy, which can be found naturally below ground and under the sea floor. At room temperature methane is colorless, odorless and nontoxic, but may as an extremely flammable gas become explosive when mixed with air. Methane is a powerful energy source, which is why it has become so appealing to some energy markets. The risks of methane, however, may exceed its benefits. The usage of methane in energy production equals the usage of yet another fossil fuel, which have been proved to cause the greenhouse effect that is currently warming our planet so rapidly. Especially in the Arctic region, according to e.g. mother nature network, methane causes rapid warming and contributes strongly to climate change and glaciers melting.

Learn more about methane and its impacts on our climate by watching Environmental Defense Fund´s video “Methane – The other important greenhouse gas”:

 

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What Are Thawing Permafrost Risks?

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If you read my previous post, Thawing Permafrost A Huge Risk, you are already at least one step closer to understanding what the risks of thawing permafrost in the Arctic region are. In short, thawing permafrost gives even the most knowledgeable climate scientists and environmental experts a reason to scratch their heads.

Who knows for sure what the consequences of thawing permafrost will be? It is not the first time in the history of mankind that we are faced with completely new problems, requiring for us to find completely new solutions to solve these. Natural warming of Earth´s climate is one thing, but what we have accomplished as human beings within only one century is something that we can only blame ourselves for. It is a proven fact that since the Industrial Revolution, climate change and the warming of our planet has been man-made. Thus, in order to stop this development of anthropogenic climate change, us human beings are responsible for taking necessary actions to stop emitting toxic pollutants, including greenhouse gases which are largely responsible for the climatic changes our Earth is today experiencing.

Do we have to wait until permafrost thaws further, and possibly experience its devastating consequences before we learn? Do we need more catastrophic climate change events and natural disasters before taking action? Do we want our atmosphere and the air we breathe, our lands, our oceans and other water sources to be further polluted with toxins, and the release of methane and other harmful greenhouse gases that destroy our planet?

If we want Earth to be habitable for future generations, the response must quite simply be NO to all of these questions.

We do not need climate catastrophes, environmental disasters, toxins, pollutants killing millions of people, animals and plants each year. We do not need to wait until it is too late to take action(s) to prevent the destruction of our home planet. We do not have to let all of this happen.

Learn more about the risks from permafrost thawing by watching YaleClimateConnections´s video “Permafrost: The Tipping Time Bomb”:

 

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Thawing Permafrost A Huge Risk

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What is thawing permafrost? It may be difficult to understand for those who have lived their lives in completely different climates and environments than the climate and environment in the Arctic region.

Permafrost is unique to the Arctic region and Antartica, the first being the geographical region surrounding the North Pole, and the latter being the geographical region surrounding the South Pole. Now we are discussing the thawing permafrost in the Arctic region, which poses several risks for our whole planet, not only for the Arctic region.

Permafrost, as defined e.g. by the International Permafrost Association, is ground soil that remains at 0 degrees Celsius or below for at least two years in a row. Permafrost can be as thick as four (4) meters.

Now that much of the permafrost in the Arctic region is thawing, i.e. melting, due to climate change and warming, this poses several environmental and health risks both in the Arctic and elsewhere on our planet. Why?

When permafrost thaws, decayed plants and animals below the permafrost become exposed, beginning to release bacteria and huge amounts of greenhouse gases, especially methane, which is many times stronger a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Why is this such a risk for our environment and overall climate on Earth?

Some of the possible consequences of thawing permafrost are yet unknown. However, if and when bacteria and greenhouse gases (methane) from decayed organisms, previously held in captivity within permafrost, get exposure to our atmosphere, the probability of bacteria spreading diseases grows. In addition, powerful greenhouse gases will be released into our atmosphere, warming our climate faster and faster. Methane is at least 22 times as powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. This is why methane is often referred to by climate scientists as a possible climate amplifier and an environmental wildcard: its consequences are yet unknown, and it could lead to sudden changes in Earth´s overall climate if and when getting into contact with Earth´s atmosphere.

Learn more about thawing permafrost and its risks by watching National Science Foundation´s video “Thawing Permafrost – Changing Planet”:

 

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What Contributes to Ocean Acidification?

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Ocean acidification is a serious threat to our planet and our marine ecosystems. The term ocean acidification signifies changes in the ocean´s natural pH balance, with pH in chemistry referring to the acidity and/or alkalinity of a solution on a logarithmic scale where seven (7) is neutral. The lower the pH of the solution, the higher the acidity and the higher the pH, the lower the acidity. pH is also a measure of the hydrogen ion concentration of a solution. (Academic Brooklyn).

Lower pH levels have also been measured in soils around the world, meaning that e.g. farming soils have in many places become more acidic due to a number of reasons, including poor soil management. pH can and is also measured in us human beings: some people even exercise alkaline diets with the thought that our bodies are healthier the more pH-balanced they are. Thus, eating and drinking habits that lead to our bodies becoming more acidic are thought as of being responsible for many health problems. A healthy human being has, on the average, a body pH of 7.4.

Since healthy and balanced pH levels are important for everything living on our planet, including ourselves, we can only guess what the consequences are when a normal pH becomes imbalanced: even small variations in a healthy pH can lead to significant changes in health, not only in us human beings but also in our soils and in our marine environments. Therefore, imbalances in our ocean´s pH levels and ocean acidification should be taken seriously.

The main cause of ocean acidification as per today is our oceans intake of carbon dioxide. All human activities on the planet release greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, with the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere being higher than ever before in human history. Up to 40% of all greenhouse gases in Earth´s atmosphere are being absorbed by our oceans, with e.g corals acting like trees in forests: corals in our oceans absorb toxins and pollution in the same way as our trees in our forests. Needless to say, this leads not only to a collapse in our coral ecosystems, but an immense amount of greenhouse gases in our marine environments that become more and more acidic. With the Arctic region warming, it releases a significant amount of both CO2 and methane (a significantly more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide), which leads to increased acidification all over our planet, destroying our world´s natural (pH) balance and making everything around us more acidic.

Learn more about ocean acidification by watching randomSFstuff´s video “Ocean Acidification Explained”:

 

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Why Does Agriculture Emit So Much Greenhouse Gases?

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“Worldwatch Institute. Vision for a Sustainable World. Agriculture is the 3rd largest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions by sector, following the burning of fossil fuels for power and heat, and transportation.”

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Note from author: According to research, agriculture is the 2nd (or, 3rd) largest greenhouse gas emitter of all industries. This may be a surprise to many who are not aware of how and why agricultural production releases e.g. so much carbon dioxide. The main causes to agriculture releasing so much greenhouse gas emissions include:

  • the release of nitrous oxide from different farming techniques
  • fertilizer manufacture
  • refrigeration
  • post-production: storage and transport

(Vermeulen, S. J.Campbell, B. M. & Ingram, J. S. I. Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 37195222(2012).).

Furthermore, according to FAO: Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use, there is a continuing growth in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, with Asia being the largest emitter (44%), followed by the Americas (25%), Africa (15%), Europe (12%) and Oceania (4%). Livestock-related emissions from enteric fermentation and manure contributed almost 2/3 of total emissions:

  • enteric fermentation (40%)
  • manure left on pasture (16%)
  • synthetic fertilizers (10%)
  • paddy rice (10%)
  • manure management (7%)
  • burning of savannahs (5%)

(FAO. Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use).

Simply explained, animal farming contributes to much higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions compared to e.g. crops. Not only because agriculture first produces crops in order to feed animals. The longer the food chain, including storage and transportation, the higher the amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. This is why FAO in its recently updated strategy urges to sustainable food production, and a reason for choosing as many local products as possible, including consumption according to seasonal variations.
The following video material, Life Cycle Assessment and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Animal Agriculture, published by Livestock & Poultry Environmental Learning Center, explains how this works:
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What Is The Kyoto Protocol?

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“European Commission. Climate Change Key Terms. Kyoto Protocol = An international agreement, linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which commits industrialised countries to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

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Note from author: “The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, committing its Parties by setting internationally binding emission reduction targets.” (UNFCC 2017. Kyoto Protocol).

According to the Kyoto Protocol, which was signed in 1997 and entered into force in 2005, developed nations carry a heavier load while primarily responsible for the current amount of GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions in Earth´s atmosphere, yet the responsibilities are common but differentiated. Some adjustments to the protocol were adopted in Doha in 2012, the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol (UNFCC 2017. Kyoto Protocol).

The goal of the Kyoto Protocol is to lower emissions from six different GHG´s: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), hydrofluorocarbons (HFC´s), and perfluorinated chemicals (PFC´s). (Kyoto Protocol).

The Kyoto Protocol has as per today 83 signatory countries, and 192 parties. See the complete list here: UNFCC – Status of Ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. The good intentions of the Kyoto Protocol today, still, face challenges since carbon dioxide levels in the Earth´s atmosphere are rising at an alarming rate despite of the many technological advancements and transformations into a dominance of renewable energy sources in many countries.

However, not to speculate but the situation may look very different within only a few years or by 2030 with the current developments and actions being taken around the world, especially in nations like China which has taken rather drastic actions to improve not only the country´s domestic situation, heavily affected by pollution and smog, but in taking a leadership role and investing heavily into renewable energy production e.g. in many countries on the African continent.

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