“Even though a couple of Russian scientists have pushed this fear of a methane ‘burp’ [or monster] – is it a distraction from that country’s massive methane emissions from natural gas production and pipelines? Or our own? The real methane we have to fear is coming from the oil and gas industry, says Michael Dyonisius, lead author or co-author in both those new studies.” – Radio Ecoshock
It Is Time to Declare a Methane and Climate Emergency
There is no question that there is a methane emergency underway. Global methane levels are soaring. Further, methane is a powerful greenhouse gas which represents a serious threat not to be underestimated. Methane and carbon dioxide levels are rising at their fastest rates since the time of the dinosaurs. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. It is known to have a greater greenhouse gas (GHG) warming factor than CO2, a potential of 34 times that of CO2 over 100 years according to the latest IPCC AR5 Assessment Report. If you are new to this topic and for more on the basics of methane, begin with the SW Methane 101 Knowledgebase as it is the first of the SW three-part series on methane covered here. This is a complex issue with many sides, some that present valid concerns and some that do not.
Temperatures across the Arctic are increasing two to four times faster than the global average. The dramatic consequences that are already apparent everywhere. There is clear and present evidence that thawing permafrost is showing signs of significant and alarming stress. What’s even more perilous is that this is not fully modeled in the scientific reporting or even well-understood by the scientific community.
It is also important to note that while we will focus on the Arctic region in this discussion, methane seeps are also being found in Antarctica. The first active leak of methane from the sea floor in Antarctica has been reported recently by scientists. Expansive and incalculable quantities of methane are likely to be located under the sea floor around Antarctica. The gas could start to leak as the climate crisis warms the oceans, a prospect the researchers said was “incredibly concerning.”
The Methane Monster in Deep Marine Sediments
In this debunk, we will look at methane myths and begin to untangle fact from fiction in this highly debated area of study. In short, methane in permafrost and other shallow terrestrial areas, which represents less than 1% of the global methane budget (see Methane in 5 Pie Charts), does not present us with the same challenges as the subsea methane stored in marine sediments deep in the ocean floor at depths greater than 500 meters and comprising the other 99% of the methane budget. However, these scientifically very different categories of methane deposits (introduced in the SW Methane Emergency Knowledgebase), are often conflated in the public discourse.
Most are probably aware that controversial ideas emerging about Arctic methane have resulted in a fractious debate ongoing for decades. Known popularly as the clathrate gun hypothesis (CGT), the time bomb (video), or the methane monster, these notions propose a massive abrupt methane pulse that would result in a nearly immediate extinction of many, if not all species, much like what happened to the dinosaurs. A recent article at The Guardian, titled the Sleeping Giant, has revivified this issue by implying that a methane monster is near yet again in 2020. However, scientists who reviewed the article explained that it presents some sensational claims and lacks important context.
Here is where the plot thickens. According to Robert Scribbler:
“There’s no avoiding it — climate change is a controversial subject; a threat that should unify us all, but, due to reticence, denial, fear, and a basic lack of understanding, is instead often quite divisive. But among the subjects that stand out as real fodder for acidic controversy, the issue of methane feedbacks from the global climate system — the oceans, thawing permafrost, and especially the Arctic — is one of the worst. There’s a noted tendency to either downplay or overplay risks. Though this polarization is likely fed by the general mysteriousness and complexity of the subject, its potential existential nature also feeds into the heat that methane feedback-related discussions tend to draw.”
Those sounding the alarm bells about methane often focus, almost obsessively, on Arctic methane fears. But the Arctic’s contribution to the global methane budget is estimated to be a fractional .0003 GTC/yr or .03% of the total global methane budget according to some estimates by experts like Dr. David Archer. Still, “scientists have long feared that thawing Arctic sediments and soils could release huge amounts of methane, but so far there’s no evidence of that,” says Ed Dlugokencky, an atmospheric chemist at the NOAA.
Actually among natural sources, which account for less than 40% of the overall methane emissions (see Methane in 5 Pie Charts), wetlands are the top culprit. But this is almost never mentioned in the public debate. Instead, the concern continues to center around Arctic sources. The fears emerge because of the incalculably massive quantity of stored Arctic methane hydrates (video), which if released, do threaten to double atmospheric methane and other greenhouse gas concentrations, including CO2, in short order, even if released from the shallow permafrost sources (which again are less than 1% of the global methane budget). This is a very real threat. Yet, strangely the monster myths focus on this other 99% which is buried deeper than 500 meters in the sea floor.
Today it is assumed that in the worst case, with a steadily warming ocean, around 85% of the methane trapped in the deep sea floor (the other 99%) could be released into the water column. In some locations, researchers claim that a temperature increase of only 1°C would be sufficient to release large amounts of methane from hydrates all at once. Let’s examine these doomsday scenarios and see if there is any scientific data to back these theories up or if there are any antecedents in the paleorecord.
The Methane Monster Theories
The clathrate gun hypothesis (a.k.a. the methane time bomb theory) is the popular name for this often vaguely used and loosely defined (video) subject in the news media. It refers to the theory that increases in sea temperatures or drops in sea levels can trigger a strong positive feedback effect on climate: first, warming causes a sudden release of methane from methane clathrate compounds buried in seabeds and seabed permafrost; second, because methane itself is a powerful greenhouse gas, temperatures rise further, and the cycle repeats. This runaway process, once started, could be as irreversible as the firing of a gun or the sudden explosion of a bomb going off that would literally be a shot heard around the world.
These theories claim that if these hydrate sources thaw abruptly all at once due to warming, unstoppable feedbacks would be set in motion, methane would be released in enormous quantities immediately raising temperatures, and what pseudoscience dubs near term human extinction would result. Some claim a 50 gigaton methane bomb could burst from the ocean floor all at once anytime now. They argue that this would not be survivable by humans and that we would perish in as little as a few short weeks time.
These researchers point to the theory that Methane Hydrate: Killer Cause of Earth’s Greatest Mass Extinction,” which highlights the fact that the most significant variable in the Permian Mass Extinction event, which occurred 250 million years ago and annihilated 90 percent of all the species on the planet, was likely methane hydrate. Debate over the plausibility of a catastrophic release of methane in coming decades due to thawing Arctic permafrost escalated after a paper warned that exactly this scenario could trigger costs equivalent to the annual GDP of the global economy.
The methane bomb scenario got a further boost into the public eye after being featured in a hotly debated New York magazine article on climate change, which argued that without sharp cuts in planet-warming carbon emissions, parts of the Earth “will likely become close to uninhabitable” by the end of this century.
As many climate scientists, like Paul Beckwith, are fond of saying “what happens in the Arctic, does not stay in the Arctic.” This is an interconnected and complex system that science is constantly attempting to play catch up with and with data constantly emerging and reshaping our knowledge of what we’re actually seeing.
For example, some have claimed that we are seeing signs of the beginnings of catastrophe and that phenomena like giant gas blow out craters they are witnessing are proof enough that we’re already moving temperature harder and faster than ever before. However, new data (video) is now emerging that says that this is not unexpected or in any way new for this area. We simply cannot jump to conclusions on these matters.
A 2018 published review concluded that the clathrate gun hypothesis remains controversial, but that a better understanding is vital. Actual measurements of methane in the atmosphere don’t show any such sudden, accelerating spike, and climate scientists don’t believe anything like this “clathrate gun” scenario is underway, though they cannot rule out the possibility. Paul Beckwith asks “will the clathrate gun fire only blanks” in the following video lecture discussing the USGS paper on this matter:
According to the Guardian, “scientists of different persuasions remain fundamentally divided over whether such extreme and abrupt scenarios are at all plausible. Carolyn Rupple of the US Geological Survey (USGS) Gas Hydrates Project told NBC News the scenario is ‘nearly impossible’ citing laws of thermodynamics. Ed Dlugokencky, a research scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA), said there has been ‘no detectable change in Arctic methane emissions over the past two decades.’ NASA’s Gavin Schmidt said that ice core records from previously warm Arctic periods show no indication of such a scenario having ever occurred. Methane hydrate expert Professor David Archer reiterated that the mechanisms for release operate on time scales of centuries and longer. These arguments were finally distilled in a lengthy, seemingly compelling essay posted on Skeptical Science, concluding with utter finality:
“There is no evidence that methane will run out of control and initiate any sudden, catastrophic effects. Nonetheless, the Arctic is a region that is quite dynamic and is changing rapidly. The high latitudes are currently a CO2 sink and CH4 source in the modern atmosphere, and it’s not implausible that the effectiveness of the sink could diminish (or reverse) or that the methane source could enhance in the future, since we expect a transition to a warmer, wetter climate with an extended thawing season.” – Skeptical Science
So who’s right? Are these claims of a potentially catastrophic methane release in a time bomb or clathrate gun plausible at all? This is a matter of scientific debate and will remain so for some time to come as this issue unfolds. Most scientists that shy away from theories of a methane bomb (video), like Dr. David Archer, methane hydrate expert and Jim White, climatologist, also note that these processes can and do occur. They simply do not rule out the possibility. They just contend that it will happen more slowly and over longer periods of time (like thousands of years) than those using the threat of impending mega-disaster to tell an unnatural and premature tale of extinction within the next decade.
Ruppel et al state that “over thousands of years, warming could cause gas hydrates at the top of the stability zone, about 625 feet (190 meters) below the Earth’s surface, to begin to dissociate.” Professor Peter Wadhams, head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at Cambridge University, suggested a major methane pulse is possible. However, he said this would be “maybe not apocalyptic, but catastrophic” (video) and because it can take decades to happen it’s easy for people to forget about it.
According to the USGS study, described by Paul Beckwith in the video above, it must be noted that more recently the time bomb theory is increasingly being reported by researchers to be ‘unlikely’ especially when it comes to the deep marine sediment based clathrates. Dr. Caroline Ruppel, USGS Scientist, explains trapped methyl hydrate clathrates in the ocean sediments do not readily dissociate due to the endothermic nature of the thermodynamics involved, which is why we still haven’t managed to harness them for fuel. This is a bit difficult for non-scientists to grasp. This resource summarizes it for lay persons.
Additionally, rising seas due to warming add pressure to the equation, ironically keeping the sequestered methane from releasing. In the following video series Dr. Ruppel, methane hydrate expert and methane sleuth, explains these processes in detail:
Ruppel illuminates these issues and explains that biogeochemical sinks and physical processes prevent much of the methane dissociating in deep sea sediments from reaching the sea-air interface and being injected into the atmosphere. She explains that more than 95% or more of the world’s methane hydrates exist in deep-ocean settings where it is unlikely water would ever heat up enough to significantly destabilize them. Hydrates in subsea or onshore permafrost that are mostly buried under 500 meters of sediment, are also unlikely to escape. Ruppel says “there’s been a lot of acrimony” over how much methane from hydrates would interact with the air.
“The bottom line is in reality, the anthropogenic CO2 emissions are far, far more important in the atmosphere than methane, even though the methane is a very potent greenhouse gas.”
– Carolyn Ruppel, USGS
In summary, what Ruppel et al conclude is that despite the dramatic concern over the threat of a sudden destabilization of methane clathrates locked up in the deep sea floor, this realistically represents an extremely small and unlikely threat from a scientific perspective. There are many uncertainties. Synthesis of recent data indicates that the fate of methane in sub‐seafloor Arctic Ocean reservoirs in a warming world is far from certain. This is all the more reason to concentrate on reducing methane and other GHG emissions from anthropogenic sources.
Additionally, scientists must continue to closely monitor and study the situation with the shallow subsea permafrost (~100m or less) located on the ice sheet continental shelves and tundra or land based permafrost, as discussed by Katey Walters among others. Subsea and terrestrial permafrost is already in distress.
Nonlinear and Abrupt Change in the Deep Past
We are left with many uncomfortable unknowns in this matter. The fact is we just don’t know how the climate system that impacts these clathrates will respond if all the Arctic ice melts as it has in the deep past. Scientists are now observing more and more nonlinear and abrupt accelerations never before thought possible. Real scientists discuss probabilities, and avoid making predictions. They often look to the paleoclimate record for answers to establish precedence.
Paleoclimate researchers have pointed out that there is no precedent in the paleoclimate record that shows that anything precisely like this has ever happened before. Yet, according to this article, “paleoclimate records will not necessarily capture a large, abrupt methane pulse.”
Others postulate that methane hydrate was the killer that caused the Great Dying, or the Permian mass extinction due to massive Siberian trap volcanism and the emission of greenhouse gases 252 mya. This could have melted vast amounts of methane that had been trapped in the permafrost and sea floor, causing temperatures to soar even further to levels “lethal to most life on land and in the oceans”.
“Based on measurements of gases trapped in biogenic and abiogenic calcite, the release of methane (of ∼3–14% of total C stored) from permafrost and shelf sediment methane hydrate is deemed the ultimate source and cause for the dramatic life-changing global warming (GMAT > 34 °C) and oceanic negative-carbon isotope excursion observed at the end Permian.” – The Independent
During the Cretaceous Era, which ended 69 mya, CO2 levels were 1700 ppm. Tropical conditions extended as far north as what is now New York. There was no ice at the poles. It is postulated that Cretaceous CO2 related climate warming led to a significant methane release from the seafloor, indicating potential for similar destabilization of gas hydrates. Mass brittle star skeletons were found and preserved intact most probably because of increased methane seepage, killing the individuals and inducing rapid cementation.
Researchers similarly found that although the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) 55 mya, when the Earth was more than 8 °C hotter, could have caused rapid methane hydrate breakdown in deep-sea sediments. But the methane release from the sediments into the ocean would have taken hundreds to thousands of years. In the simulations, most of the methane remained trapped in sediment pores.
Additionally, researchers theorize that during the Eemian the Arctic ice did likely melt in the summers, but they theorize that deep sea clathrates stayed in place. However, other researchers contend that Arctic conditions during the Eemian interglacial, lasting from 130,000 to 115,000 years ago, are a terrible analogy for today’s Arctic. According to Professor Paul Beckwith of the University of Ottawa Laboratory for Paleoclimatology and Climatology, this can be explained by a number of factors that don’t necessarily relate in any way to today’s conditions.
Dr. Ira Leifer, CEO of Bubbleology Research International and methane specialist at the Marine Science Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara, studies the bubble mechanism for methane transport in the water column and discusses how gas bubble releasing seep sites are relevant methane sources in aquatic systems. He says “the potential for disaster is enormous (…) In the past when volcanic eruptions altered the Earth’s temperature, 97% of the Earth’s species went extinct, ushering in a new era.”
At the end of the day, scientists say that it very hard to predict what these hydrates will do in response to the global warming of the modern era. Additionally, abrupt and nonlinear change is always possible and, by nature, unpredictable. We simply cannot rule it out. This doesn’t mean we should be obsessively wringing our hands at the futility of it all, rather we should be doing all we can to stay calm and mitigate any situation which could increase the likelihood of such events.
Climate Destabilization Unlikely to Cause Methane ‘Burp’
Several studies coming out in February 2020 concur that this fear over the methane monster is unwarranted. We need to be more concerned about the permafrost and the shallow continental shelves which are already showing major signs of stress not the stuff greater than 500 meters down under the stability zone say scientists. We also need to be concerned ore about methane as a result of industrial activities.
‘The study of methane emissions from a period in Earth’s history partly analogous to the warming of Earth today. Their research, published in Science, indicates that even if methane is released from these large natural stores in response to warming, very little actually reaches the atmosphere. “One of our take-home points is that we need to be more concerned about the anthropogenic emissions—those originating from human activities—than the natural feedbacks”. – Phys.org
Fact-Check: is an Arctic “Methane Bomb” about to go off?
According to Climate Tipping Points with Dr. David McKay at Stockholm University, “more methane – a potent greenhouse gas – is likely to be emitted from Arctic permafrost than the IPCC originally anticipated, but modern models have started to catch up and quantify them better. Permafrost emissions are likely to drive ~0.1-0.3°C of extra warming by 2100 under low emission scenarios and up to ~0.5°C under high emission scenarios. But there’s no evidence for massive releases of pure methane over only a few years either now or in the past. Similarly, while evidence has emerged of greater than anticipated methane emissions from subsea Arctic permafrost in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, there’s scant direct evidence of a huge reservoir of metastable methane hydrates just below the surface that could suddenly leak and trigger extreme warming.”
The Real Catastrophe
Let’s get some perspective from the data. To review, about 60% of total global methane emissions are estimated to be caused by human activity and about 40% by natural processes. Natural sources of methane are dominated by wetlands emissions. Contributing approximately 200 Tg/yr of methane to the atmosphere per year; wetlands are the largest natural source of atmospheric methane in the world, and therefore remain a major area of concern with respect to climate change, though also often overlooked.
Conversely, the Arctic area is only responsible for a very small fraction of the global natural methane budget – less than 1%. “The importance of Arctic methane hydrates to global warming in five pie charts” shows how much Arctic methane contributes to overall warming warming compared to other sources.
Even though this area is responsible for the smallest fraction of the total Arctic Methane budget, we must remember that the melting permafrost has the potential to unleash vast stores of methane gas that could double GHG concentrations abruptly in ways no one yet understands or can fully predict.
Additionally, man-made methane is a threat multiplier for Arctic sources. According Rupple et al, rising atmospheric CH4 concentrations lead to more rapid depletion of the hydroxyl radicals (OH) needed for oxidation, longer CH4 residence times, and thus increased CH4-induced warming (Lelieveld et al. 1998). Also, let’s not forget that in just a couple decades, methane warms the planet by 86 times as much as CO2, according to the IPCC. This means anthropogenic methane is already a primary factor in warming.
Human activity is fast becoming deadly to the cryosphere. Methane release in the Arctic from thawing terrestrial permafrost in the tundra and from methane clathrates on shallow continental shelves remains a huge and ever increasing risk the warmer we make it. The question remains whether this will play out over decades or in an instant pulse — something science cannot tell us anymore than it can predict the future.
For now, we have to accept that the jury is still out on these much sought time frames and maintain our objectivity. Ultimately, the real threat on all sides is from anthropogenic sources of methane emitted by industry, in the burning of fossil fuels. Human activity is already responsible for 60% or more of the problem. In short, the problem is us. James Hansen, PhD explains this succinctly in the following video:
We know that methane is a powerful climate forcing agent. It represents a very real threat and one that could massively destabilize our planetary boundaries. If we address the human causes now, there is a slim chance that we could turn the situation around, but we only have a short window to act and as many reports are suggesting we are learning that the situation is much worse than we thought. The data modelling is simply all too often outpaced by complex, real-time events unfolding faster than humans can understand.
We also know that climate has become disrupted. The IPCC concurs with the overwhelming scientific consensus that the Earth is undergoing adverse global climate change and that anthropogenic contributions are the most significantly identifiable problem. Methane levels are rapidly increasing globally. Man-made methane climate forcing remains a primary threat as with carbon dioxide and other GHGs.
Still methane is often dangerously discounted in climate change discussions and in left out of climate models because as mentioned above, it leaves the atmosphere about a decade after its release, as opposed to carbon dioxide that can last for hundreds, even thousands, of years. But we cannot forget that in the short term, methane can trap up to 100 times the heat that carbon dioxide does and we need to add this to our calculations.
Paul Beckwith, Climate Systems Scientist says “the global warming potential of methane is enormous.” The methane problem is one that cannot be ignored. It’s the job of science to speculate and observe. But it’s the job of policy makers and people to do the right thing and act on best practices and evidence-based research overwhelmingly pointing to a looming crisis.
As a global species, we must do all we can to save the cryosphere from the heat engine that is civilization. This means focusing on halting man-made GHG and methane emissions — something we can still control, says James Hansen. Even though a time bomb may yet be unlikely, the warming that people are causing is wreaking havoc with the jet streams, causing extreme weather and will soon lead to an Arctic Blue Ocean Event — something that has never happened before while modern humans were on the planet.
The Hidden Dangers of Climate Lag
As if the threat of a methane monster isn’t enough, we’ve got plenty of real-time drama unfolding right now. According to David Wasdell of the Apollo-Gaia Project (video), “we are already warming the global climate system by two to three hundred times faster than it has ever warmed in the paleoclimate record.” There are numerous issues at stake. We have entered unprecedented and uncharted territory.
This study underscored that the oceans have already absorbed 93 percent of all the heat humans have added to the atmosphere and that planetary warming is already far more advanced than had previously been grasped. If the oceans had not absorbed that heat, global atmospheric temperatures would be 97 degrees Fahrenheit (97°F) hotter than they are today. Today’s carbon dioxide levels at 410 parts per million (ppm) are already in accordance of what historically brought about a steady state temperature of 7°C higher and sea levels 23 meters higher than they are today.
Due to climate lag or climate inertia we are already facing innumerable disasters even if we stop emissions today. However, we rarely consider this issue in policy making with its tendency toward short term solutions, and an even shorter term memory. Barring unforeseen forces, a consensus of scientific research tells us that a minimum of three degrees Celsius (3°C) warming is already baked into the system under current global climate pledges.
The Politics of Predicament and The End of Ice
Eminent climate scientists, like Michael Mann and James Hansen, say that we can still prevent some of the worst impacts of human-caused climate change from playing out if we do the right things now, i.e. stop burning fossil fuels, etc. Many other researchers say that while there is still ice on the poles we might still have a small chance of aiding the biosphere in recovery and regeneration if we stop now. Raising awareness and educating about the scale and impact of methane and other GHG emissions is essential to developing effective policy that will mitigate this disaster already underway.
We know what we need to do, the problem is we just aren’t doing it. This is a daunting set of circumstances, and study after study, we aren’t acting on what we know. Unfortunately some of our most powerful world leaders are still absurdly denying this situation, clearly putting profit over planet while just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions and are not only getting away with it, but also getting tax breaks (video) and subsidies for it. “This is criminal negligence” says Ralph Nader, who recently sat down with Dahr Jamail to discuss the politics of predicament and his new book The End of Ice.
According to this article, “… denial campaigns carried out by coal and oil lobbies that benefit financially from inaction on climate change have played successfully to people’s natural desire to deny catastrophic, evidence-based projections. But doom and gloom predictions from environmentalists have also been complicit in people’s feelings of denial. Generating panic about disastrous outcomes often arouses fear and anxiety—core emotions that feed denial.”
There’s been a bevy of recent articles, spurred on by 2018 IPCC statements suggesting that that failure to realistically convey the threats that climate change poses has resulted in policy failures. Also, some are noting a new platform for denialism. The champagne bottle analogy often cited by catastrophists  to say that the cork is already off the methane bottle and can’t be put back, and further to claim it is too late to do anything about this, is erroneous and premature. It is dangerously fomenting inaction that also ironically feeds a neoliberal agenda of business as usual, now a crime against humanity and the biosphere.
“Avoid fear in all its forms of expression; it is responsible for the greater part of human suffering. The only thing to fear is fear.” – Henry David Thoreau
We must remember that fear does not motivate, it paralyzes according to Paul Hawken (video). FDR once said that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, and this meant that fear scrambles our ability to see clearly and make good choices. On the other hand, complacency is a problem. However, education overcomes. Through objective, sound, and sustainable education on these matters, people are beginning to see the inter-relationship of climate crisis, social justice, and all life to their everyday lives and to a multiplicity of policy and economic issues. Educators must raise awareness, tell it like it is, and ignite action that impacts policy makers. If policy makers ignore them, reform or revolution (video) will become increasingly necessary to stop ecocide.
Getting Theoretical to Solve The Problem
According to ArsTechnica, Japan, Korea, India Germany and China and others have attempted to extract methane hydrate from the seafloor, but these gas hydrates are not so easy to crack. Many scientists, like geochemist Miriam Kastner, believe that using this stored methane as a form of energy could be a better option if we could unlock these hydrates to use for fuel. Methane sequestration has been discussed as a potential way to offset climate change. This is a very new area of research. Critics are already claiming it will be too little, too late. Also, it is much harder to sequester methane than carbon dioxide.
Other researchers are evaluating the hydroxyl radical (OH), a major methane sink. They claim that the most likely explanation for the renewed growth in atmospheric methane involves a decrease in hydroxyl (OH), the main sink for atmospheric methane, that is partially offset by a decrease in methane emissions.
There are many questions that are as yet unanswerable in this debate. Some scientists are asking even more ridiculously speculative and desperate questions as well, like could bringing back mammoths stop the climate crisis? Ironically, many agree that this could actually work to reproduce the environment of many thousands of years ago and halt the progression of permafrost thaw. Others are saying that because we have so perturbed the planetary system already that we have disrupted the Quaternary dynamics.
Additionally, there are many other new findings emerging constantly that make the big picture here even more difficult to ascertain. For example, one study suggests that melting methane in the Arctic is actually absorbing 230 times more greenhouse gas than it releases, adding even more contention to this already difficult problem, through methane eating bacteria. However, they do not thrive when there’s less snow cover as has been the case recently.
Methane needs further research on many fronts. In the meantime, scientists at Yale Climate Connections are asking that we begin to distinguish between the larger real-world methane threat already underway, and a theoretical methane monster.
Methane is a very real threat. Yet, the monster myth persists in focusing on the the 99% of marine sediments buried deeper than 500 meters in the sea floor, when it is actually our emissions that are the real methane emergency and which could actually trigger the shallow permafrost areas in the Arctic to begin to release dangerous enough levels of methane to double CO2. This is known and established science. There is no need to exaggerate, we are already in enough trouble with methane as it is.
Yet this popular confusion of the tricky science involved continues to take focus away from the real problem, us and our emissions. It is very hard for the non-science public to understand the difference between the very real methane threat on the one hand, (which no one denies considering the scientific consensus on this matter), and the monster myth on the other hand. The popular and often doomist discourse will tend to say that if the monster myth is denied, then we are saying there is no problem. But that is not the case at all, nor is that the argument being put forth here. There is a methane monster, and it is us.
Climate models project a temperature increase of around 4ºC by 2100 if we fail to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including methane — and that alone should present us with enough of a deeply troubling scenario to act now.
Despite the pseudoscience controversy over when or even if a methane monster might be unleashed, right now we know for certain that man-made emissions are contributing to warming that threatens to destabilize many environments, especially the Arctic. We can control man-made emissions. We just lack the political will to do so. However, if we do not curtail our emissions we may lose control of the natural world and once we do, there will be no turning back.
What happened to the dinosaurs, can happen to us. We have entered a danger zone never before encountered by modern man. Unfortunately, we are currently locked in a deadly stalemate as world leaders have consistently failed to act on this issue. As a global species we are playing with fire while we lose the ancient ice that is our planetary cooling mechanism. If we continue on this path, the current indisputable evidence puts us on a fast track toward a hellish, Venus-like greenhouse Earth. The choice is ours.
- Arctic Methane Emissions
- Rewilding the Arctic Could Stop Permafrost Thaw
- Permafrost is Thawing So Fast, It’s Gouging Holes in the Arctic
- Permafrost and Neoliberalism Hit a Grim Threshold
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Last Updated: 06/19/2021