"You are the crown of creation and you've got no place to go.
Soon you'll attain the stability you strive for, in the only way it's granted:
In a place among the fossils."
Jefferson Airplane, Crown of Creation
Venus by Wikipedia commons
Imagine that somewhere out in the vastness of the Cosmos, there exists a species that knows, or reasonably should know, that its economy is organized in such a manner as to inevitably trigger its own total extinction, likely within the lifetimes of all but the oldest members of that species. Suppose that this species' collective reaction was to simply ignore this unpleasant reality and continue with business as usual!
Such a species would surely be thought of as not only doomed to extinction, but perhaps deserving of that fate. Surely, though, no seemingly intelligent, technologically adapt species as this could exist in reality--right?
Think again. Such a species does indeed exist--it's US!
The present moment represents the final interlude before our self-triggered extinction becomes unstoppable. Right now between one and ten TRILLION tons of methane ices exist in shallow (i.e. less than 100 meters/yards) waters in the Arctic Ocean. (1) This means that the ONLY thing preventing these ices from sublimating (transitioning directly from a liquid to a gas) is the year-round icy temperatures of the water in which they are immersed.
Unfortunately, the arctic is warming MUCH faster than is the rest of the planet. As a consequence sea ice is projected to disappear entirely in this ocean during late summer within one to two years. (2)
This is a critical threshold because so far most of the energy warming this ocean has been taken up melting the surface ices. Once that is no longer true, the methane ices just below the surface (methane can exist in ice form in as little as 20 feet of water at Arctic Ocean temperatures) will begin to sublimate in ever-growing amounts.
From that time, until the self-reinforcing process becomes unstoppable, is a period of no more than perhaps ONE decade. (3) Since the process of methane sublimation has already begun to accelerate, we may have less time than this before temperature runaway occurs. (4) That is to say, it is very likely that by the middle of the next decade, humanity will have doomed itself to extinction.
Recently a group of very alarmed climate scientists, specializing in the arctic region, declared a planetary emergency and formed the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG). (5) Since that time they have been tirelessly attempting to bring this issue and the absolute need to respond quickly to it to avert certain catastrophe to the attention of the world's leaders--to little avail.
Among climate scientists, opinion is divided not over whether the arctic methane ices will sublimate due to warming ocean waters, but only as to WHEN this extinction-causing process will be triggered. Once it is triggered, we go extinct within the following 30-40 years. Game over for humanity. Currently, the majority opinion of the climate scientists is that this won't be a problem until later in this century. (6)
That's it! The entire debate is whether we will trigger this extinction event in the near future (ten years or less), or several decades from now!
Those climate scientists arguing in favor of the near-term emergency tend to be specialists in the arctic, while those arguing otherwise tend not to be. All available evidence suggests that the near-term group have a better command of the facts.