Methane and Extinction Deniers: The New Climate Change Challenge

When reality seems too difficult for us to face, we retreat behind defensive mechanisms. There was the girl who always explained that she really didn't want something after she found out she couldn't get it. She was two-faced. Her defense mechanism was rationalization. He saw illness as a way out. A back way, true, but a way. When was time to bring in the wood his legs pained him. When the snow fell something went on with his arm. And he loved the attention he got. His escape mechanism was malingering. The army calls it "gold-breaking". He identified himself with a welder weight champion. Every fight the champ won, he won. Every punch the champ took, he took. And he could take it. His escape mechanism was identification with somebody else. She thought that if she pretended a thing wasn't there it might go away. If you pretended that something hadn't happened, maybe it hadn't. If you hid the truth away maybe it would turn out to be a lie.

Her escape mechanism was suppression. Do you experience defense mechanisms while watching the following video? We'll count down from five. At what number do they kick in? This chunk of ice may look pretty unremarkable at first glance, but, put a match to it and something amazing happens. As reported in this month's issue of 'The Atlantic', it's called "methane hydrate", and it's actually not unusual at all. In fact, there are more than 100.000 trillion cubic feet of it on Earth. Volume wise, that's like the size of the mediterranean sea, and it has a greater energy capacity than all the coal, oil and natural gas on Earth combined. And while methane burns clean, unburned methane is a potent green-house gas, and if it leaks it can be devastating to the environment. You may remember that in 2007 here was a big study that came out from this group called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and they looked at computer models of how rapidly Arctic ice would go away, and as of early 2007, this is what they were telling us.

[Peter Sinclair, Greenman Studios] That we would see gradual drop in Arctic ice minimum, going down to where we probably still have a fair amount of ice left in the year 2100, worst case maybe by 2070 we would see open water… the Arctic in summer time. That very same year, we saw in the actual observations, a huge drop in the Arctic ice, and that drop has continued so that in 2012 this is now where we are. The faster it gets hotter the more water vapor. The more water vapor the faster it gets hotter. The faster it gets hotter the less ice. The less ice the less reflections and the faster it gets hotter. You begin to get the idea? It has to be a downward curving on what we call "exponential decay". And if you project that line forward as it is done in this particular.

.. …setting of the equations and understanding of Arctic ice mass loss, than, once again, it shows zero ice floating on the Arctic ocean by the end of summer 2015. [David Wasdell, Apollo Gaia Project] The average temperature of the world is only up 1ºC but up in the Arctic is up 5ºC… The mirror that's at the top of the world will be gone. It won't be gone in the winter time but the sun is not shinning on it in the winter time, so… what matters is the summer time. One of the key effects that this has is that, when all these northern areas are covered with white reflective snow and ice, it bounces most of the solar energy off; bounces it back off into space. But wen we are seeing more and more open water, dark soil and dark surfaces, than the solar energy tends to get absorbed; so instead of reflecting 90% of all the energy, you're absorbing 90% of all the energy, so… this is what scientists call a positive feedback, and they don't mean that it's good. It's not a positive thing for us, it's more like a vicious cycle.

More heat equals less ice and less ice equals more heat and it just continues on in a spiral and that's what we're seeing in the Arctic. Aaah, permafrost! Right here. Frozen dirt. The permafrost thaws; the organic matter in the permafrost thaws as well and begins to decay, the microorganisms start to eat it. If there's no oxygen, the microorganisms make methane. [Prof. Kevin Schaefer] So this is methane. A carbon with four hydrogens around it. CH4 [Martyn Poliakoff] Methane is the simplest compound of carbon and hydrogen. And it is an enormously widespread molecule in the world. It is the basis of so called "natural gas", the gas that is found deep in the Earth and which you can drill down and recover. It's used for heating and energy all over the world. It's also formed when plants material decomposes. [Professor Martyn Poliakoff – Periodic Videos] If you have a pond, little lake, and plants material falls in and decomposes on the bottom, if you stick a stick in, bubbles of gas come up. If you collect this gas you can actually light it with a match and it burns, and I've done that when I was younger.

Methane, when it goes into the atmosphere, behaves like carbon dioxide because it can absorb radiation, infra-red radiation, and cause global warming. And it absorbs the radiation by the vibrations of the carbon-hydrogen bonds, at the vibrations when they stretch and also when they… vibrate; so called scissors vibrations. Methane in fact absorbs radiation much more strongly than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but it's life-time, the molecule's life in the atmosphere is shorter, because it eventually reacts with oxygen and turns to carbon dioxide. There are potential irreversible effects of melting the sea ice. If it begins to allow the Arctic Ocean to warm up [James Hansen] and warm the ocean floor, then we'll begin to release methane hydrates. According to Dr. Hansen, our planet is on a dangerous course to pass an irreversible typing point with disastrous consequences. [Supreme Master Ching Hai] This…

melting permafrost, in turn releases toxic methane gas, resulting in more warming of the atmosphere. The reasons scientists are now turning the attention to methane is that research has shown that this gas has a heating capacity 100 times greater than CO2 within the first 5 years. It's very logical, scientifically speaking and otherwise. Methane is way worse than carbon dioxide. Is inert right now in the soil, it's not affecting anybody in any way. When you warm it it becomes gas, then it starts acting immediately as a green-house gas, so this is an immediate and very short-term threat to planetary civilization. [Peter Ward] That's probably the biggest issue that we face. Sea level change is a big one too, a very expensive one to manage but… the methane release from the tundra, once that gets under way, we reach a point where we loose the option of having an effective mitigation strategy. [Jason Box] About 8 years ago [Dr.

Natalia Shakhova, International Arctic Research Center] we started studying the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, and actually we have been studying it for the last 8 years continuously year by year, conducting one or two expeditions per year. The hydrocarbons that are produced within the sedimentary drape were sealed and that prevented the methane from escaping to the atmosphere. That is why we are telling that this should be the largest hydrocarbon stocks of all. The methane in the atmosphere, the total amount of methane in the carbon atmosphere, it's about 5 Gigatons. The amount of carbon preserved in the form of methane in this Siberian Arctic Shelf, is approximately from hundreds to thousands of Gigatons. And of course only one percent of that amount is required to double the atmospheric burden of methane. To destabilize one percent of this carbon pool, I think there's not much effort needed, considering the state of the permafrost and the amount of methane currently involved, because what divides this methane from the atmosphere is a very shallow water column and a weakening permafrost, which is loosing its ability to serve as a seal.

Not any time, I think that… Any time sounds like it might happen today, it might happen tomorrow, the day after tomorrow… [Igor Semiletov] It might happen any time. – You think so? – I'm pessimistic. – Igor is very convinced because he has spent a lot of time over there. … and where the sea ice should be about 2 meters thick, it was 40 centimeters thick. That means that all the processes involve destabilization; of everything, of the sea ice, the water column, of the currents increasing, with the currents I mean the movement of water beneath the sea ice has increased… so everything looks anomalous; even from our experience from these 10 years, everything looks anomalous, and this is what makes him… think that.

.. making him think that… … the worst thing might happen. – We can not exclude this. Maybe it's 5%, maybe it's less but we can not exclude because… – Shortly speaking, we do not like what we see there. Absolutely do not like. The Permian Mass Extinction is, in essence it's just the greatest crisis that life on Earth has ever suffered. By the end of the Permian Mass Extinction, 95% of all life on the planet was dead. And why is this important today? Because today a 6th extinction is under way. One that will test the survival of not just human civilization, but possibly of the human species itself. And it bears a horrifying resemblance to several previous global warming driven events, like the Permian Mass Extinction.

During the Permian Mass Extinction, green-house gases were released by volcanic eruptions in an area that is today called the Siberian Traps. These, along with the heat from the lava flow itself, warmed the atmosphere of the Earth by at least 6ºC. That much global warming took a huge toll on land animals and plants but, far worse, it warmed the oceans enough that methane, frozen deep under the sea, melted and was released into the atmosphere. That enormous release of methane, a powerful green-house gas, pretty much doubled the level of global warming and killed off over 95% of all life both on earth and in the sea. Look at this. In a matter of… …days, just days, we have this huge area, look at this, going almost exploding with methane. The only way this is possible is by melting up methane clathrates. It's just the only explanation.

[Methane Ranges] [Laptev sea] Too many of us refuse to face reality. Too many of us try to escape, escape our duties and identities, our faces and our families, but all these things remain. All the realities remain, whenever we leave our dreams and return to the real world..