Nature Geoscience tells us we're in a heap of trouble, or a bog of the stuff, because permafrost is liable to crumble far faster than the firmly settled, totally reliable science thought. It’s the usual scarily vague story, that “Permafrost in Canada, Alaska and Siberia is abruptly crumbling in ways that could release large stores of greenhouse gases more quickly than anticipated, researchers have warned.” Could. Might. Maybe. Science is wrong but right. That sort of stuff. Our snow goose is about to cook. Just the same way it didn’t last time; because what they never mention is that these runaway disasters didn’t happen during the historical intervals when far more warming happened over far longer intervals.
The story got the usual big play. But for all the attention no one examined the assumption that there is such a thing as a runaway greenhouse effect that can be triggered by a small amount of warming and, if there is, it condemns us to far more and far more unstoppable warming. “Scientists have long fretted that climate change - which has heated Arctic and subarctic regions at double the global rate - will release planet-warming CO2 and methane that has remained safely locked inside Earth's frozen landscapes for millennia…tipping [the Earth] into a self-perpetuating vicious circle of ice melt and global warming.”
Now the odd thing about these millennia is that there are a lot of them. Not just the 12,000 or so since the last retreat of the glaciers. But hundreds of thousands of them since the emergence of complex, multi-celled life. And in that time it has generally been considerably warmer than it is today, about 8°C. Where was the runaway warming? It didn’t happen then and it isn’t happening now. Did it occur at any point during the past when these marauding Mad Max gases weren’t “safely” under lock and key? Why didn’t the Cretaceous or the Eocene see a “hothouse” Earth inhospitable to life including such developments as, oh, say, the evolution of primates? How indeed was it possible for the Pliocene with high levels of CO2 and no “frozen landscapes” even at the poles to see not a “vicious circle” of warming but a sudden, runaway… cooling, with glaciers and mass disruption of long-established ecosystems?
Don’t ask. At least, don’t ask Nature Geoscience.