This Week's Herman Trend Alert

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  The Herman Trend Alert

December 13, 2017

A Wildcard in the Arctic

Wildcards are highly improbable and mostly unexpected events. According to noted Futurist Dr. Oliver Markley, "Type II Wildcards are held to be credibly plausible, even probable, by specific experts who can say why, but they are not seen as credible by others". If you are a fan of the television series Madame Secretary, then you have surely seen the recent episode in which a Russian environmentalist and social entrepreneur was critically affected by the Type II Wildcard that is the subject of this Herman Trend Alert.

Melting permafrost across the Arctic
There is no doubt that the Arctic sea ice is melting. From stark satellite views of Greenland's coast to pictures of marooned polar bears, starving to death, to an expose of Russians celebrating the increase in activity in their northern seaports, we see undeniable images that drive the point home. And while the melting ice may be raising sea level imperceptively, it is also exposing hundreds of millions of square miles at the top of the planet that had been covered with ice for eons.

Climate change winners?
The people on the planet most delighted with climate change are the Russians who live in their northernmost seaports. Due to melting Arctic sea ice, their weather is not only more temperate, but their ports are now navigable many more months of the year, there, business is booming. They may also be the most vulnerable to the effects of this wildcard.

Permafrost is not permanent
Though the name permafrost seems to connote permanency, permafrost is not really permanent. Every winter, this soil rich in minerals is covered with a sheet of ice. This ice locks in the previously vegetation covered marshlands buried beneath the ice for 35,000 years. Here's the problem: before climate change happened, the ice always kept the permafrost at a temperature low enough that the dead plants and decayed animals remained cold enough to protect any humans who might be exposed to the microbes trapped for centuries.

The unexpected consequences
Now, with the expansion of warmer temperatures and melting of the sea ice, areas of permafrost may become very dangerous places for humans to be on the planet. Diseases, for which we developed immunities centuries ago, may emerge in more deadly forms than ever before. In the Madame Secretary episode, it was Small Pox, a disease that was eradicated from the planet in 1977 surfaced as a "zombie disease". While the television show was fiction, this threat is actually very real.

Awakening Earth's dormant pathogens
It almost seems like science fiction that these microbes which have been dormant for tens of thousands of years are now becoming a danger to us after all of this time. Unfortunately, those microbes are now showing up and have already taken a toll.

A frightening example
In Siberia, last summer, there was an outbreak of anthrax that infected dozens of people and killed one child. The cause was traced back to the thawed and decayed corpse of a reindeer killed over 70 years ago.

The future for the Arctic looks more frightening
As the earth warms, more of this permafrost-covered ground will be exposed. Russia intends to mine the area for its resources. Imagine piles of decaying animal carcasses and vegetation next to workers cabins and homes. To us, this Type II Wildcard seems like a recipe for disaster.

Special thanks to CBS for their episode of Madame Secretary and to Robinson Meyer, associate editor at The Atlantic, for bringing this issue to our attention.


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