Photo: Rainer Droese / imago images / localpic
The gateway to the underworld is in Siberia and it is growing faster and faster. "Gateway to the underworld" is what the locals call the so-called Batagaika Megaslump in Northern Siberia, the largest thermokarst crater on earth. At the moment it is a good one kilometer long and, when viewed from the air, has the shape of a tadpole.
The crater is currently growing at around 12 to 14 meters per year. Until recently it was 10 meters. Occasionally chunks "as big as cars" break off its steep slopes and fall into the giant hole. The melting floor cracks and groans permanently.
Christian Stöcker, arrow to the right
Born 1973, is a cognitive psychologist and has been a professor at the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences (HAW) since autumn 2016. There he is responsible for the "Digital Communication" course. Before that, he headed the Netzwelt department at SPIEGEL ONLINE.
All of this is due to the fact that the Siberian permafrost is thawing, and faster and faster, 70 years earlier than forecast. In Siberia, temperatures are currently 15 to 20 degrees Celsius above the normal average temperatures for days. In Verkhoyansk, near Batagaika crater, usually one of the coldest places on the planet, it was 38 degrees in June. This is the highest temperature ever recorded in arctic regions. In the arctic part of Canada, too, the temperatures are currently more than 20 degrees too high for the time of year. The Arctic sea ice is at a historic low, and the exposed sea water is also warming.
Soot-black vicious circle
The cause of all these extremely worrying developments is, there can hardly be any reasonable doubt, man-made climate change. The World Weather Attribution Project, made up of international experts, recently calculated that the Siberian heat wave, which has been going on for many months, has become 600 times more likely due to man-made climate change.
At the same time, this heat wave itself, just like that of previous years, will further accelerate the heating of the earth's atmosphere: In Siberia, there are huge areas of fire, millions of hectares of forest have already been burned. The soot-black soil warms up even faster in the sun, the thawing soil releases CO2 and the highly potent greenhouse gas methane. The permafrost is one of the so-called tipping points of the world climate system.
Batagaika crater in SiberiaPhoto: North-Eastern Federal University / picture alliance / AP
Tens of thousands dead, damage running into billions, already now
In Russia, all of this has long been causing billions in damage every year. In addition to the gigantic forest fires, the consequences also include collapsing residential buildings or disasters such as that of Norilsk, where 20,000 tons of diesel oil leaked at the beginning of June because the foundation of a tank farm had sagged. The effects of the heat on local agriculture have been disastrous for years.
It's also very hot for us at the moment and the probability is high that it will stay that way for a while. Such extreme heat waves will no longer be exceptional phenomena in the future, but will occur more and more frequently. The climate crisis began long ago. And it kills a lot of people, right now. According to a study, 70,000 people fell victim to the European heat wave of 2003. "Global warming poses a new health threat in an aging Europe," the authors wrote. That was in 2008.
Names for heat waves, as well as for cyclones
A foundation-financed alliance in the USA is now working to ensure that heat waves are given names in the future, like hurricanes. In essence, it is about a psychological goal: Heat waves should finally penetrate the public consciousness as the danger that they actually represent. "This extreme heat crisis cannot continue to be the 'silent killer' it currently is," is how the initiators of the study justify the advance. People would have to learn to adequately prepare for extreme heat.
In many places, however, preparation will not be enough: If we do not finally take massive countermeasures, in a few decades it will simply be too hot to live in many areas that are densely populated today. "According to our forecast, one to three billion people will live outside the climatic conditions that have served mankind well over the past 6,000 years," according to a study published in May.
Federal Minister of Economics Peter Altmaier admitted this week that "we have made mistakes in recent years and acted too late" when it comes to climate policy. A few weeks after the adoption of the wrongly named coal phase-out law, which should actually be called the coal-fired power extension law, in view of the influence of organized opponents of wind power in his own ministry, in view of the still ridiculously low CO2 tax, which will not actually come into force until next year, that sounds like Confession of the Minister of Economics, rather hollow.
Similar requests to speak will be heard more and more frequently in the months and years to come. They will become more shameful and desperate as the consequences of 30 years of failed climate policy, and those of persistent, deadly hesitation, will become more apparent each year. The fact that no decisive action was taken to avert this catastrophe will accompany today's global generation of politicians as a lifelong shame.
A little remorse is not enough
At the moment, many who currently exercise political power are probably telling themselves that they are finally doing something. However, the authors of a study published a few weeks ago come to the conclusion that even "progressive" countries in terms of climate policy, as exemplified by the examples of Sweden and Great Britain, with their current plans will in no way be able to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, which are in any case not too ambitious. A really effective climate protection agenda is quite possible, but it requires "fundamental changes in many facets of industrialized economies", according to the authors. A study was published this week, according to which the CO2 emissions of the past 15 years correspond to the worst of the scenarios of the IPCC.
Half-hearted confessions of repentance that relate only to past failures will not save us. The Federal Government and the European Commission must finally face their responsibility - just as determinedly as they do when dealing with the coronavirus.Icon: The mirror