Sunday, 30 March 2008

Rot Rot Rot

It's finally that time of year when the snow begins to recede.

What it reveals is usually a repellent mess of caked mud, dead brown grass, and decomposing matter of one kind or another. Of course, if you have a dog, there's often a great deal of dog excrement about as well (I had to clean our backyard every spring growing up so this is a strong association for me). It all makes spring a particularly messy season, a squishy season.

Dare I say, a particularly sexy season as well, with its rife explosions of life and rebirth and throbbing flowers sprouting up everywhere. A young man's fancy lightly turns to love. Trees grow leaves. Bees do it.

Of course that's all normal and as per the usual way of things. But up north of 60, it's a different story; ice is melting there that hasn't melted for thousands of years. Ice and frozen soil so permanent they had to call it permafrost.

Aside from revealing cool stuff like woolly mammoths and smallpox, scientists are now warning that the melting permafrost reveals biomass - 500 billion tons of squishy dinosaur dung and other gross rotting matter - which in turn releases methane gases and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which in turn speeds up global warming which in turn speeds up the melting of the permafrost which in turn reveals more biomass, and so on.


And suddenly the Arctic tundra isn't the frozen funzone you thought it would be. It's likely to dry out, and grow shrubs. It may burn far more easily. Sure, you get to live in weird houses that look really awesome, but what will your life in that weird house be like?

Will the next phase of the ongoing End of the World be a huge release of methane, the fart to end all farts?

As the snow recedes and the ooze is let loose, I am put in mind of Edge Of Darkness, a mid-80s British nuclear-weapon-type-thriller of above average intelligence. The mini-series ends ominously (if memory serves) with a pan across an Arctic tundra-like landscape; amid the snow, we see black flowers are beginning to bloom.

As referenced earlier in the episode, this is an allusion to James Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis - the Earth itself had had its share of people, and was helping to melt the icecaps with a little fleur noir so that mankind would die and life could otherwise carry on. But I guess there's really no need for all that effort on the Earth's behalf, eh?

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