Why is Methane Such a Threat?

Dale Hollow Dam on the Obey River at Celina, Tennessee
Reservoirs behind dams are responsible for large amounts of methane emissions 

One might ask a similar question such as "Why is carbon dioxide such a threat?" or "Why is nitrous oxide such a threat?" or even "Why is sulfur hexafluoride such a threat?" While I'm pretty sure that everyone reading this knows that these are greenhouse gases and that they are all ramping upwards as climate change progresses, I figured I might as well disclose those facts first. My next disclosure amounts to providing some sources for info regarding the statement underneath the picture above here, and here, and here, and here

I have written extensively about methane in many of my articles (to see which ones, look for the keyword "methane" on the labels for each article) simply because of the existential risks it poses and also how likely it is to become a serious threat and not just a potential one. One article in particular highlights the issue of methane. While other parts of stories about methane are buried in different articles of mine, I decided to bring the various parts into a main one with methane in the actual title to make more of an impact with regard to this specific predicament. Methane emissions continue gaining pace despite more and more efforts to stem emissions from anthropogenic sources such as fossil fuel infrastructure, and I don't expect these emissions to ever go down again in our lifetimes. 

In order to gain a better appreciation of why I say that (that I don't expect these emissions to ever go down again in our lifetimes), please visit the Methane Links page to view lots of peer-reviewed literature on the subject or go here for the latest updates (one of which includes this recent study titled, "Methane discovery sheds new light on world's largest mass extinction event"). 

Several different studies carry a considerable amount of weight with regard to this subject, and combined with studies located in the Denial of Reality article I wrote, point to the reasons why climate change and associated predicaments will never get better in our lifetimes (or even our children's and grandchildren's lifetimes). This one provides evidence for what could easily seriously worsen climate change, showing what has taken place in previous episodes of climate change warming. This one points to a recurring theme of "more than previously thought" and there are literally hundreds of these types of articles available not just about methane, but also about climate change in general. This particular study points to why the lag effect is so important in understanding precisely why equilibrium of the climate system will require hundreds if not thousands of years, making any efforts we do manage to make towards lessening the damage we do with regard to climate change ones we will most likely never see or experience the benefits from, quote:

"Using simulations with an Earth System Model we show that the time lag between a carbon dioxide (CO2) emission pulse and the maximum warming increases for larger pulses. Our results suggest that as CO2 accumulates in the atmosphere, the full warming effect of an emission may not be felt for several decades, if not centuries."

Now, these are just a few studies, and one would have to comb through hundreds of these to gain a better appreciation of exactly what the likelihood of such an emission of methane (including undersea hydrates) is. As someone who has actually read many of these articles and studies and listened to many videos as well, I can say that the likelihood is rather high, and hydrates (also known as "clathrates") aren't the only threat. Much can be gleaned from the Wiki page here about atmospheric methane.

Permafrost thaw and thermokarst lakes along with the usual reservoirs, lakes, and swamps will provide plenty of methane to increase the threat from other sources of emissions. Probably an even worse threat than GHG emissions themselves is the fact that carbon sinks such as the ocean, the Amazon Rainforest, mangrove swamps, and regular trees, once a reliable way to offset these emissions, are now becoming carbon sources themselves. Millions of trees are succumbing each year to tree diseases, wildfires, insect devastation, and extreme weather events. The Amazon Rainforest is giving way to continuous development, mining, wildfires, and drought aided by previous clearing and ongoing warming caused by climate change in a self-reinforcing positive feedback loop. As the ocean warms, its ability to absorb carbon dioxide is lessened and new studies show that other factors are also reducing the ability of the ocean to absorb carbon.

Methane only stays in the atmosphere for about 10-12 years and degrades into carbon dioxide and water vapor, also both greenhouse gasses. Due to the additional methane being emitted, more of it is building up in the atmosphere, ramping up climate change much more than CO2 emissions because methane has a much higher global warming potential. Each year that goes by tends to bring new records in terms of methane emissions (and quite frequently CO2 emissions as well). Being that methane is actually responsible for about 25% of global warming today, any reduction in emissions is good news. Unfortunately, over the long haul, most natural methane emissions from sources other than fossil fuel infrastructure are expected to dramatically increase over the coming decades due to increased warming and positive feedbacks. Areas which today are safe underneath ice and snow will soon become new sources. 

Because climate change in reality is just getting started, many people have this vision that we have some sort of ability to reduce emissions and reduce or stop climate change. This is unfortunately not true. We may have an ability to reduce emissions, but this is more of a limitation set by energy and resource decline rather than an actual effort accomplished by us. While reducing emissions may have an actual effect at some point if enough of a reduction is made, we will never actually see a reduction of effects from climate change due to the fact that equilibrium is still a long way off (beyond our lifetimes) and one might as well completely forget stopping climate change altogether. Stopping climate change just isn't in the cards, period. That is the meaning behind the word irreversible, which is precisely what climate change (and most of the other symptom predicaments of ecological overshoot) is. Part of what makes the predicament so pernicious isn't something many people are familiar with - the RATE of change, highlighted in the presentation in this article. Also included in that article are more studies showing the progression of carbon sinks turning into sources. 

So, taken altogether with the evidence disclosed here regarding climate change, methane presents a far greater danger than most people will admit (indeed, some scientists actively downplay the risk; which I have been rather critical of given the circumstances). Given that carbon emissions are set to reach a new record high this year and did so last year as well, no reduction is even in sight. Understanding this may be depressing, although I wrote an article precisely for shedding light on a different way to see things. One can choose to look at these situations caused by the predicament of ecological overshoot from a different perspective in an effort to bring a new outlook on life to the forefront; all in an effort to help those reading these articles to 

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