Global Climate Destabilization is Major Security & Economic Threat

The new administration in Washington, DC, has taken notice: climate change is not about a mild 1º increase in temperature on any given day; it is about a sweeping destabilization of global climate patterns, which could undermine the entire layout of civilization across the world. Building the infrastructure necessary for implementing and sustaining a green energy economy is a security priority in this new environment. Key to understanding the gravity of climate destabilization are the wide array of catastrophic irreversible impacts that could amplify damage. One such area of concern is what are known as methane hydrates. Real Climate explains that:

There is an enormous amount of methane (CH4) on earth frozen into a type of ice called methane hydrate. Hydrates can form with almost any gas and consist of a ‘cage’ of water molecules surrounding the gas. (The term ‘clathrate’ more generally describes solids consisting of gases are trapped within any kind of cage while hydrate is the specific term for when the cage is made of water molecules). There are CO2 hydrates on Mars, while on Earth most of the hydrates are filled with methane. Most of these are in sediments of the ocean, but some are associated with permafrost soils.

Methane hydrates can be destabilized by warming ocean temperatures. When they are destabilized, they release trapped methane into the oceans, and eventually into the atmosphere. Methane has 8 times the greenhouse effect as carbon dioxide, meaning a massive release would significantly accelerate climate change related to global warming. In the 1990s, the administration of Pres. Bill Clinton devoted $50 million over five years to researching how to extract fuel for energy generation from methane hydrates and carbon dioxide hydrates. But today’s concern is more focused on the potential harm from allowing any of the methane trapped in methane hydrates to escape into the atmosphere, whether from burning or melt-induced release.

With evidence mounting that warming is happening far faster than any models predicted, concerns are also mounting that the release of massive amounts of hydrate-trapped methane into the atmosphere could have a radical effect on raising temperatures and destabilizing the Earth’s climate patterns, causing rapid acceleration of ice-melt in Greenland and Antarctica, leading to sea-level rises of up to 20 meters. More than half the world’s population lives within the flood-zone for such a sea-level rise. But long before those billions of climate refugees would collapse the supply capacity of the remaining infrastructure of global society, disruptions to rain patterns could cause the failure of the African and/or Asian monsoons, depriving literally billions of clean water, irrigation and/or food supply.

A clean, renewable economic system that does not put added stress on global climate stability is now a moral, economic and security imperative. It is a matter of not just border security for wealth countries who may seek to limit the ease with which refugees from the most heavily affected impoverished countries can immigrate, but for the political stability of nations around the world. Resource scarcity or resource collapse are the two most severe drivers of political instability or major cross-border conflict.

Many countries saddled with chronic water or food scarcity are in a constant state of emergency, on the verge of devoving into civil war or cross-border conflicts, as desperate people struggle to meet their basic vital needs, wherever they can find the resources they require. The Earth’s climate has made human civilization possible by providing an environment hospitable to our preferred way of doing things.

Agriculture has been possible only since human beings recognized how to harness reliable climate systems in order to optimize the productivity of cultivated land. Without the Nile flood plane or the Sahel monsoon, agriculture in affected countries becomes impossible and the human food supply collapses. 3.6 billion people live in areas dependent on the Asian monsoons for the necessary quantity of rainfall to supply river systems and make agriculture possible.

The collapse of the Asian monsoon could lead to chronic deprivation for most or all of these people. The wholesale destabilization of the world’s most populous nations would be an economic, political and security crisis far beyond anything experienced in human history, especially considering that four nuclear-armed states are among those dependent on the monsoons.

While the USGS has noted the potential uses of methane hydrates as an energy resource, it has also warned that methane can be up to 10 times as “effective” as carbon dioxide in causing global average temperature to warm, and that its negative climate impact must be evaluated. It also reports studies showing that natural seismic activity and other interference can destabilize hydrates with serious potential impact for the global climate.

Current science suggests we need to treat the entire issue of how to harvest energy or deal with phenomena like hydrates with maximum caution, and look to the cleanest, zero-combustion, non-nuclear options for building a sustainable global economy not on course for catastrophic decay.

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Originally published March 9, 2009, at

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