There are two pieces of news that have me really worried today, one environmental, the other political.
The environmental news, predictably, is about global warming. I suppose most people have heard by now about the giant methane plumes being released into the atmosphere from the melting Arctic permafrost, but did you realize the scale of what is going on? Here is a quote from the scientist who has spent more time than anyone else actually observing this issue in the Arctic, Dr. Igor Semiletov:
“In a very small area, less than 10,000 square miles, we have counted more than 100 fountains, or torch-like structures, bubbling through the water column and injected directly into the atmosphere from the seabed,” Dr Semiletov said. “We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered methane fields of a fantastic scale – I think on a scale not seen before. Some plumes were a kilometre or more wide and the emissions went directly into the atmosphere – the concentration was a hundred times higher than normal.”
As Andrew Revkin notes in his excellent Dot Earth NY Times blog, ““Given that methane, molecule for molecule, has at least 20 times the heat-trapping properties of carbon dioxide, it’s important to get a handle on whether these are new releases, the first foretaste of some great outburst from thawing sea-bed stores of the gas, or simply a longstanding phenomenon newly observed.”
Dr. Semiletov and his team caution that it’s too soon in their research to answer this question definitively. But it stands to reason that melting permafrost and sea ice would provide an escape hatch for methane that had previously remained sequestered for millennia. It seems likely that this trend will continue and worsen in the coming years. Global warming, here we come.
The other news I’m fretting over this morning is the massive Republican attack on voter franchise in the U.S.–also on a vast scale, and with potentially disastrous results. As Amy Goodman spells out in a column today on Truthdig, “Across the country, state legislatures and governors are pushing laws that seek to restrict access to the voting booth, laws that will disproportionately harm people of color, low-income people, and young and elderly voters.”
This has been going on for at least a year now, and only last week did Attorney General Eric Holder finally act to declare one such state action, in South Carolina, unconstitutional. The Democratic Party is finally waking up to the sinister plot afoot by the Republicans to steal the election they are unlikely to win in a fair fight.
We know what right-wing Republicans stand for: unfettered big business, dismantling of social safety net programs, Boss Tweed-style oligarchy of the wealthy, and an “are there no workhouses” Scrooge mentality towards everyone else.
Is this the country we want to become?
The United States needs to regain its stature as a beacon of hope in dark and dangerous times. The stakes are so high now; the danger is so real and so close. Although I have been writing about the importance of strengthening local “transition town” resources, we cannot afford to ignore big politics, because of the undeniable power possessed by federal and state governments, which can be used for good or for ill.
Although we can’t do anything to control those methane burps, we can work to shape and direct our political systems towards moving full steam ahead to transition to renewable energy and prepare for the systemic climate change that is already upon us, whether we want to admit it or not.
As the Occupy movements regroup in the New Year, I want to see the young people of this country stand up for their rights and the sane governance of our country and our planet.
Occupy the Elections must become a rallying cry for the coming months.