Move Over, Carbon: Methane Release Could Threaten Global Economy

A new report suggests that the release of methane gas by global warming could cost as much as the combined output of the world last year.

That is a lot of sheet ice.  Melting.

Sheet ice in the Arctic Ocean, which contains large amounts of methane that are now being released into the atmosphere (Source:  NASA's Earth Observatory, under a CC BY 2.0 license)

While all the talk of global warming has been centered around the damage caused by increasing carbon gas emissions, little has been spoken of in regards to other greenhouses.  However, their impact may be greatly felt in the coming years, far more so than what will happen with carbon emissions.  The most prominent of these gases happens to be underneath the sea, and the recent warming of temperatures will only exacerbate the problems they have.

The gas at the heart of the matter is methane.  While most people understand methane to exist through mostly goofy means, the vast majority of the gas on this planet lies in the permafrost located in the tundra in the Arctic regions, as well as in frozen pockets underneath the Arctic Ocean and surrounding areas.  The cold allowed the methane to stay trapped, but as temperatures rise, and the Arctic ice sheet continues to disintegrate, the resulting melt will release these pockets of methane.  While the gas lasts in the atmosphere for only a decade, it is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon monoxide, trapping heat far more effectively.  With such a release of gas, the heating of the earth will accelerate.

Now, researchers have put a price tag on the release of methane gas.  In an article published in Nature magazine, the scholars utilized an economic model similar to one used by Baron Stern of Brentford in England in 2006 to determine the costs of global warming to determine the impact of the release of all the methane gas from the permafrost and sea, totaling 50 gigatons, in the course of a decade.  Through the damage of farmland, seas flooding coastal cities, breakdowns in human medicine, and general flooding, the researchers considered the economic cost of methane release to be approximately $60 trillion.  To get an understanding of that number, that amounts to the economic output of the entire world last year.  While the GDP of the world will likely increase before this is an issue, it would still consequently ruin much of the world, especially those countries still in development.

Researchers have reason to be concerned.  In recent years, the melting ice sheet is being seen as an economic boon, opening up new reserves of oil and natural gas.  Furthermore, the melted pack ice has opened up the northern Arctic area around Canada, revealing the long-considered mythical trade route of the Northwest Passage to ships during most of the year.  People are using this information to argue that global warming provides more good than harm.  The report is intended to counter that.