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Stopping Methane Release in the Arctic

Those interested in or concerned about climate change will probably know that methane release from melting permafrost in the Arctic is a major unknown as a “tipping point” that could send the climate system into a tailspin as far as human interests are concerned. Until now, I hadn’t heard about any ways of stopping the release of methane. Then today I read about a Russian scientist who suggested just the kind of solution that fascinates me:

Zimov is reintroducing the grasses and herbivores that dominated northern Siberian steppes 10,000 years ago, and he plans to bulldoze portions of the park’s larch forest and shrubland. Foxtail and cotton grass are taking root, providing fodder for Yakutian horses, reindeer, musk oxen and bison Zimov envisions on the park’s flatlands.

Steppe terrain inhibits permafrost thaw because it retains less heat than forests and lakes, and because grass-eating mammals pack down the snow as they graze, lessening the snow’s ability to insulate the soil and keep it warmer.

It’s nothing less than the creation of a new ecosystem, a daunting task aimed at building a bulwark against global warming.

Fascinating stuff.

And on the ugly side, the aspect of news that I find so overwhelming and depressing that I generally don’t even bother to post about it, even though more people need to know about this kind of thing to make sure it doesn’t cause harm.

An American think tank has sent out more than 11,000 brochures and DVDs to Canadian schools urging them to teach their students that scientists are exaggerating how human activity is the driving force behind global warming.

The Chicago-based group, the Heartland Institute, said its goal is to ensure that students are provided with a “balanced” education about “an important and controversial issue,” but critics, including a leading climate scientist, described it as a campaign of misinformation.

The Heartland Institute is known for misleading the public, notably associating scientists with skeptical perspectives on climate change contrary to their wishes. Unfortunately, the National Post article also suggests that the Institute may already have the ear of the Canadian federal government. Considering the government’s policies to date, as well as statements by the Prime Minister – especially before it became apparent it wasn’t acceptable for the Prime Minister or his party to openly display a skeptical attitude towards climate change – it’s apparent they’re not as concerned about climate change as they should be, Heartland Institute or no. Don’t even get me started on the implications of an American organization trying to influence Canadians on this issue. One need only realize that those farthest from the equator can expect to see greater temperature changes, that Canada exports a fair bit of fossil fuels to the U.S. (natural gas and oil, oil from the oil sands at particularly high climate change costs, one of the main factors in why we are nowhere near meeting our Kyoto Accord commitment) and that it’s likely parts of Canada will increasingly face water shortage problems as the climate heats up while simultaneously facing pressure from the U.S. to export water to its drought stricken areas. None of this is to say that I have anything against Canada cooperating with and helping the U.S. in what may be very difficult times (their military might already ensures our cooperation, so I’m not sure why they’d bother with stooping to interfering with children’s education), but it is unethical and underhanded for an American organization to try to influence the children of another country with which the U.S. has significant links on such an important topic.

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