The easy solution to the looming monster methane apocalypse

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 the Left and Right.  The consensus of scientists is not always right; it’s just the best we have.

IPCC & the methane monster
By Sam Carana. At Arctic News, 6 October 2013.



  1. What alarmists say
  2. New research, good news
  3. What the IPCC says
  4. The Left-IPCC divorce
  5. Conclusions
  6. For More Information

(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 ““. 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“.

Update: The alarmism appears even in the major media, such as this in The Guardian by Nafeez Ahmed: “Seven facts you need to know about the Arctic methane timebomb” — “Dismissals of catastrophic methane danger ignore robust science in favour of outdated mythology of climate safety.”

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.

But — where are the climate scientists? Where are rebuttals at RealClimate? by the Climate Science Rapid Response Team? At the websites above that feature climate science?

Frontiers of science

(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.

AR5 WG1: Figure 1.6 of methaneObserved 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: “ Methane”. 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.

IPCC's AR5: Methane
IPCC’s AR5, WGI, Methane

(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 set up to serve political goals (e.g., Congress). But it’s the best we have in this role and probably works better than we 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).

Truth Will Make You Free

(6)  For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information about this vital issue see The keys to understanding climate change and My posts about climate change. Especially see these posts about the IPCC…

  1. Climate scientists speak to us. What is their consensus opinion?
  2. Another disturbing article about climate change. Fortunately we have the IPCC!
  3. Is our certain fate a coal-burning climate apocalypse? No!
  4. The 97% consensus of climate scientists is only 47%.
  5. The hidden but important IPCC foundation for Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

To help you better understand today’s extreme weather

To learn more about the state of climate change see The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change by Roger Pielke Jr. (Prof of Environmental Studies at U of CO-Boulder, and Director of their Center for Science and Technology Policy Research).

The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change
Available at Amazon.

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

  1. In response to the post about the problem of rising concentrations of methane in the atmosphere, I have some questions. But first, a couple of observations.

    You say that “Living in the Bay Area, I see the effects of this propaganda. People casually mention that we’re all doomed, stated with the certainty of a cultist. These shrill warnings induce a sense of passivity and apathy in Leftists.” (You make no mention of the reaction of Right-wingers or Centrists.)

    Harsh words. They might even be true. This just proves that Leftists aren’t as smart as they think they are, or that propaganda does not work on them, or something …. Your words certainly do not “induce a sense of passivity”. Quite the opposite. In keeping with the mission of the FM website, your posts inspire the reader to do something. It’s time that we the people took action. I’m going to fire off a letter to my congressman today demanding that something be done about bovine flatulence, a leading source of methane, according to scientists.

    I don’t live in the Bay area — SF being too weird for my tastes — but I do get around. I too hear people mention that we’re all doomed. Well … a few people anyway, and yes, mostly cultists. (They might be right.) As you have pointed out in prior posts, the general public really doesn’t worry about climate change all that much. Climate change is not at the top of the list of urgent problems for most Americans. Climate change is something that we trust government to deal with. As individuals we are powerless to deal with issues of this magnitude. After all, this is why we have government. This failure of government action in the face of imminent (at least according to the alarmists) catastrophe can lead to a sense of hopelessness, despair, and doubts about the American government.

    If the Leftists exhibit passivity and apathy, the Right-wingers are obstinate in their obstructionism (in this as in all things related to responsible governance.) You might only see the apathy of the Leftists — and not the obstinacy of the Rightists — because of your unique perspective. You are observing an atypical demographic. In San Francisco, even the shyster lawyers, corporatists, and bank swindlers are Leftists. Most Americans are not.

    You state that “… political polarization spreads through our society like poison, paralyzing the Republic’s governing machinery. It serves the interests of special interests — not us.” I am confused here. Apparently you aren’t a Right-winger, because ‘paralyzing the machinery of government’ through obstructionist measures would seem to be the central strategy of Republican politics, or at least conservative politics since Reagan. And you don’t sound like a Leftist. So … are you saying that we need less obstructionism and more government action? This sounds dangerously close to Centrist ideology.

    I think we are in agreement. But I am not sure exactly what you are saying. Or, rather, I think I know what you are saying, but I am not sure how it relates to atmospheric methane. Are special interests profiting from government inaction? Of course. Should Congress defy its rightful owners (the special interests to whom its members are beholding) and act to save the world from imminent environmental catastrophe? Even if the catastrophe is not really all that imminent? Or even if only 90% of climate scientists (and not the requisite 95%) agree? Or, if catastrophe really is imminent, should government act in the face of widespread public unconcern, despair, and apathy? I’m having trouble following your meaning here. Remember, Americans only read at the 5th grade level.

    Greenhouse gases are concentrating in the atmosphere. It is generally accepted that greenhouse gasses contribute to global warming. It is claimed by many scientists that global warming threatens the earth, and all life on it, and that includes us. Most — but not all — scientists are in agreement. Still, nobody seems to care. And nobody is doing anything about it.

    As the IPCC chart in your post shows, methane concentration in the atmosphere has been steadily increasing since the 1950s, rising at a rate of more than 10% per decade, with no sign of abatement. Climate scientists agree that of greenhouse gasses, methane (CH4) is far more destructive to the environment than carbon dioxide (CO2). Decaying organic matter (other than some carbon-poor arctic tundra) is widely regarded as a prolific producer of methane. You cite recent studies that suggest that as global warming increases, soil bacteria (in arctic tundra) could convert some CH4 to CO2 as the soil decays. A couple of studies based on conjecture related to “as yet unknown” environmental factors in arctic tundra might suggest that all the news is not bad … OK, but to refer to this as “good news” is a stretch. Some might accuse you of fallacy — the logical error of grasping at straws. A more thoughtful reaction might be, ‘this is interesting, only time will tell.’

    If I follow the logic of this post, (a) methane in the atmosphere is bad; (b) atmospheric methane is increasing; (c) leftists are apathetic and (d) government is paralyzed. This leads you to conclude that we, as a society, should do nothing. Or at least we should do nothing until the IPCC (which you disparage) or some government agency (in a republic paralyzed by gridlock) determines that the situation to be critical. Am I missing something?

    You refer to “one of the most incompetent publicity campaigns ever”, calling attention to the fact that despite the shrill warnings of an army of alarmists backed by a phalanx of scientists, the American public is not up in arms about global warming. Let’s face facts. The American public has more important things to worry about than a bunch of scientists warning us that the end is near. (After all, their cult leaders have been warning of that eventuality, well, pretty much since forever.) What DO Americans think about? I Love Lucy re-runs, Duck Dynasty, and NASCAR. (‘Think’ might not be quite the right word.) It is safe to say that here in Appalachia, people devote a lot more time to watching cars run around in circles — fake wrestling is big, too — than they do to worrying whether the sky is falling. Looking at the damage to the earth — our one and only world — from mountaintop mining … 4,000 miles of pristine mountain streams reduced to glaciers of mud and muck, the decimated hardwood forests reduced to rubble where nothing will ever grow again, and the foul stinking well water that comes from the polluted water table … does tend to leave one wallowing in despair. There is little hope that things will ever get better, and not just among Leftists.

    Political polarization serves the special interests. Truer words were never spoken. Government’s job is to regulate, and a paralyzed government fails the republic by its failure to perform. The people (most of whom are not Leftists) do despair. But the resultant despair and apathy might be coming to an end. The People will likely take things into their own hands, soon enough. When government fails the people, the people replace that failed government. It’s an American tradition.

    This is why we read Fabius-Maximus. For inspiration.

    Charles Sulka

    1. C H Suka,

      Thank you for your comment. You raise mary larger issues beyond the scope of this post. See the For More Information section at the end for answers. Also see the reference pages on the right-side menu bar about America (the quite coup), about American politics, and especially about Reforming America: steps to new politics.

      “This leads you to conclude that we, as a society, should do nothing.”

      There is nothing in this post which implies that. In fact, the conclusions section expressly says the opposite.

      “Or at least we should do nothing until the IPCC (which you disparage)”

      I don’t know about you, but I don’t see any perfect human agencies. Political ones, such as the IPCC, tend to be less so than average. To recognize their limitations is not to “disparage”, but understand.

      “Am I missing something?”

      Yes. The specific measures about methane being taken in the US appear to be appropriate given the IPCC warnings. Extrapolating about other forcings are unsupported by anything in this post.

  2. CO2 is at least thermodynamically stable. Thus CO2 disaster narratives gain from the truth that man is helping move the carbon stored in fossil fuels toward equilibrium by reacting it with oxygen. Only photosynthesis can reverse this reaction though fixing CO2 as carbonate in the oceans is another huge sink. Methane in contrast is not in a low energy state. It wants to react with oxygen needing only some means to achieve activation energy (like absorb a UV photon) or find a catalyst to lower the required activation energy (enzymes do this in biological systems). Is there and hard ceiling estimate for atmospheric methane based just on countervailing UV direct oxidative conversion in the upper atmosphere?

  3. Sir:

    A private post would be more appropriate, but I don’t know how to go about it. You may want delete this from public display.

    I am beginning to understand why I have so much trouble comprehending the meaning of your posts. The above is a good example. You say I missed the point of the conclusion of your essay. I’m sure I did, as I miss the point of too many of your posts.

    Here’s how I see it . . . .

    You say that with regard to measures to reduce methane emissions, we are doing enough … that “we are doing what is appropriate ….” Which is what? You provide not a clue as to what those measures might be. The technobabble at IPCC and your vague references to that agency’s findings in this and previous posts transmit absolutely no meaningful information to the reader. Apologizing for that agency’s failings — whatever they might be — is inappropriate, as is slamming Congress. Fabius-Maximus’ readers are well aware of the failings of the American political system. That is the whole point of the site.

    In your conclusion, rather than actually saying anything, you link to an article about what American industry is doing to reduce methane emissions (I presume this is what the site is about, but like most readers I didn’t bother to find out.) This forces the reader to jump all over the internet to finish your article. This demonstrates a lazy, almost mindless journalistic style wherein the reader is expected to do all the work. In addition to doing all the work, your reader is forced to form his own opinions — opinions which may be counter to your own … or confused, as mine have been. It is the serious writer’s mission to do as good a job as possible in enlightening the reader — explaining the issue, convincing the reader of a particular point of view based on the supporting material and good analysis. When you provide only a link to another site, without even a few words of introduction, commentary, or guidance, you insult your reader. This is more than ‘condescending’; it is dismissive of your reader; it is intellectual slovenliness. Your readers deserve more. Your readers are entitled to more from you, more *of* you.

    The extreme example of such slovenly writing would be just a litany of footnotes, devoid of any body of text or commentary. Let the reader do ALL the work. If I wanted the Cliff Notes version I’d simply google the subject in the first place. Your reader wants to know what YOU have to say about the matter. This is because either (a) they know you to be a reliable source of information or analysis, or (b) you make a pretense of being a serious thinker, effective enough to entice the reader to take a closer look. Like I say, when you are too lazy to add commentary or explanation (or even a note of introduction) with your link(s), your reader will not be inclined to read further. More importantly, your reader will probably not come to understand your point of view.

    If the reader fails to get the point, it is always the writer’s fault. Period.

    Links are for additional material in support of your observations — or, in some situations, to provide the countervailing arguments. Your lazy writing style deprives the reader of your input. You can summarize the contents of external links in a sentence or two, as I did with the reference to the failed public relations effort at the beginning of my comments. All you provided was a link.

    From reading a number of your posts, I conclude that your basic premise is that it is important to avoid ‘group-think’; to dig deeper and not settle for a superficial understanding of the issue(s). You’ll get no argument from me on this. I also suspect that you are a climate change denier heavily invested in ‘disproving’ the notion that mankind faces imminent ecological disaster. I beg to differ with you on that point.
    With regard to your FM posts, it seems to me that you are tired, perhaps frustrated because others are having trouble seeing things from your point of view. Let’s face it, 308 posts is a long time to harp on the same subject.

    Try to look at it this way . . . . If you are right, and climate change turns out to be ‘much ado about nothing’, then we’ve lost nothing by adopting policies that would reduce the negative impact of runaway global warming. But if you are wrong, and the alarmists’ dire predictions prove true, and we fail to take appropriate action because you have convinced the world that the danger is nonexistent … you will be responsible for untold human suffering, a disaster on a scale which the world has never seen. Better to err on the side of caution.

    If you are going to keep writing on this subject (and I hope you do), try to give your readers more — more than incomprehensible IPCC charts, confusing images, and unfocused comments. If it’s worth writing, it’s worth writing well.


    1. Sulka,

      There’s too much here to deal with, so I’ll pick two items.

      “You say that with regard to measures to reduce methane emissions, we are doing enough … that “we are doing what is appropriate ….” Which is what?”
      That’s not the point of the article. I could add another thousand words — or ten thousand — and still get these “you didn’t discuss x or y”. I give two examples of what we’re doing. If that’s not enough, then do your own research.

      “You provide not a clue as to what those measures might be.”
      That’s not the point of the post. I give links if you want to know.

      “The technobabble at IPCC”
      I hope you’re kidding. If not, there’s nothing I can do to help you.

      “and your vague references to that agency’s findings”
      I spend tens of thousands of words spelling out in detail what the IPCC says. If that’s “vague” to you, there’s nothing I can do to help you.

      “in this and previous posts transmit absolutely no meaningful information to the reader.”
      I suggest you find someplace more useful to you.

      “if you are right, and climate change turns out to be ‘much ado about nothing’, then we’ve lost nothing by adopting policies that would reduce the negative impact of runaway global warming”
      Other than the wasted diversion of scarce resources — away from the many other vital and imminent problems.

  4. Is it disinfo where I have read that volcanoes & gas vents, especially under the ocean, release hundreds of times more methane & other gases than mankind ever could with fossil fuels?

    1. gairman,

      Yes, from your brief description it sounds like disinformation.

      The natural methane cycle appears stable before our contribution. Those vents have been there forever, while methane has been more or less a stable fraction of the air. The question is if our emissions are responsible for the rising methane levels shown in the graph in this post (almost certainly) — and what can we expect in the future.

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  7. Overall, this is good news. If Lau et all’s mechanism works then the slowdown in methane growth from about 1990 happened because of warming tundra. Possibly, the most recent slight increase in the growth rate could be due to the Pause. Its also significant that the overall CHa concentration is trending below all models, suggesting a contraveling force.

    1. Social Bill,

      I agree, this is very good news.

      But it also shows something else, something not so good: the differential treatment by mainstream climate scientists to attacks on the IPCC by “alarmists” and “skeptics”. This is not a binary claim. I don’t say there are no rebuttals (although I haven’t found any). But the imbalance is massive, important in shaping the public debate, and revealing.

      The attacks by alarmists (explicit and implicit) on the IPCC’s analysis of methane are of much higher impact than most by skeptics — that climate scientists attack so often so fiercely. Scientists’ selective response contributes to the tilt in the public debate. The effects of this can only be guessed.

      I believe the tilt towards certain catastrophe contributes to the apathy and disinterest that produces public policy gridlock. We’ve heard so many confident predictions of certain doom during the last 50 years, and the smart bet has always been to ignore them. Especially now that they’ve become daily fodder in the news. World certain to end soon, details at 11:00!

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  10. I found this post in my search for something to counter the depressive warnings from the people you classify as leftwing alarmists. But I’m not cured from my blues yet, as you avoid several of the seemingly valid points in among others the “seven facts” article in The Guardian. You don’t even mention Shakhova and Semiletov, two of the most experienced scientists on this very subject. Would you care to elaborate on why their reserch and empirical data from more than ten expeditions to the ESAS should be disregarded until IPCC finally takes notice?

    1. Norway,

      “Would you care to elaborate on why their reserch and empirical data from more than ten expeditions to the ESAS should be disregarded until IPCC finally takes notice?”

      We have the experts at the IPCC to evaluate the relevant science literature and assess these threats. That’s what it’s for. For amateurs to pick thru and do so is IMO a waste of time.

      I quote the IPCC findings, and provide additional detail by quoting some examples of the material the IPCC relies upon.

  11. Norwegian worrier

    How can you say that i am cherrypicking when there are no other sources on whats going on in the ESAS? I have read some of your replies to others that ask critical questions and a clear pattern has emerged. You basically say “Dont waste your time on my site, because I will refuse to think by my self (and so should amateurs like you)”

    1. Norway,

      “thing by myself”

      You are welcome to do so. There is no reason, however, for the rest of us to pay attention to you. We have institutions like the IPCC to evaluate dangers, the first step in the public policy process.

      You are part of a very large and noisy chorus of amateurs excited about some risk that looms large in their minds. Their noise is loud, but nobody is listening. Why should we?

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