As Arctic permafrost deteriorates, EPA elects to lift coal emission rules
Thursday, June 20, 2019
While world governments meet this week in Bonn, Germany, to flesh out more climate change prevention strategies via the Paris Agreement, President Trump and his administration have announced the latest plan to boost dirtier forms of energy.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is lifting coal emissions limits in the U.S.’ latest environmental deregulation move. This comes at a time when scientists from northerly latitudes have released sensitive data regarding the planet’s warming, suggesting that not only should the U.S. be represented in the Bonn talks, but these negotiations should be the highest priority for President Trump.
You’ve heard the word “permafrost” but aren’t sure why it’s important, right? Arctic permafrost is the frozen layer beneath the ground surface that remains frozen for two years or longer. Described as “the glue that holds the northern landscape together,” scientists and climate change activists have been sounding the alarm. The glue is disappearing before our eyes: some even suggest up to 70 years earlier than expected.
The real and imagined scenarios are nothing short of apocalyptic.
A University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF) research team led by geophysics professor Vladimir E. Romanovsky released data from an extensive study of northern Canadian Arctic lands hosting the permafrost that is necessary for ecosystem stability.
The team conducted an extensive survey of remote sites via plane access and concluded that in just one decade certain Arctic locations were practically unrecognizable due to warming and melting cycles that have created a vicious feedback loop, compounding further warming.
As ice melts, greenhouse gases are released — exacerbating the original melting problem.
When something natural that has been relatively stable for millennia begins to deteriorate, we don’t know what the consequences will be. But as Dr. Romanovsky warns in his recent Geophysical Research Letters paper, this is happening sooner than predicted; both the timing and rapidity of permafrost melting should be of great concern.
If one knows what to look out for when touring the Arctic climate, then it becomes clear that, since 2003, signs of climate deterioration are all around.
And there’s new terminology established to capture this melting phenomenon. Perhaps one of the best examples is “thermokarsts.” A thermokarst is a “land-surface configuration that results from the melting of ground ice in a region underlain by permafrost. In areas that have appreciable amounts of ice, small pits, valleys, and hummocks are formed when the ice melts and the ground settles unevenly.”
This is what Romanovsky’s team witnessed on its Arctic tour.
Meanwhile, we must consider other human consequences for what appears to be much more rapidly than expected climate meltdown.
Trump’s recent overturning of Obama’s Clean Power Plan will result in concrete health impacts with rather startling statistics. By 2030, there will be more than 1,400 premature deaths from the lifted ban of coal-powered emissions. Obama’s plan would have prevented “...3,600 premature deaths a year, 1,700 heart attacks and 90,000 asthma attacks, according to analysis conducted by the EPA under his tenure.”
Of course, beyond public health, there are other serious consequences associated with the Trump administration’s ongoing support for coal production in the U.S.
States are already prepared to sue the federal government for violating the Clean Air Act with the new “Affordable Clean Energy” rule favoring traditional dirty energy production.
Up north, where millennia of ice formations are being destroyed by mass warming and gas emissions, the battle is different than the lower 48, but nonetheless real. Alaskan coal production is also impacted by the new rule change, which adds an additional burden onto a landscape that is constituted by at least 85% of the very permafrost melting as we speak.
For example, in the June 19 Anchorage Daily News, there is a story on a whole Alaskan village, Quinhagak, that may be relocated due to melting permafrost.
Thermosiphons are cooling systems application used to mitigate the harsh effects of warming. However, they didn’t work in Quinhagak because thawing is too rapid: “Erosion now threatens Quinhagak's airstrip, water treatment plant and water and sewer system, officials said. Quinhagak's sewer lagoon and the building holding the laundromat and health clinic have experienced the worst impacts, creating a public health problem, said tribal administrator Ferdinand Cleveland.”
Whether to relocate or rebuild is one of the many questions facing people as the reality of disappearing permafrost continues unabated while global climate talks and smart energy policies are avoided by those with the resources to address the climate crisis.
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