Mr. President: Regulate Our Emissions Now or We Face Extinction

President Obama has decided that since Congress won’t act on anything, he’s going to get things done with his regulatory agencies. He may want to start with the EPA if he wants humans to continue living on this planet over the next few generations.

There’s a crisis in the arctic, and we’re helping cause it. And the EPA may be able to do something about it.

Here’s the situation: As greenhouse gases increase, our planet warms – and CO2 is now above 400 parts per million for the first time in the 165,000-year history of humans on this planet. This January was, worldwide, the fourth warmest on history and arctic sea ice was the fourth-lowest level in the history of satellite measurements.

As the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) notes, “In the atmosphere, 500-millibar height pressure anomalies correlate well with temperatures at the Earth's surface.”  This is fancy science-speak for “temperatures are associated with atmospheric pressure.”

You’ll recall from your fourth-grade science class that the eye of a hurricane is the point of lowest barometric pressure. And that the intensity of a storm front – like when a giant thunderstorm rolls through – is largely a function of the difference in the temperature and pressure differences behind and in front of the front.

Which takes us to one theory about why it’s so damn cold in DC and the rest of the US east of the Rockies, and so hot in Alaska and California.

The arctic is warming a lot faster than the mid-latitudes like most of the United States. The Danish Meterological Institute notes that average temperatures in the arctic have been between 9 and 27 degrees F above normal over the past few weeks

There used to be a huge temperature difference between the US and the arctic, and that temperature difference – and the pressure difference associated with it – used to maintain a giant wall of air north of us that kept the Jet Stream in place. The Jet Stream – a river of air that runs around the world just south of the Arctic – used to keep cold polar air over the north pole. It did so because of the big difference in temperatures and pressures between us and the Arctic.

But now that the arctic has warmed so much – that 27 degrees F measured just a few weeks ago – that difference in temperature and pressure isn’t so great.

The Jet Stream is going to keep rolling along – in part it’s doing so because of the rotation of the earth, which hasn’t stopped – but without that giant wall of air to hold it in place, the main thing that’s controlling where it can go are mountains. And we have a big chain of them that runs from Alaska down to New Mexico that we generally refer to as the Rockies.

Which may well explain why it is that the Jet Stream is being kept above the area from Anchorage to Los Angeles – keeping that area very warm – while just east of the Rockies it’s drooling all the way down to Texas and Georgia. And when the Jet Stream falls, it lets the cold polar air slide off the North Pole like a man’s hat falling over his face, and that cold polar air makes it insanely frigid here.

This is a big, big problem for a bunch of reasons, like how it’s screwing with our weather, but more importantly, it may well be the beginning of a catastrophic “positive feedback loop” of warming in the arctic. When the cold polar air comes down here, warmer air from other parts of the world goes up toward the North Pole. And when it gets there, it makes the North Pole warm up even faster.

Beyond the damage this is doing to the Arctic, the biggest danger here is that a thawing arctic could release millions of tons of methane frozen below the arctic. And there’s a lot of methane up there, as NASA’s Dr. Charles Miller noted in an interview with me a few months ago. He noted that it’s estimated that “there are approximately one thousand eight hundred billion metric tons of carbon sequestered…” in the arctic. You can see how much that is when you contrast it that with the 350 billion tons that we have pulled out of the earth as fossil fuels, burned, and dumped into our atmosphere since the Civil War and the beginning of the industrial revolution.

As Dr. Miller noted, most of that won’t be free any day soon, but it’s still a huge loaded gun pointed at our heads. Particularly if the carbon that’s released comes out as methane (CH4) as opposed to Carbon Dioxide (CO2). This is a big deal because methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than is Carbon Dioxide.

Which brings us to the most recent satellite views and air measurements of the arctic – from just the past few weeks.

As Sam Carana notes over at the Arctic News blog, there’s been a virtual explosion of methane melting up from under the water and ice of the arctic over the past few weeks.

This could represent a tipping point that we’re either close to or have already passed when more and more warming in the arctic leads that region to release more and more carbon into the atmosphere. That carbon then speeds up the warming of the arctic, which speeds up the release of more carbon, spinning out of control.

This is a scenario the planet has seen before – five times in a big way, and few other smaller ones. We refer to them as extinctions, as you can see over at

Which brings us back to the EPA. The Supreme Court has ruled in the past that the EPA has the authority to regulate the atmospheric emissions of carbon dioxide. While the fossil fuel industry was back before the Supreme Court today arguing against that, it’s the law right now.

If there’s even a small chance of an extinction – the death of more than half of all life on earth – the President and the EPA should be acting today. No matter how much the barons of carbon – from the Koch brothers to ExxonMobil to TransCanada – may dislike it, the weird behavior of the Jet Stream is warning us right now, today, that we have to do something and do it quickly.

Mr. President, please move forward with your instructions to the EPA to regulate and reduce our Carbon Dioxide emissions. Now.


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