Very bad news, for our long-term climate picture. Frozen methane in Siberia is now bubbling up as gas, and the total amount being emitted in this region is more than in the rest of the oceans put together.
This is bad because CO2's effects as a greenhouse gas are minor in comparison with methane's. Major methane releases are linked in the fossil record with mass extinctions, and the phrase "climate change" almost doesn't do it justice. The long-term effects of such events have changed the very direction of life on Earth, with a lot of "losers" for every winner who gained a new niche.
Geoengineering -- the theory and practice of making large-scale alterations to the Earth's climates and ecosystems -- is both politically and ethically controversial, and rightly so. At the same time, it may well be our only chance at even maybe toning down the impact and just keeping our system going long enough to make the necessary changes to preserve it.
Some would say that it's not worth trying to save, and there are bound to be winners and losers among humanity as well as on the evolutionary scale. The problem with that kind of thinking is that a whole lot of people who are questionably or clearly not responsible will be paying the price, in the form of a massive boom of refugees, famine and flood victims worldwide, casualties of war and disease (both likely to be seriously exacerbated in such a situation), and people whose economic livelihood is destroyed by the changing of the world underneath them.
This isn't about More Progress, or The Power of Science. This is about desperately trying to gain traction on a very big, vaguely-understood but not inherently mysterious system that, if allowed to run out of control, could do tremendous damage. Those of us living in the Global North should feel particularly obligated to give a damn about this -- our prosperity and good fortune CAUSED this, and we've set ourselves up as the standard of "civilization" for the people who we exploited to make it happen. China and India are pursuing paths toward development that lead to the same result: wealthy, well-fed, high-living middle classes with a sense of entitlement, a habit of consumption, and indifference to much of the world's problems as long as the good stuff keeps coming in. They learned that from us. What's more, we've made it pretty clear what we think of anyone who doesn't strive for the same end.
Now factor in Brazil. And Indonesia. And Malaysia. Don't ignore Russia, Japan, South Korea and Mexico. And for bloody's sake, let's stop pretending that Europe, Australia and Canada have any moral high ground here.
We're on a train turning the corner of a mountain pass. In the valley beyond, we can see the track broken in the distance over a plateau. The engineer is missing and the staff are all too busy telling people to stay in their seats to do anything about it. We are not sure how many miles there are to the dropoff, how high the plateau is, who will survive (if anyone) or how to stop a moving train.
We have a bunch of tools we could use to at least try, though. And if someone can both get to the engine car, AND figure out where the brakes are, we can hopefully prevent it from going off. People might get hurt or whiplashed. The train might derail sideways off the tracks. But it's better than going off the plateau.
The passengers outnumber the staff, but all have different ideas about how to proceed. And the staff are most interested in keeping the passengers seated and quiet. In principle, however, all the pieces to solve this problem are already in place.
But the people aren't communicating, aren't willing to cross the staff, don't think they could do anything, aren't convinced this won't turn out okay, or think it's nonsense. Or, are accepting money from the staff to persuade the other passengers to keep still (even though it'll be useless to them after the train derails).
Will they go off the edge? Stay tuned.