Stop it or perish - get it ?
October 13, 2005 8:22 AM   Subscribe

"Killer in Our Midst : Methane Catastrophes in Earth's Past and Near Future" (a free net book) - During the greatest extinction pulse known to have happened in the history of life on Earth - the Permian catastrophe - 90% of then existing species perished. This astonishingly well written, authoritative, free book may be the most important thing you will ever read on the net or off of it : it explains in great detail an inevitable Methane catastrophe, if humans do not stop adding CO2 to the Earth's atmosphere, during which "not only would a considerable percentage of existing plants and animals be killed off, but a large percentage of the human population as well" (or the whole species). In the worst scenarios the atmosphere itself could become poisonous to Oxygen breathing life. Mundane laws of physics, expressed in impending Methane Hydrate release, dictate to humanity : cut CO2 release or perish. Simple.
posted by troutfishing (38 comments total)
To paraphrase George Carlin, still more evidence that the planet is doing fine; we're the ones who are fucked.
posted by psmealey at 8:27 AM on October 13, 2005

This is new to me. Thanks Trout. Is this new in general or just not widely known and/or accepted?
posted by stbalbach at 8:52 AM on October 13, 2005

Must... resist... fart... joke...
posted by clevershark at 8:58 AM on October 13, 2005


Like we need MORE evidence that we're all gonna die? The funny part is as China and the rest of the "developing world" begins growing and people get their insatiable consumer appetites going, the problem is only going to get worse.

Ya know, over the past few months, every time I see the MetaBlue color I panic just a little inside. GG Pavlov.
posted by AspectRatio at 8:59 AM on October 13, 2005

I'm doing my part. I have given up baked beans.
posted by maxsparber at 9:02 AM on October 13, 2005

Wow, and here I was thinking humans would survive on earth for a couple hundred more years.
posted by parallax7d at 9:11 AM on October 13, 2005

What clevershark said. I guess I haven't had my coffee.
posted by rolypolyman at 9:15 AM on October 13, 2005

cut CO2 release or perish.

Alright, then, it's perish. CO2 release is not some optional portion of human activity anymore. We are all on a life support system that may also kill us. And there is nothing any of us can do about it -- not as individuals, not collectively. I can drive less, which is nice, but just about everything that you and I do connects to a huge network of related activities -- and all across the network, the tax on activity is expressed in CO2 release.

So the proper conclusion is -- what? That we're debased creatures, a pestilence on the earth? That we should despise ourselves and live in guilt? We're a rampaging experiment of no one's making. No one directs it, no one could seriously determine the outcome. Our predicament is not a judgement on our collective morality. Leave the Catholicism out of it.
posted by argybarg at 9:18 AM on October 13, 2005

The elimination of the human species is a bad thing because...???

The cosmos was better off before we arrived, it will be better off after we're gone..

Anyone who thinks it was ever intended that the species would last more than a brief instant probably hasn't been paying much attention to the history of the cosmos as we understand it nor the basic attributes man and his impact on his environment...
posted by HuronBob at 9:33 AM on October 13, 2005

argybarg - Oh, pshaw.

CO2 Release isn't "optional" ? There is nothing we can do about it ? That's absurd, even from an immediate personal perspective - for example, I'm currently insulating my house. That has the effect of cutting my CO2 emissions. Next, I can put on a passive solar collector attached to my house. That cuts emissions more because I'll burn less gas to heat my house.

My wife and I bought a much more efficient used car - ~38mpg . Next will come a hybrid.

And on and on. That's just in my immediate personal sphere, and the list of the practical measures I myself can take to cut my own carbon emissions is nearly endless.

Then, there are measures which government can support and undertake. Communities. Towns. Cities. NGO's.........

I'm sorry, but you're flat out wrong. I'm not saying it will be easy, just that it's necessary.

The proper conclusion is that humans need to do what they are supremely good at already : solve the problem. Most of the necessary technologies already exist. The main impediments to implementing solutions are political.


stbalbach - it's widely known oceanogaphers, ciimate scientists, etc. But not the public at large.
posted by troutfishing at 9:34 AM on October 13, 2005

HuronBob - Not to mention a considerable portion of the existing species on Earth.

You think that's a good thing, eh ?
posted by troutfishing at 9:35 AM on October 13, 2005

I need a conservative pundit right now backed up with some industry-paid science to tell me that nothing at all is wrong. That'll ease the pressure a bit.
posted by palinode at 9:38 AM on October 13, 2005

Quick ! Get on the phone to the Heritage Institute !

They'll make everything OK again.....
posted by troutfishing at 9:42 AM on October 13, 2005

HuronBob: The cosmos was better off before we arrived...?

We are part of the cosmos. But if you want to insist on separation of man and universe, the cosmos couldn't give a rat's fart (there's the methane reference!) whether we're here or not. We're like a small raging pimple on the arse-cheek of a Ginormous Space Hippopotamus: inconsequential and gone tomorrow if you put a bit of cream on it.
posted by illiad at 9:53 AM on October 13, 2005

Our predicament is not a judgement on our collective morality.

No - it's a judgement on our collective sanity. There's plenty of potentially "carbon-free" energy sources - hydro-electric, solar, tidal, wind, geothermal etc - the only problem being that these sources are "too expensive". But this is only because the price of carbon-based fuels is being subsidized by ignoring their true costs.
posted by dinsdale at 9:56 AM on October 13, 2005

I thought this paragraph was interesting. Lots of uncertainty here.
This small amount of projected deep ocean warming is unlikely to dissociate much hydrate. At such a slow rate of warming, it would indeed be several centuries, if not much longer, before even the free gas and hydrate closest to the sediment surface began to be released. That is, if it took a significant heat pulse (of say, 6°C, or 10.8°F) to release continental margin methane. But it does not. At least some free gas below the hydrates, remember, may be at threshold conditions, right now (Zühlsdorff and Spieß, 2004). That means that any warming whatsoever -- including the tiny amount of warming which has already occurred -- may be enough to trigger the release of at least some methane. Like the teapot on the stove in which the water has started boiling, any increase in global heat can set the whistle blowing -- or the methane flowing. How much methane will be released is something we will discover, but in view of the huge amounts of methane available in the continental margins, even a little may be sufficient to dramatically alter climate.
posted by smackfu at 9:58 AM on October 13, 2005

Why don't we just use the methyl hydrate as fuel and burn it? Sure we'll create CO2, but if we burn it up fast enough, we'll solve the methane problem before it happens. (Just kidding! - mostly)
posted by mediaddict at 10:10 AM on October 13, 2005

I hate to spoil a good doomsday theory, but the Earth is COLDER now than it has been for most of it's 4.5 billion year history.

(Global warning not withstanding, we are in fact in the middle of an ice age which has lasted for the past three million years.)
posted by thparkth at 10:30 AM on October 13, 2005

I hate to spoil a good doomsday theory, but the Earth is COLDER now than it has been for most of it's 4.5 billion year history.

The Earth is also a good deal more populated by human life than it has been for most of it's 4.5 billion year history.

The universe is also mostly cold, dead and empty.

Normal is not synonymous with good.
posted by prak at 10:40 AM on October 13, 2005

Not to mention a considerable portion of the existing species on Earth.

You think that's a good thing, eh ?

Was it a good thing the first time it happened? Remember, we likely wouldn't be here without it.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:02 AM on October 13, 2005

...and we likely won't be here after it.
posted by Floydd at 12:12 PM on October 13, 2005

riiiight... the only (other) thing that will survive a hypothetical nuclear winter would be, yes, the market economy.

methane: if it's free, we'll use it. Did you see the news this morning? We found a new fungus that will help us replace penicillin... we can't invent a problem we can't profit from solving...
posted by ewkpates at 12:51 PM on October 13, 2005

We may have already reached the tipping point on this. As described at the link, methane is bubbling out of Siberian peat bogs so fast that the bogs now never freeze, even in the dead of winter.
posted by LeisureGuy at 12:57 PM on October 13, 2005

Well, when all the lights go out and everyone suffocates, y'all can at least die knowing we didn't build any more of those evil nuclear plants.
posted by darukaru at 1:15 PM on October 13, 2005

Methane! You're inthane!
posted by maxsparber at 2:11 PM on October 13, 2005

Inthane in the methane!
posted by kindall at 5:09 PM on October 13, 2005

I'm slowly moving from apolitical to activist.
Sounds like a bad thing, but freight trains are slow, hard to stop too.
I don't plan to let Shakespeare (and all the great things we've created) die just because some assholes don't 'believe' in the science here.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:16 PM on October 13, 2005

This book is about methane catastrophe. Methane catastrophes have occurred several times in Earth's history, and when they have occurred, they have sometimes caused abrupt changes in the history of life, and at least one significant extinction. That extinction, at the end of the Permian Period 250 million years ago, is the greatest in the history of life. More than 90% of the then-existing species perished, and the course of life on Earth was altered forever.

Beginning in 1980 with the dinosaur/asteroid controversy, it has more recently become popular for geologists to consider not just local, but global catastrophes to account for the geologic evidence they see. One can be assured that for a community to have made such an incredible shift -- in spite of the strong association which exists between catastrophism and creationism -- there must be profound evidence for catastrophe throughout the geologic column. ~ Kurt Wise
posted by bevets at 5:45 PM on October 13, 2005

Bevets is the authority on Dinosaur/geological records.
posted by Balisong at 9:45 PM on October 13, 2005

huronbob: The elimination of the human species is a bad thing because...???

You don't feel the survival of humanity has any value at all?

Climate change which leads to a collapse in food production and a global population collapse, but which doesn't exterminate humanity, would be catastrophic; but it pales in comparison to the complete elimination of humanity. Anyone remember Watchmen, discussing the consequences of all-out nuclear war?

"End of the world" does the concept no justice.

The world's present would end. Its future, immeasurably vaster, would also vanish.

Even our past would be cancelled. Our struggle from the primal ooze, every childbirth, every personal sacrifice rendered meaningless, leading only to dust, tossed on the void-winds.

Save for Richard Nixon, whose name adorns a plaque upon the moon, no human vestige would remain. Ruins become sand, sand blows away ... all our richness and color and beauty would be lost ... as if it had never been.

Yes, I know the sun will go supernova 200 million years from now. But for practical purposes, that's an infinite amount of time from now. That's different from thinking we might accidentally wipe ourselves out within a few generations.
posted by russilwvong at 10:43 PM on October 13, 2005

"Authoritative" in what sense? The gentleman in question seems to be (at least at the time of writing) a Paleontology grad student. I'm not considering it false out of hand but it's a fair amount of attention to invest in something if it turns out to be just more crackpot (or unprovable speculative science). Without even thinking hard I can come up with four plausible human-extinction scale catastrophes. Maybe this is another one, maybe no. But the "the most important thing you will ever read on the net or off of it?" That sort of statement is apparently meant to inspire regard or confidence but it does the opposite. Show me his peer-reviewed work, and show me supporting proponents of the viewpoint in examples of reliable scientific reportage.
posted by nanojath at 11:57 PM on October 13, 2005

You don't feel the survival of humanity has any value at all?
Of course he doesn't. It's just good old-fashioned fundie "sin cursed world" thinking dressed in green.

That sort of statement is apparently meant to inspire regard or confidence but it does the opposite.
You haven't read many troutfishing posts, have you.
posted by darukaru at 7:17 AM on October 14, 2005

nanojath :

Look to the roster of people he consulted in writing the book. Many are heavyweights in their respective fields.

It's not a peer reviewed study, yes. But in fact the release of Methane Hydrates is a standard featured prediction of climate change projections.

Because of occupational specialization though, not many scientists are likely to be as painfully aware of the details of the Permian extinction - insofar as they've been reconstructed - as this author.

There's a good deal of uncertainty in these predictions, sure, and the book is not a scientific study as such. But his point stands : heat ( frozen ) Methane Hydrate ( also called, I believe, Clathrate ) and it turns to a gas and bubbles into the atmosphere.

Sooner or later Global Warming will do just that - and it will be bad. How bad ? We just don't know. How lucky do you feel ?
posted by troutfishing at 11:13 AM on October 14, 2005

Also, I guess I assume to much :

Maybe humans are just basically incurious and so will be wiped out.

Here are 59,000 or so links - research and discussion of research on the Methane Hydrate problem. Google search : "methane hydrates, release, climate change"

Here's a recent peer reviewed sample study :

[ ]

"The climatic response to a massive methane release from gas hydrates: Numerical experiments with a coupled climate model

Hans Renssen, Kay Beets and Dick Kroon
Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Netherlands

Thierry Fichefet and Hugues Goosse
Institut d´Astronomie et de Géophysique Georges Lemaître, Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium

Catastrophic releases of methane gas from hydrates (clathrates) have the potential to cause rapid climate changes. Today, methane hydrates are stored along continental margins (i.e. at intermediate water depths, from 250 m to several thousand meters water depth), where they are stabilized by water pressure and temperature. Methane hydrates may become unstable under influence of ocean warming or slope instability1-2. The estimated present-day reservoir of carbon stored in methane hydrates1,3 is about 10,000 Gt (giga ton), which is a substantial amount compared to 38,000 Gt carbon stored in the oceans, 2000 Gt in soils and plants, and 730 Gt in the atmosphere4 . This implies that instability of these hydrates and the subsequent release of methane gas into the atmosphere could potentially cause strong climatic warming through an enhancement of the greenhouse effect.

The Paleocene/Eocene thermal maximum (PETM, ~55.5 Million years ago) is a well-known example from the past of a period with drastic climate change due to massive releases of methane from hydrates5-6. Carbon isotope measurements in ocean cores with sediments from the PETM suggest that 1500-2000 Gt of methane carbon was released within a few thousand years5,7-9. This massive methane release had a profound effect on climate. Paleoceanographical evidence from ocean cores indicates that ocean temperatures increased abruptly by 1°C to up to 8°C, depending on the location10-11. It has also been suggested that large temperature swings during the last glacial have been caused by abrupt releases of methane hydrates12-13. In addition, there is growing concern that the expected future global warming may lead to hydrate instability and thus to an enhanced emission of methane, imposing a strong positive feedback that amplifies anthropogenic warming. It is thus very important to quantify the impact of such a methane hydrate scenario on the climate system.

To study the climatic response to a massive methane release from gas hydrates, we have carried out two 2500-year long numerical experiments performed with a coupled atmosphere-sea ice-ocean model. "
posted by troutfishing at 11:21 AM on October 14, 2005

Alright. I read it. It scares the hell out of me.

How would someone survive such a catastrophie and ensure the survival of descendants?

Food storage? Air pumps? Nomad?
posted by Smedleyman at 2:07 PM on October 14, 2005

Smedleyman: it'd be like colonizing a hostile planet, only without having to travel through space first, and without a home base.

Obviously it makes a lot more sense to try to prevent this scenario from happening in the first place.
posted by russilwvong at 4:36 PM on October 14, 2005

Smedleyman - It takes a brave heart to confront such horrible news.

God knows, I've blocked it out far too long.

The upshot is : you don't have much of a choice but to take action. But necessity is in an odd way a sort of freedom.
posted by troutfishing at 10:16 PM on October 14, 2005

See, troutfishing, now you're getting somewhere. Now I will take a closer look. But I stand by my point. The way you presented the post detracted from its credibility with me. I don't actually need to be exhorted to the necessity of taking action on global warming because I'm already convinced of its seriousness, it is an issue I've been tracking (and influences how I vote and how I live) for well over a decade.
posted by nanojath at 11:21 PM on October 16, 2005

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