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Open letter to the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of the Environment, Government of Canada


1 Introduction
II Letter to the Minister
III How I came to write this letter
IV References

Submitted by David Burman

I Introduction

Far faster than the worst case predictions, the loss of Arctic sea ice is risking the release of massive amounts of methane into the atmosphere from the permafrost in underwater sediments, which could lead to a cascade towards irreversible, catastrophic global warming. To prevent this catastrophe Canada should take the lead in mobilizing the nations of the world to unite, as if for war, engaging the world’s best minds and hearts to begin to remove carbon from the atmosphere and oceans. Failure to act now will result in much greater costs in the near future, while the measures to reverse global warming will initiate self-reliant communities and an improved quality of life for all.

II Letter to the Minister

Dear Minister Aglukkaq,

Qanuippit? I am sure that you are as concerned about the effects of climate change as I am. After all, it is your constituents, your people, who are feeling the effects of the rapid loss of sea ice and permafrost, far more than most Canadians. Perhaps you are not aware though, that the Arctic is losing summer ice faster than even the worst case predictions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

We are no longer working from computer models, but from actual measurements of land, air and sea. We can no longer take refuge in “not in my lifetime” for the changes are happening before our eyes. Glaciers in Greenland have receded farther in the last ten years than they had in the previous 100 years. [1] Indeed, while eastern North America felt the coldest winter in decades, northern Greenland temperatures were six degrees above normal and other parts of the world had record-breaking warm temperatures. Andean mountains that even 10 years ago were topped by glaciers are now bare. Now we are learning that the Antarctic ice sheet is collapsing as well.

Even more alarming is the risk of methane release from the Arctic seabed, where hundreds of gigatons of methane hydrate are stored in the permafrost sediments. [2] Methane is 35 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide measured over 10 years. For the past 15,000 years the gas has remained frozen thanks to the ice cover. But as summer sunlight warms the sea, combined with storms, especially in the very shallow, seismically and tectonically unstable East Siberian Arctic Shelf, a positive feedback loop of warming causing more warming would release enough of this gas to trigger an irreversible cycle of catastrophic global warming. [3] Even the release of one percent of the frozen methane would double the amount currently in the atmosphere. [4]

Something like this has happened before. At the end of the Permian period, 250 million years ago, the huge release of methane and carbon dioxide from melting permafrost caused by volcanic activity in the Arctic resulted in the extinction of 95 percent of all life on Earth. [5] We too are vulnerable: acidifying oceans, loss of ground water and arable land, deforestation and mass extinction are already at advanced stages. Famine, mass migration, disease and war are the logical outcomes if we continue as we have been.

The bears, seals, fish, humans, microbes, birds, water, insects and whales are deeply connected. What is done to one is done to all; when ecosystems die, we die. In your heart, Ms. Aglukkaq, you know that this is true. To believe that great wealth can insulate those who benefit financially from this crisis is a delusion – the present crisis is global.

Former US president Ronald Reagan once said, in reference to the cold war between the West and the Soviet Union, that if the Earth were threatened by an invasion from space, the people of the world would cease fighting each other and unite in a common cause. Well, the Earth is threatened, but the threat is not from aliens. To prevent this catastrophe, slowing the rate of carbon emissions will not be enough; we must begin to remove carbon from the atmosphere and reverse the process of global warming.

To accomplish this heroic task will require the collaboration of the best minds in the world. Governments, industry and all sectors of civil society from all nations must come together and mobilize as if for war.

To finance this effort, we must shift our focus from maximizing profit by any means to using every means to profit from carbon reduction. In addition to currently proposed carbon and speculation taxes, monetary policy must change from the creation of money through debt, which dictates perpetual economic growth even at the expense of the planet’s life support systems and destruction of human well- being, to a system of “demurrage” or negative interest. [6] This policy would make the storage of wealth uneconomical and free up the enormous capital required to recover the losses of the past century. [7] In conjunction with monetary policy, international law must be amended to protect the sustainability of the biosphere, including making ecocide a crime on the scale of genocide and crimes against humanity. [8]

Funding must be re-allocated immediately from fossil fuel extraction to research, development and manufacture of renewable energy sources. Industries must be designed and placed so that the waste products of one will be the raw materials of the next, and so on, for zero waste manufacturing. The objective of manufacturing must become durability and ease of repair, which will be economically desirable in a demurrage-based monetary system. Mass consumerism will be replaced with an economy based on shared resources and human interaction.

The most efficient carbon sequestration process would be the regeneration of the 75 percent of the planet’s forests that have been lost over the past century [9], and this must be done on a massive scale, from the rainforests to the boreal. Food bearing trees may be preferred. In cities, we need to convert all wasteland into green space, including sustainable, urban agriculture, green roofs and conversion of industrial lawns to food production. In rural areas the recapture of arable land, 30 percent of which has been lost to development and desertification over the past 40 years [10], must become a priority. None of these initiatives will be possible without effective water management programs to preserve and protect the aquifers, rivers and lakes, which must involve enlightened agricultural and industrial policies.

The crisis we are in is primarily a crisis of failure of imagination.

If we humans can land on the moon and come back, build marvels of technology, perform miracles of surgery and medicine and create systems of global governance, we can reverse this process of destruction. We can do this and still increase our well-being.

It is an epic struggle never before engaged upon in this planet’s history that, if successful, could lead to the kind of world we all dream of; the kind of communities we long for, in which decision making at all levels is devolved to those who are directly affected by the consequences of their actions, where stewardship of resources is returned to those who have the cultural experience to manage them. This would include restoration of the commons, where sharing will be more valued than ownership, and will lead to a more peaceful, harmonious world where we can collaborate on happiness instead of competition. In such active self-reliant communities, where citizens work together for common cause, we can expect levels of obesity, diabetes, drug addictions, violence and depression all to be reduced.

The IPCC has stated that a concerted effort to turn the climate around could cost a mere $200 billion, a small fraction of the world’s military budget, with little change to human well-being. However, a recent article in the scientific journal Nature estimates the loss to the global economy of not acting now, at the present rate of global warming, to be $60 trillion.

“People are calculating possible economic benefits in the billions of dollars and we’re talking about possible costs and damage and extra impacts in the order of tens of trillions of dollars,” said Chris Hope, professor at Cambridge’s Judge Business School and IPCC Report author, in an interview with The Financial Times. [11]

Am I being alarmist? If you were standing in the middle of a road and I saw a truck bearing down on you, and I screamed at you to get off the road, would that be alarmist? The truck might swerve or brake in time, but you wouldn’t continue to stand in the road and hope for the best. Even if the chance of catastrophic change is 50 percent, we would be foolish not to act now. As Shakhova [4] points out, the chance is much greater than that: the truck is almost upon you.

The world needs to get together and act now to do everything we can to stop this extreme danger. [12] As the most Arctic of circumpolar countries, Canada can and should be a world leader in this struggle. Canada then would once again take its rightful position as a leader among nations.

III How I came to write this letter

While taking the online Game Changer Intensive course ( through the Pachamama Alliance ( I came across material by two Russian scientists Natalia Shakhova and Igor Simelitov ( studying the source of methane release in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. They realized it was coming from the shallow sea bed as well as the exposed permafrost. They were not at all happy with their findings – because if the hundreds of gigatons of methane are released into the atmosphere the risk of a positive feedback spiral of catastrophic climate change would become exponential; the cause of global warming won’t matter – it will be unstoppable, with the potential to replicate the extinction of most life on earth that happened at the end of the Permian period 250 million years ago.

I panicked. I was in despair. I had to do something.

So I set out to write this open letter, ostensibly for the Minister of the Environment, but really for the world. I wanted to make it a positive story of possibilities, rather than leave people in a state of helplessness brought on by fear. I wanted to bring in some of the ideas of Charles Eisenstein, Polly Higgins, Mark Hathaway, Maude Barlow and other visionaries.

I hope it works to get people active – connecting head, heart and feet – in bringing about the world we want. If you are moved in any way by this letter, we urge you to write (or send the letter) to your MP and to the Minister herself. The next step is to launch an avaaz petition to put this out to the world – directed at world leaders, but particularly at Canada and Australia, the two nations actively blocking international agreements on climate action. It is through citizen action that change begins, although only governments acting together can bring about the required change of this magnitude.

David Burman coordinates a course on Aboriginal Issues in Health and Healing at the University of Toronto, is on the board of the Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition and Science for Peace, and he practices dentistry. He can be reached at dburman@web.caor and

IV References


2. V.I. Sergenko et al. The degradation of submarine permafrost and the destruction of hydrates on the shelf of east arctic seas as a potential cause of the “Methane Catastrophe”: some results of integrated studies in 2011 Doklady Earth Sciences, September 2012, Volume 446, Issue 1, pp 1132-1137

3. N. Shakhova and I. Semiletov. Methane release from the East-Siberian Arctic Shelf and its connection with permafrost and hydrate destabilization: First results and potential future developments Geophysical Research Abstracts Vol. 14, EGU2012-3877-1, 2012;

4. Natalia Shakhova and Igor Simelitov (

5. A.  Saunders and M. Reichow. The Siberian Traps and the End-Permian mass extinction: a critical review, Chinese Science Bulletin, 54: 1, 20-37, 2009

6. Lietaer, BA and J Dunne, Rethinking Money: How New Currencies Turn Scarcity Into Prosperity Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013

7.; Eisenstein, C Sacred EconomicsDoubleday, 2011

8. P. Higgins, Earth is our Business; changing the rules of the game, Shepheard-Walwyn Publishers, 2012

9. Think Global Green - Deforestation

10. WWF Farming, soil erosion and degradation.

11. Chris Hope, professor at Cambridge’s Judge Business School and IPCC Report author, in an interview with The Financial Times., also, National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, Paying the Price: the Economic Costs of Climate Change for Canada, Government of Canada Web Archive, 2013

12. Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2014: Governing for Sustainabiilty, NY: The Worldwatch Institute, 2014


“Scientists warn on Artic ‘economic time bomb’” article in the Financial Timesby Pilita Clark, including an interview with Cambridge’s Chris Hope

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the leading international body for the assessment of climate change. It was established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988 to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts.

Avaaz was launched in 2007 with a simple democratic mission: organize citizens of all nations to close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want. Avaaz empowers millions of people from all walks of life to take action on pressing global, regional and national issues, from corruption and poverty to conflict and climate change. Their model of internet organising allows thousands of individual efforts, however small, to be rapidly combined into a powerful collective force.
The Avaaz community campaigns in 15 languages, served by a core team on 6 continents and thousands of volunteers. They take action – signing petitions, funding media campaigns and direct actions, emailing, calling and lobbying governments, and organizing "offline" protests and events.