The easy solution to the looming monster methane apocalypse

Guest essay by Larry Kummer of the the Fabius Maximus website.

Summary:  The looming disaster from the powerful greenhouse gas methane has become a standard part of alarmists’ shtick. It shows how they’ve abandoned the IPCC — the “gold standard” of climate science — and why we need the IPCC to help defend us against manipulation by activists.  The consensus of scientists is not always right; it’s just the best we have, the starting point for debate.

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By Sam Carana. At Arctic News, 6 October 2013.

(1)  What alarmists say

The Independent: “Exclusive: The methane time bomb“. Salon (2010): “Get ready for the methane apocalypse“. Mother Jones (2013): “What These Climate Scientists Said About Earth’s Future Will Terrify You” — with the URL “www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/12/climate-scientist-environment-apocalypse-human-extinction”. Alternet (2014): “The Giant Methane Monster That Can Wipe Out the Human Race“.

The IPCC’s conclusions about methane (see below) are widely derided, as in this at Arctic News: “Just do NOT tell them the monster exists” (see the comic above). Also by the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (one the increasing number of vaguely funded climate change groups): “we are drawing attention to the more unpleasant realities of rapid Arctic warming and climate change, which have been downplayed or ignored by IPCC…”

Turning to my favorite source of climate alarmism, Robert Marston Fanney (fantasy writer; bio here) at his blog RobertScribbler: “Ignoring the Arctic Methane Monster: Royal Society Goes Dark on Arctic Observational Science” and “Concern Over Catastrophic Methane Release“.

The alarmism goes wild as we approach November’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. At the misnamed TruthOut, Dahr Jamail tells us “The Methane Monster Roars“. Real News Network includes methane in its compendium of misinformation, the video Climate Change: Have We Reached the Point of No Return?

“… we’ve triggered a bunch of self-reinforcing feedback loops, many of which are irreversible, including methane release from the arctic, for example, and also methane from the permafrost. As permafrost degrades it breaks down into methane.” … “we’re already seeing methane going exponential in the atmosphere, and methane is many, many times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, molecule for molecule”

Living in the Bay Area, I see the effects of this propaganda. People casually mention that we’re doomed, stated with the certainty of cultists. These shrill warnings induce a sense of passivity and apathy in Leftists. Our ruling elites probably see that as good news.

(2)  Research gives us good news

It’s astonishing how little basis there is in the peer-reviewed literature for these claims. See these summaries at RealClimate debunking the hysteria in 2012 and in 2013 by David Archer (Prof Geophysical Sciences, U Chicago).

Research continues on this frontier of climate science. Such as this good news, that much of the arctic tundra might absorb methane, not release it: “An active atmospheric methane sink in high Arctic mineral cryosols” by M C Y Lau et al, The ISME Journal, August 2015. Here’s an ungated copy. The Princeton press release tells the story.

“However, new research led by Princeton University researchers and published in The ISME Journal in August suggests that, thanks to methane-hungry bacteria, the majority of Arctic soil might actually be able to absorb methane from the atmosphere rather than release it. Furthermore, that ability seems to become greater as temperatures rise.

“The researchers found that Arctic soils containing low carbon content — which make up 87% of the soil in permafrost regions globally — not only remove methane from the atmosphere, but also become more efficient as temperatures increase. During a three-year period, a carbon-poor site on Axel Heiberg Island in Canada’s Arctic region consistently took up more methane as the ground temperature rose from 0 to 18°C (32 to 64.4°F). The researchers project that should Arctic temperatures rise by 5 to 15°C over the next 100 years, the methane-absorbing capacity of “carbon-poor” soil could increase by five to 30 times.

“The researchers found that this ability stems from an as-yet unknown species of bacteria in carbon-poor Arctic soil that consume methane in the atmosphere. The bacteria are related to a bacterial group known as Upland Soil Cluster Alpha, the dominant methane-consuming bacteria in carbon-poor Arctic soil. The bacteria the researchers studied remove the carbon from methane to produce methanol, a simple alcohol the bacteria process immediately. The carbon is used for growth or respiration, meaning that it either remains in bacterial cells or is released as carbon dioxide.”

(3)  What the IPCC says about methane

The report of Working Group I of the IPCC’s AR5 gives explicit guidance about the risk created by methane emissions. You can read a hundred alarmist articles about methane and global warming — and never see this information.

  1. Models’ projections of the growth in methane levels range from small to large.
  2. These projections have come down in each IPCC report.
  3. Methane levels have increased more slowly than in any of their projections.

Let’s start with figure 1.6 from Chapter 1. This shows methane levels in the atmosphere in parts per billion (i.e., very small amounts), over time — compared with several generations of models’ projections. Click to enlarge.

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Observed globally and annually averaged CH 4 concentrations in parts per billion (ppb) since 1950 compared with projections from the previous IPCC assessments. Estimated observed global annual CH4 concentrations are shown in dark blue. The shading shows the largest model projected range of global annual CH4 concentrations from 1950 to 2035 from FAR {the first assessment report, 1990}; SAR (1996); TAR (IPCC, 2001); and 3 lines from AR4 (2007). The bars at the right-hand side of the graph show the full range given for 2035 for each assessment report.

The full story is told in Chapter 2: “2.2.1.1.2 Methane”. Here’s an excerpt. Citations omitted; red emphasis added. No sign of the monster methane or the methane apocalypse.

“Globally averaged CH4 in 1750 was 722 ± 25 ppb (after correction to the NOAA-2004 CH4 standard scale), although human influences on the global CH4 budget may have begun thousands of years earlier than this time that is normally considered ‘pre-industrial’.

“In 2011, the global annual mean was 1803 ± 2 ppb. Direct atmospheric measurements of CH4 of sufficient spatial coverage to calculate global annual means began in 1978 and are plotted through 2011 in Figure 2.2a.

“This time period is characterized by a decreasing growth rate (Figure 2.2b) from the early 1980s until 1998, stabilization from 1999 to 2006, and an increasing atmospheric burden from 2007 to 2011. Assuming no long-term trend in hydroxyl radical (OH) concentration, the observed decrease in CH4 growth rate from the early 1980s through 2006 indicates an approach to steady state where total global emissions have been approximately constant at ~550 Tg (CH4) yr–1.

“Superimposed on the long-term pattern is significant interannual variability; studies of this variability are used to improve understanding of the global CH4 budget (Chapter 6). The most likely drivers of increased atmospheric CH4 were anomalously high temperatures in the Arctic in 2007 and greater than average precipitation in the tropics during 2007 and 2008.

“Observations of the difference in CH4 between zonal averages for northern and southern polar regions (53° to 90°) suggest that, so far, it is unlikely that there has been a permanent measureable increase in Arctic CH4 emissions from wetlands and shallow sub-sea CH4 clathrates.”

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(4) The Left divorces the IPCC

But the larger lesson concerns how we see the IPCC. It was the “gold standard” description of climate science research. The Right criticized it as too alarmist. By 2011 activists were saying it was “too conservative”, which became their common response to AR5 in 2013 (e.g., see Inside Climate News, The Daily Climate, and Yale’s Environment 360). Divorcing the IPCC allows their propaganda to become more imagination than science, one of the most incompetent publicity campaigns ever.

This political polarization spreads through our society like poison, paralyzing the Republic’s governing machinery. It serves the interests of special interests — not us.

(5)  Conclusions

There are two easy solutions to the monster methane apocalypse. First, wait for the IPCC or a major climate agency to warn that large-scale action is needed. Meanwhile we can encourage other nations to copy the large reductions in methane emissions made by US industry and the further gains from the EPA’s proposed regulations.

Second, climate scientists should speak out more often. Too seldom do even the most exaggerated claims get pushback from them (like what skeptics routinely get), making them seem complicit in this propaganda (silence means assent).

The IPCC is a deeply-flawed institution, like most institutions serving political goals (e.g., Congress). But it’s the best we have now. It can be improved, but perhaps it works better than today’s apathetic American deserve. The massive effort by participating scientists provides an excellent collection of research, plus a starting point and focus for debate — but only if we use it.

“The best is the enemy of the good.”

— Italian proverb, told to us by Voltaire (1770).

(6)  For More Information

For more information about this vital issue see The keys to understanding climate change and My posts about climate change.

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48 thoughts on “The easy solution to the looming monster methane apocalypse

  1. I used to have a (very good) bridge partner who, when in an impossible contract, would play his cards and dummy’s as fast as he could pull the cards, and rake in tricks actually won by the opponents. I was astonished by how often it worked.

  2. The point being swept aside is the beauty of CO2 as a scary gg produced by man – ergo man must pay with taxes..

  3. Environmentalism is locked in a NEW “fashion model”. The EPA announced a new and improved war on Methane. Now, this. The irony is: the U.S. turbine industry runs on Methane as well as Natural Gas! So we have another fuel to consume. Another round of electricity for everyone. Add Methane to U.S. to financial assets.
    The industry can produce electricity from waste-water processes Methane.
    So cool.

  4. The supposed Arctic methane gas bomb lacks credibility for many reasons, including the inconvenient fact there is no evidence of it happening in the geological record during the Eemian interglacial period, or in the Holocene Optimum 6-8,000 years ago, when temperatures were higher than today.

    • Plus 10. And, the scare ignores the biology of methanogens and methanotrophs, notmto mention the biological nature of melting permafrost. You know, some does, every summer. Enough to study its biology. Plus, ignores the atmospheric half life of methane, which is rather rapidly oxidized to –gasp– carbon dioxide and water. Both further GHG! The whole methane bomb thing is a greenie closet monster. Which mainly indicates the greenie level of intellectual and emotional development. Somewhere between age 2 and maybe age 4-5.
      My two kids grew out of such irrational fears at age 3, but then they always were exceptional….. (/sarc off).

    • Bruce,
      Good point! The methane monster is a sideshow. In the center ring we have RCP8.5 dressed up as the “business as usual” forecast – the biggest scary monster ever.
      And that’s correct. If population growth comes in at the high end of forecasts (which seems unlikely imo, perhaps not even possible), technological process slows, and energy use reverts to the pattern of 1915 (with coal the major fuel) — then we can expect a dark future.
      That’s not a “business as usual” forecast, but is one with a scary carbon monster.

      • ‘That’s not a “business as usual” forecast, but is one with a scary carbon monster …’.
        =====================
        But it’s not carbon (dioxide) that produces the “scary” future it’s the feedbacks for which there is no evidence.

  5. “The IPCC is a deeply-flawed institution, like most institutions serving political goals (e.g., Congress). But it’s the best we have now…”.
    ===============================
    “The best is the enemy of the good” sounds like the ‘argument to moderation’ fallacy as summarised by Soviet Russian dissenter Vladimir Bukovsky: “the middle ground between the Big Lie of Soviet propaganda and the truth is a lie” (Wiki):
    “An individual operating within the false compromise fallacy believes that the positions being considered represent extremes of a continuum of opinions, and that such extremes are always wrong, and the middle ground is always correct.
    This is not always the case”.

  6. Well I don’t know if we need the IPCC to help us out on keeping the even loonier environmentalists getting scientific or popular traction. It’s sort of like saying that guy Pol Pot is over the top but thank god Mao Z Dong is reasonable!

    • ouch. And here we are in an age of historical illiteracy, so few are even able to understand your references.

      • hunter ,,my goodness you really mean to say that your average green knows not of the great Helmsman’s “little Red Book”?
        michael
        🙂

      • Unfortunately, I think they will understand the references: two of the great heroes of the revolution who got rid of a lot of obstructionist deniers. Oops, I’ve used a trigger word and will get modded!

  7. Just because a molecule contains carbon does not mean it captures heat energy.
    Before you permit yourself to get all scare-defied over more methane being released into the atmosphere, and even if you buy into recent (since WWII) surface temperature rise being as a result of increased greenhouse gasses, do your research and find that methane is an irrelevant gas in the theoretical causes because of the limited bands of energy it can possibly absorb and from those two bands upon which it can act, it must share that potential with one more prevalent, which has already done the job almost completely in those bands leaving nothing much for methane to work upon. Those who promote gloom & doom from impending release of stores of methane wrongly assume the gas would have unlimited stores of energy upon which it could draw to heat the planet should that release occur. Therein lies the failure of this sub-theory even assuming such release is possible and imminent. There is no such pool of energy.
    The energy beamed by the sun comes to Earth in the form of short waves, is absorbed by the planet, and some is transmitted back to space in the form of long waves in various bands of energy. Warmists’ Anthropogenic Global Warming Theory holds that greenhouse gasses intercept by absorption and transmit back to Earth a percentage of the long wave radiation energy in the form of kinetic heat in natural balance until humans destroy the balance by over supplying unnatural amounts of greenhouse gasses by which such process and added heat causes more of the principle greenhouse gas, water vapor, to be produced accelerating the process in an ever heightening loop of heating Gaia. Methane is a “greenhouse gas.” The misnamed process acts nothing like a greenhouse, BTW, and empirical measurements, the acid test of science, do not reflect water vapor increasing as required in proportion to CO₂ increases or even out of proportion. No increase of water vapor at all in fact has been measured among the several failures of the theory to be sustained by empirical measurement.
    Methane (CH4) by its physical properties has only two narrow absorption bands at 3.3 microns and 7.5 microns in the overall broad electro-magnetic spectrum from which it can absorb energy. Theoretically, CH4 is 20 times more effective an absorber than CO2 – in those bands. However, CH4 is only 0.00017% (1.7 parts per million) of the atmosphere. Moreover, both of its bands occur at wavelengths where H2O is already absorbing virtually all energy. Because water vapor is much more plentiful in the atmosphere than methane (or any other GHG), H­2O absorbs vastly more energy and is by far the most important greenhouse gas. On any given day, H2O is a percent or two of the atmosphere (1.0-2.0% or 5,882 to 11,764 times as prevalent as methane in the atmosphere, or 5882÷20=294.1 [or 588.4] multiple the absorber as methane); we call that humidity. Hence, any radiation that CH4 might absorb has already been absorbed by H2O in the only radiation bands methane absorbs energy. Once the energy in a band of the spectrum has been sucked dry, no additional absorptive gas can absorb more. Painting a black window another coat will not keep out more light. In other words, the ratio of the percentages of water to methane is such that the effects of CH4 are completely masked by H2O because the absorption of infrared energy in the bands of the spectrum affected by methane has already been saturated by H2O absorption. The amount of CH4 would have to increase 100-fold to make it comparable to H2O and even then it would no longer matter because water vapor has beat it to the punch.
    There is not much ambient energy in those two little short, stray bands of the radiation spectrum to start with and most of that has already been worked over by H2O from time immemorial leaving only the scraps to poor CH4, which can never effect climate to any appreciable or worrisome amount. Because it absorbs energy in a laboratory does not mean it works that way in a chaotic atmosphere with other agents and processes present.
    Learn more of what the science neophytes should have investigated before fearing methane, which is an irrelevant greenhouse gas (graphs, observed facts & all that tedious math kind of stuff) —
    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/04/11/methane-the-irrelevant-greenhouse-gas/
    Methane is fine vehicle to instill fear, the politicians greatest ally, on an uninformed populace though. It is the rare person whose knowledge on the substance reaches even the level of understanding the stuff coming from their gas stove is raw methane…easy targets for manipulation.

    • 100% correct in your description of the radiative effects of methane. I think what they usually claim is that CH4 + 2 O2 -> CO2 + 2 H2O in the atmosphere and that will be the cause of the super powerful methane green house effect, the extra CO 2 doing the damage. However, with methane at parts per billion, the extra addition of CO2 molecules to the atmosphere is negligilble compared with its concentration of four parts per ten thousand, i.e., it ups the concentration by a few millionths. It’s nothing but hysteria by innumerate people.

      • Um, no. That is not remotely why people think methane will have scary effects. In fact, it is an issue severely understudied, in my opinion. It was one of the first issues I tried to look at when I started looking at global warming over ten years ago. I was baffled at the lack of answers to some very simple questions on the details of atmospheric methane’s breakdown/washout.
        The global warming potential of methane is higher than that of carbon dioxide primarily because of methane’s direct greenhouse effect. The effect you describe contributes only a tiny portion of the estimated effect of methane, I believe less than of the estimate 10%.
        As for your formula and estimated amount generated from it, both are misguided. That formula is… not really right, and there are actually a number of ways atmospheric methane breaks down. I was able to recently find some estimates as to how much atmospheric methane eventually converts into carbon dioxide, something which wasn’t available years ago, so I did a crude first pass at estimating how much carbon dioxide is added by methane emissions. If you’re curious, you can see the results here:
        http://www.hi-izuru.org/wp_blog/2015/06/its-not-really-important-but/
        It’s not great work, but as far as I know, nobody has done better. Which surprises me. It should be easy to do better estimations. I thought someone would have done them ten years ago.

  8. Yet something else Hansen didn’t know when he put his “Coal Trains of Death” on the tracks.
    We would all have fried years ago if he knew.

  9. Black Bart: “Man, you drink like that, you are going to die!”
    The Waco Kid (swallow, wipes his mouth): “When?”
    As always, the date of this particular Apocalypse (stipulated assuredly by the wide-eyed acolytes) will come and go. Ask one of them if they will wager so little as $100 on it. Heck, even $10. Let me know if you find a taker.

    • Don’t forget the famous bet on commodity prices with the Ehrlich gang. The doomsayers lost but never missed a beat in their rent seeking apocalyptic hyping. They just shout their bs more loudly.

      • Hunter,
        The results of the famous Ehrlich-Simon bet are often poorly described, despite so many clear explanations. People prefer the myth to the truth. Wikipedia accurately explains (with links to evidence):
        “Ehrlich would have won in the majority of 10-year periods over the last century, and if the wager was extended by 30 years to 2011, he would have won on four out of the five metals.”
        This should not surprise anyone. Industrial commodity prices are volatile and run in cycles of years and decades. Also the underlying relationship is complex: ore quantity and quality are inversely related (think of the supply as a pyramid, with the best ore at the top). Over time lower quality ore is mined (more expensive), offset by improved technology (lowering the cost). There is no way to reliably predict the net result over time.
        For more about this see http://fabiusmaximus.com/2011/01/27/24215/

      • I love it how the trolls have to rely on Wikipedia, as no accurate source supports their delusions.

  10. So now it is ppb (parts per billion) of the atmosphere that we are supposed to be scared of. This is some kind of homoeopathy. Soon, if we look at parts per trillion, we can get truly terrified!

  11. If the world were to actually warm up by several degrees, wouldn’t that speed the rate by which methane oxidizes into water and CO2?

  12. I think it is very interesting that where the soil lacks carbon nature has found a way to enrich the soil, using bacteria that gobbles methane. The warmer it gets, the livelier that bacteria gets, and the more methane it gobbles. (The exact opposite of what hysteria predicts.)
    This shows how little the Alarmists understand the Earth they claim to be the protectors of.
    The old time farmers knew of two basic ways to enrich soil. The first involved sweat and toil, and lugging manure from the stables and spreading it in the fields. The second was a heck of a lot easier, because all you needed to do was give the field a rest. It was called a “fallow” field.
    A fallow field shows nature’s ability to enrich a landscape without any help from humans. You’d think Alarmists would get this concept, considering they portray man as the raping, taking bad guy, and nature as the giving good guy. However they don’t see nature will not allow a natural thing like methane go to waste. Nor will nature allow a natural thing like crude oil seeping up from earthquake faults in California go to waste. Nature gobbles the substances up, and it becomes part of the food chain, which involves all sorts of stuff eating, being eaten, and, in the end, turning to manure which enriches the soil.
    Nature can take a most sterile landscape and make it verdant. The second a glacier recedes nature gets busy on the barren landscape, starting with lichen and progressing through tundra to taiga to the rich farmlands of Ohio.
    In essence nature is guilty of altering its environment even more than man. It does not care a hoot about the current ecosystem. It improves upon it. However Progressives fail to understand this natural progression.
    The arctic landscape is amazing, for it shows nature tested to its limits, and how nature will not stand for the status-quo of a sterile ecosystem, but enriches it. Besides the micro-critter in arctic soil that craves methane, there are some amazing mirco-critters that live out on the even more hostile environment of the sea-ice. Not only is there a sort of slime that discolors the bottom of sea-ice, but there is a micro-critter that loves extremely salty brine. When the ice flash freezes in the fall, salt is exuded from the ice and sinks down through the ice as little teardrops of very salty water, boring wormholes downwards. Within these extremely salty down-elevators are micro-critters who are not satisfied with the brine, and adjust it to their liking. Unlike Alarmists, they do not want to make a Natural Park of the status-quo, and fundamentally alter the brine, so it is chemically different when it exits the ice at the bottom of the sea-ice.
    Not all these micro-critters make it down into the sinking brine. Some are sucked up by the brine on top of the ice, which is sponged up by a phenomenon called “ice-flowers”, and then pulverized by winds and blasted to powder, and winds up as a sort of haze in dark, arctic midwinter skies, and, because the bromine in micro-critters turn into bromine-monoxide, contribute to ozone depletion, and contribute to the ozone holes Alarmists give man such a hard time for.
    In conclusion, Alarmists are not the protectors of nature, for they actually don’t have a clue how nature works.

  13. CAGW is not dead because it suits to the agenda of the activists and offers huge opportunities for profiteering. Science does not matter if the story is plausible enough for its audience.

  14. Given that most CH4 emissions (Heh! Someone said to me once CH4 had “four carbons” I kid you not) are derived from termites and oxidises out to CO2 quickly and at ~1.8ppB/v…I’d say its a non-issue.

  15. You have got to be joking!!! Trust the IPCC?? That’s like trusting a burglar because at least he’s not a murderer. They are not “the best we have”. They are just as big a bunch of pseudo scientists as the far left whakos. Only the magnitude of the false predictions change. It bs underpinning it remains the same!

  16. Mother Jones (2013): “What These Climate Scientists Said About Earth’s Future Will Terrify You” — with the URL “www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/12/climate-scientist-environment-apocalypse-human-extinction”.

    I dissected the “timeline” presented on the second page of that article, step by step, in a blog post recently. The article is a fine example of the reading comprehension difficulties which seem to beset writers such as Dahr Jamail. My blog post is at Through Giant Green Goggles, and looks at the article in particular in the context of its re-publication by An Taisce, the Irish National Trust, expanding on the similar cherry-picking tendencies and gullibility displayed by that body. The detailed examination of the various claims in the “timeline”, with links to original sources, does not depend on any familiarity with the Irish context.
    A sample from the “timeline” (2C increase in five years – only an award winning journalist should swallow that?):

    2012: The conservative International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook report for that year states that we are on track to reach a 2C increase by 2017.

    The report does mention both 2°C and 2017 in the same bullet point, third from the bottom, on page 241. But this is not a projection of a 2C increase by 2017, and most certainly not a prediction, but rather two different sentences, the first talking of the scope for reaching the 2°C goal and the second discussing emissions accounting if action is not taken before 2017.

    • At the misnamed TruthOut, Dahr Jamail tells us “The Methane Monster Roars“.

      Is there no end to this man’s ambition? When I look at this second article by Dahr Jamail, 2C by 2017 now seems a modest increase.

      “It is my view that our climate system is in early stages of abrupt climate change that, unchecked, will lead to a temperature rise of 5 to 6 degrees Celsius within a decade or two,” Beckwith told me.

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