Footprints Footprints Newsletter

 Newsletter #3 – 10th December 2006 
 The Crisis Coalition Team at


In this

Glaciers are melting faster
Permafrost is dangerous
Australian drought

Comparison of US and Australian ecological footprints with Indian or African. Every American puts 22 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year, every Australian 17½ tons and most Africans a lot less less than 1 ton each.

This is our third FOOTPRINT Newsletter

The aim of the Crisis Coalition is to raise awareness of our situation and to galvanise action. The basic facts are assembled in  The newsletters will keep you up to date on our successes and failures.

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Glaciers are melting faster

We used to think that it would take 10,000 years for any melting on the surface of an ice sheet to percolate down to the bottom. Now we know it doesn't take 10,000 years, it takes 10 seconds.

This is why scientists are panicky about the sheer speed and violence with which climate change could take hold. They are realising that their old ideas about gradual change - the smooth lines on graphs showing warming and sea-level rise and gradually shifting weather patterns - are not how the world's climate system really operates.

The conventional view on glacier melt is that warming works its way gradually from the surface through the two kilometre- and three kilometre-thick ice sheets. It has been thought that the ice is so thick that heat will penetrate slowly. So we have hundreds, probably thousands, of years to make our retreat to higher ground.

Over the past couple of years it has been realised that glaciers are riddled with crevasses. The ice on the surface is melted by the sun and forms lakes several kilometres across. These drain into the crevasses. In 10 seconds, the water is at the base of the ice sheet, where it lubricates the join between ice and rock. Then the whole ice sheet starts to slide downhill towards the ocean. Within hours of the lakes forming the vast ice sheets rose up on their bed of water and slid towards the ocean.

These flows completely change our understanding of the dynamics of ice sheet destruction. It is similar in Alaska and in the Antarctic, and in Peru and Bolivia where  glaciers are receding so fast they will have disappeared in 10 years, not in the predicted 300.

There is a growing fear among scientists that we are about to return to a world of climatic turbulence, where tipping points are constantly crossed. Changes in the past have often been sudden and violent. Jim Hansen of NASA, recent winner of the WWF award, predicts that within a few years the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets will destabilise causing sea-levels to rise very quickly.

Towards the end the last ice age, about 11,000 years ago, temperatures in the Arctic rose 16 degrees or more in a decade, possibly within a single year. The sea level rose 20 metres. This may have been driven by an abrupt emission of greenhouse gasses from the rainforests and the oceans. Hundreds of billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide have in the past burped into the atmosphere at the flick of a switch.

Our relatively benign world has been the reason our species was able to leave the caves and create the urban, industrial civilisation we enjoy today. We rely on being able to plant crops and build cities knowing that the rains will come and our cities will not be flooded. When that certainty fails, as when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans last year, even the most sophisticated society is disabled.

Our children's futures are at risk.
We can stop being so greedy!

Permafrost is the most dangerous greenhouse source

Southern Siberia is the fastest warming region on the planet, being seven to 10 degrees warmer than normal. Animals are not hibernating; dandelions are flowering out of season; and in the north ice packs are failing to form.

This is causing almost one million square kilometres of permafrost to melt. This is releasing large quantities of methane and carbon dioxide. It is estimated that the west Siberian bog alone contains 70 billion tonnes of methane. This is a quarter of all the methane stored on the land surface of the world.

When we remember that methane is 24 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2, the Siberian storage is equivalent to 1½ trillion tons of carbon. This vast figure is almost as much greenhouse gas as humans have put into the atmosphere in the past 200 years.
To realise that these gasses are being emitted now in belches, called ‘burping’ is very scary.

In addition, the earth's soil is another huge sink of carbon dioxide, and this too is now being released due to global warming. Over the past 25 years the carbon content English and Walsh soils has diminished by 13 million tons each year. If this situation was the same world-wide this is another vast source to add to permafrost. Altogether there is 300 times as much carbon trapped in the soils as we release each year from burning fossil fuels.

On this evidence drastic action is needed. We need to cut existing emissions by between 80% and 90% in the next 10 years to stand a chance of preventing climate change becoming unstoppable. This is the riskiest scenario, but under the circumstances is anything less prudent?
Compare tis figure with the Kyoto Protocol, to date the best effort by politicians. It hopes to cut greenhouse gases from 34 of the developed countries by 5.2%, excluding the world's biggest polluter, the US.

However, the agreement lasts only until 2012, during which time total world emissions will still rise from of the growing industries of the developing world.

How much time do we have left to solve the problem? Measurements show that greenhouse gases take time to build up to their full effect, largely because of the oceans take longer to heat up than the atmosphere.

Best estimates are that there is a 25- to 30-year time lag between greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere and their full heat-trapping potential taking effect.

That wipes out any feeling of comfort.

It means that most of the increase of 0.8 degrees C seen so far is not caused by current levels of carbon dioxide but by those already in the atmosphere up to the end of the 1970s.

Still worse, the last three decades have seen the amount of greenhouse gases increase dramatically. In this 30-year period the earth has witnessed the largest increase in industrial activity and traffic in history.

This great burning of fossil fuels and the mass destruction of rainforests is coinciding with methane burping in Siberia that has already passed its tipping point. So, on top of the extra heat we are already experiencing there is another 30 years of ever-accelerating warming built into the climate system.

This is why we need to cut existing emissions by between 80% and 90% in the next 10 years. Only this way will we keep control of our destiny.

WE MUST ACT, AND NOW – NOT LATER. This is what you can do.

Australia's climate is now permanently hotter and drier

The rainfall in parts of eastern Australia are forecast to drop 40 percent. With it will come a seven degree Celsius rise in temperature. This is from recent government studies. It showed that the town of Gunnedah in western NSW will have more than 100 days a year with temperatures over 35 degrees and Walgett may have 83 days a year above 40 degrees. Such constantly high temperatures could turn even drought-proof green pastures into brown dustbowls.

Large swathes of the continent are becoming visibly less green, and the leafage in the trees is thinning out. The soil, particularly where is has a lot of clay in it, is becoming so parched-hard that even when the rain comes it will not sink into the roots.

The trend started in the late 1990s. What makes this finding so alarming is that if the drought does not ease then there must be a massive death of vegetation, huge bushfires followed by the release of vast volumes of carbon, further feeding climate change.

It is symptomatic that local ski resorts have refused to renegotiate their 25-year leases as they doubt there will be any snow around in 2030. This is a good year in the southern Alps, but there is little confidence in the long-term future.

Kindly send this newsletter to your friends and encourage them to read the material on our site and join our mailing list. Pin this up on notice boards - circulate this information.

We can transform our life on this planet, and maintain our lifestyles. We can do both - if we start NOW.


The magnificent ecology of the ocean floors is ending: Fishing nations including China and South Korea, Iceland and Russia, have blocked UN negotiators from imposing a fully-fledged ban against drag-netting. This is as destructive to the sea floor as it is profitable. Scooping up everything in its path these giant nets wipe out all creatures in their paths as well as the habitats that support them. The proposed ban had the backing of the US, , Britain Australia, NZ and Norway.

Aeroplane tax: Planes flying in and out of Europe will have to pay their share of pollution. The EU is considering a carbon tax on air travel. A single short-haul flight produces roughly the same amount of global warming gas as three months’ worth of driving a 1.4 litre car.
Aviation pollution has been growing faster than any other source of greenhouse gases. Between 1990 and 2004, the number of people using airports in the UK rose by 120%, and the energy the planes consumed increased by 80%. They also release hot, wet air from the engine exhaust to form contrails, which have a warming effect 2.7 times that of the carbon dioxide.
The end of the flying age is upon us.

John Howard last week: "I accept that there s a weight of evidence that we have got too many greenhouse gas emissions. We should on the good insurance principle act in a prudent fashion in case the worst predictions might be close to being right".
Since the worse prediction is that we have only 5 to 8 years to knock down our emissions by 90%, one can be sure that his "dirty energy" supporters wont buy that, and that this is just more rhetoric.
The preferred coal industry solution -Carbon storage: The US  and Australia are promoting the pumping of CO2 from coal-fired power stations into deep chambers underground. Several pilot schemes are already under way to test feasibility. Naturally it is enthusiastically backed by many in the coal industry.
One advantage is that profits can still be made in coal production and large amounts will be spent on research and on installing these chambers. Solar and wind generation on the other hand, that do not involve such expensive and therefore profitable infra-structures, and still being sidelined.

We still have a long way to go: Like Australians, Europeans are overwhelmingly convinced that human activity is contributing to global warming, and a majority would be prepared to accept restrictions on their lifestyle to combat it, according to polls.
However, though 68 per cent said they would support restrictions on their behaviour and purchases to reduce the threat, only a quarter were prepared to make significant financial sacrifices. And even then that sacrifice amounted to only one week’s wages. This is roughly the 2% of national income figure that Sir Nicholas Stern suggested rich countries would need to contribute. Also, a third said they would not pay anything at all.
If you typed "O.J. Simpson" into Google the first page provided links for almost 2500 recent stories. The results for "global warming," however, totalled roughly 300. Thus, by media standards, O.J. is eight times more significant than climate change.

China has slid down the index that measures a country’s climate protection efforts. It now sits just behind the US and ahead of Malaysia and Saudi Arabia. The US remains the world's leading polluter in the Climate Change Performance Index. China was 29th in 2006 but has since dropped it to the third worst in the 2007 update.
A year ago the International Energy Agency estimated that Chinese emissions would pass those of the US by 2020. Now this has been revised to 2009 because China is building three coal-fired power stations a week. See Footnotes #2.
The Index was compiled by Germanwatch and Climate Action Network-Europe. At the upper end of the scale they placed seven European countries - led by Sweden, Britain and Denmark - and a trio of developing economies - Argentina, Brazil, and India - among the top ten. However, they lamented that even the efforts of the top scorers were not enough to effectively curb and reverse global warming. "There is no winner, the leader, Sweden, is only the one-eyed king among the blind and short-sighted."
Two persistent problems were US reluctance to agree to any mandatory limits and increased stubbornness by China and India, two of the world's fastest-growing polluters,

Antarctic icebergs moving north: A hundred or more icebergs, some 200 metres long and 50m high, were headed toward the NZ coast, being pushed north by winds and ocean currents. The largest was about 2 by 1½ kilometres in size and more than 130 metres high

Climate canaries: This uncomfortable term applies to people and cultures destined to become the first victims of world climate change. These include the three million nomadic pastoralists of northern Kenya where consecutive droughts have decimated their livestock in recent years; the inhabitants of the Kiribati group of islands in the Pacific, and the Carteret atolls near New Guinea. Already a thousand islanders have had to be evacuated. Many were starving because rising salt water has destroyed their trees so they could no longer grow greens and breadfruit. About 17,000 islanders applied for residence in New Zealand in the past two years compared with 4,000 in 2003.
Aid agencies estimate there are already 25 million climate refugees fleeing drought, water shortages, storm surges and sea-level rise. Unexpectedly, one of the first massive movements has been people fleeing the Gulf Coast of the US. New Orleans’ population before Katrina struck was 463,000. After the hurricane the population shrank to 93,000, but by July 2006, the city still had only 214,000 residents. No one is immune from becoming a refugee.

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