From Freezer to Fridge: Alaskan Permafrost is Set to Thaw With High Costs to Alaskans and the Global Community

by KyleF on October 6, 2017 - 9:35pm

The debate surrounding climate change is no longer an argument of whether or not it is happening, but is now rather a debate on the level of anthropogenic contribution it. However, while policy makers sit and argue with scientists about emission levels, positive feedback loops are set to amplify the effects of climate change via melting the permafrost. In August, The New York Times published an article by Henry Fountain about the current situation regarding the thawing of the permafrost in Alaska. Some scientists are researching potential impacts that will directly affect the residents and wilds of Alaska while simultaneously estimating the projected increase in emissions from the thawing. The studies show that there are major physical changes in the sub-arctic environment that occur once the permafrost melts. Changes projected include the development of bogs as frozen ground water melts and saturates the soil and the loss of some lakes and rivers as frozen soils will no longer contain them causing them to leech away into the ground. Because of the weakening soil support, infrastructure and buildings are being damaged as they slump and crack. Some infrastructure has been equipped with pipes to divert heat to prevent ground thawing. The article also continuously outlines the global impact that the melting will cause because of large methane and carbon emissions from dead plant material stored in the permafrost. Yearly emissions of carbon dioxide and methane from the thawing ground are predicted to rival current annual emission averages from the entire United States within the next one hundred years.

I believe Henry did a great job in summarising a wealth of information regarding the current and projected melting of the permafrost all while providing the reader with the current state of the debate surrounding the issue and any differences in data interpretations from multiple scientists. However, I believe there is a very strong conflict of values that Henry did not report on which I think is an injustice to the people residing in permafrost zones and the global population. There is a behavioural conflict as the government does not trust many climate science institutions. There is also a conflict of interest between the government and the scientists where the government appears to value the present and the scientists value the future. The United States government seems to value the present much more than the future with regard to the state of the environment as it is more profitable for them to burn fossil fuels than to try to eliminate them. This discounting of the future is going to result in high costs to future generations around the world because they will be the ones to feel the effects of climate change aided by the impacts and emissions of the melting permafrost. There is also a conflict of interest between the government and the residents of Alaska. The Alaskans are bearing many costs such as degradation of landscape beauty, decreases in property values, and costs of reparations of damages resulting from ground structure change as an indirect result of the governments eager acceptance of fossil fuels. I believe these conflicts merit research into ethics and policy surrounding permafrost and more media coverage as this problem effects the global community and is predicted to only grow as climate change worsens.



Fountain, H. (2017). Alaska’s Permafrost Is Thawing. The New York Times,