I think we all remember the horrific tragedy of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, an event brought closer to home through media and online resources showing real-time videos and estimates of the massive oil plume that ultimately spewed ~4.9 billion barrels (210 million gallons) of oil over a five-month period, affecting 68,000 square miles (180,000 km2) of ocean, comparable to the size of Oklahoma. Similarly, in 2015, an atmospheric Deepwater Canyon occurred at the Aliso Canyon underground storage facility near Porter Ranch, California, where 97,100 tonnes of natural gas was emitted into the atmosphere over a four-month period.
For those keeping track, the scientific trend has been to consistently accelerate the rate and adverse impacts of climate change. Indeed, even the recent alarming predictions made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its 2018 special report have been woefully optimistic as have been all prior reports dating back to 1990. For example, following the 2018 release of “IPCC 1.5,” a report issued in January 2019 revealed that the oceans are warming 40% faster on average than was predicted a mere five years ago. A February 2019 study also confirms a “very strong methane growth” in 2014-2017 and states that “[m]ethane’s increase since 2007 was not expected in future greenhouse gas scenarios compliant with the targets of the Paris Agreement, and if the increase continues at the same rates it may become very difficult to meet the Paris goals.” This admission and the general tendency to underestimate how quickly the atmosphere and the oceans are changing must concern all of us.
Ask yourself: what would happen to our planet (or more precisely, humanity) if there were continuous methane emissions from thousands of Deepwater Horizons and Alison Canyons located all over the world?
The truth is, it turns out that man-made and natural methane emissions are by far the most critical factor contributing to a global tragedy destroying all of human civilization as we know it before the end of the current century. In fact, such a catastrophe will likely occur long before the end of the current century unless significant global measures are taken to eliminate and reverse methane emissions to the highest degree possible.
To this end, the Academy is currently preparing a whitepaper arguing that many of the most ardent climate change proponents are failing to adequately factor methane’s cumulative, accelerating effect on global warming (i.e., what the Academy calls the “Methane Accelerator”) into their forecasts, proposed remedial actions and associated timelines. The paper will also show that when the Methane Accelerator is fully considered, mankind is likely to have already passed the point where merely reducing CO2 emissions, even to zero, will be insufficient to prevent the most adverse effects of climate change; and that priority must be assigned to approaches that reverse, rather than simply mitigate, climate change effects.
The basic premise behind the Academy’s Methane Accelerator theory is that as climate change progresses, increasing quantities of methane gas are being released into the atmosphere due to the combination of melting permafrost, receding ice sheets and rising ocean temperatures. It is important to note that these emissions are separate from and supplement anthropogenic (man-made) methane emissions. On land, a number of studies have conclusively shown that melting permafrost releases methane gas from thawing ruminant animal remains and other organic materials (e.g. grasses, trees, shrubs, etc.) that have been trapped for millennia. Under the ocean, other reports show that thawing subsea permafrost is causing methane emissions from hydrate structures holding massive reserves on or beneath the ocean floor into the water column and eventually the atmosphere.
Despite its shorter half-life when compared to CO2, methane (CH4) is 84 times more detrimental in accelerating global temperature increases in the atmosphere. In this context, the World Business Academy believes a “vicious circle” (in contrast to a “virtuous cycle”) has been and is being accelerated by the rise in ambient air and water temperatures which trigger the release of methane gas currently kept locked in solid hydrate structures through low temperature and high-pressure levels created by land and seafloor ice sheets. Due to methane’s concentrated effects on climate change, these releases in turn accelerate atmospheric and oceanic heating, which in turn causes more solid hydrates structures to revert to gaseous methane, and the cumulative cycle continues unabated; ergo, the basis for using the term “Methane Accelerator” to describe the phenomenon.
Accordingly, the Academy is concerned that the status quo – if left unchecked – will lead to an exponential acceleration of atmospheric warming to the point where further climate damage is experienced from the amount of moisture being evaporated into the air, causing massive global floods; the melting of all glaciers and sea ice; and desertification accompanied by more persistent droughts.
Worst of all, the Academy believes that this catastrophic tipping point could also ultimately trigger an abrupt sea floor gas hydrate dissociation (a so-called “methane burp”) not unlike what scientists hypothesize was an important factor contributing to the Permian Extinction 325 million years ago which killed over 93% of all life forms on earth. Our objective in this whitepaper will be to draw attention to the increasing likelihood that human civilization as we know it would cease to exist as nation states collapse due to mass migrations to ever higher altitudes to escape rising sea water; and to the possibility that a methane burp could occur at any time as it did hundreds of millions of years ago.
So, on this “happy note,” what is our takeaway for humanity? For one, it should now be crystal clear that a greater focus is needed on accelerating natural and technological methods of reversing climate change through extracting carbon from both the air and water. We are in a “bathtub scenario,” where the amount of carbon entering the tub is increasing exponentially while the “drain” remains fixed and is even starting to shrink. While a November 2018 report indicates that natural climate solutions such as reforestation and ecosystem restoration present the most effective means of removing carbon, there are numerous technologies such as direct air capture (DAC) being developed that can not only remove carbon but repurpose it for beneficial purposes in a controlled environment.
As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, California is faced with a potentially huge carbon release from the uncontrolled burning of the 129 million (and counting) trees killed by extended drought and beetle infestation. Although this represents a calamity of global proportion, it also offers an opportunity to utilize/dispose of these resources in a controlled manner while restoring an ecosystem that will remove gigatons of carbon from the atmosphere.
This issue is this precisely the kind of challenge that a Green New Deal is meant to address. The question is: are we up to the task?
Written by Robert Perry, with editing and input from Kristy Jansen