When you read about the terrible effects of global warming it’s easy to believe it won’t be that bad. Yes, the sea levels will rise 20 feet, but you don’t live near the sea. Sure, there’ll be food and water shortages which could trigger wars, but if you turn on the news now what you see is lots of people without food or water, and lots of people having wars. At the end of the day, even in the aftermath of events like Sandy hitting New York, it’s hard to get that scared of what is essentially weather.
Well, first, you’re wrong. Those effects we just described aren’t going to be happening in some far off foreign country, they’re going to be happening everywhere.
But secondly, all of that is just the prelude, because every time we notch up the thermostat on the planet we’re playing a game of Russian Roulette against the universe, and it’s not one that ends well for us.
The Methane Burp
What we really have to worry about is the Clathrate Gun or Methane Burp hypothesis.
The theory is straightforward. Under the ocean there are lots of variously sized bubbles of methane gas, or as you or I know it, the thing that farts make. These have stayed buried in seabeds and permafrost for millennia. If the temperature rises and that permafrost melts or is disturbed, or the methane gas is made to expand, the bubble will rise up to the surface and burst.
Now a big load of methane being released is funny when it’s you doing it in a classroom, elevator or swimming pool, but there’s a reason why you’ve been warned countless times not to put a lighter to your bum when you do it. That stuff is flammable, as well as being an extremely effective greenhouse gas.
In other words, you set off one bubble, you increase global warming, which in turn sets off a bunch of other bubbles, creating a chain reaction that causes runaway global warming. It’s like pulling the trigger on a gun, impossible to stop once it starts.
It was something like this that was considered to be partially responsible for the Permian extinction event, or as our ancestors knew it “That time when 96% of everything in the water died”.
It Gets Worse
The thing is, we’re not just looking at it suddenly getting warmer. All it takes is a lightening flash in the wrong place and suddenly we’re talking about giant fireballs bursting out of the sea.
Descriptions of the potential effects of the Clathrate Gun being fired include explosions killing most terrestrial life, huge amounts of smoke and carbon dioxide being generated and fire storms taking more smoke and dust into the upper atmosphere, blotting out the sun. The end result would be a lot like a nuclear winter.
Indeed, some estimates suggest that methane eruptions could release as much energy as 10,000 times the entire planet’s nuclear arsenal.
When will this happen? That’s the point. We have no idea. This is why averting global warming is important. This is why it’s crucial that we invest in offshore wind power, solar energy and anything else we can lay our hands on that will slow down and stop global warming. Because once the bubble bursts there is going to be no stopping it.
About the author: Chris Farnell is a freelance writer who covers environmental and energy issues. Now he knows about this theory, he’s terrified.