Climate Change Jake Johnson

Scientists Fear Soaring Methane Levels Show Climate Feedback Loop Has Arrived

Jasn / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

By Jake Johnson / Common Dreams

Fresh U.S. government data spotlighting the rapid growth of atmospheric methane concentrations in recent years has scientists increasingly concerned that the human-caused climate crisis has triggered a vicious feedback loop, potentially resulting in unstoppable planetary warming.

Research published in January by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) showed that atmospheric concentrations of methane—a greenhouse gas that’s 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period—soared past 1,900 parts per billion in 2021, which ranked as the fourth-warmest year on record.

As Nature reported Tuesday, “The growth of methane emissions slowed around the turn of the millennium, but began a rapid and mysterious uptick around 2007.”

“The spike has caused many researchers to worry that global warming is creating a feedback mechanism that will cause ever more methane to be released, making it even harder to rein in rising temperatures,” the outlet noted. “Potential explanations [for the methane surge] range from the expanding exploitation of oil and natural gas and rising emissions from landfill to growing livestock herds and increasing activity by microbes in wetlands.”

Euan Nisbet, an Earth scientist at Royal Holloway, University of London, told Nature that “methane levels are growing dangerously fast” as powerful countries around the world refuse to end the extraction of coal, natural gas, and other sources of the pollutant.

“Is warming feeding the warming? It’s an incredibly important question,” said Nisbet. “As yet, no answer, but it very much looks that way.”

Scientists have long feared that the continued burning of fossil fuels risks setting in motion a chain reaction whose consequences—particularly ever-more global warming—are irreversible.

While researchers are still working to discern the extent to which human activity is responsible for the alarming spike in atmospheric methane levels in recent years, scientists have previously warned against categorizing certain causes of methane emissions—such as thawing permafrost—as “natural,” given that they are typically a result of human-driven warming.

“Regardless of how this mystery plays out, humans are not off the hook,” Nature stressed Tuesday. “Based on their latest analysis of the isotopic trends, [NOAA scientist Xin Lan’s] team estimates that anthropogenic sources such as livestock, agricultural waste, landfill, and fossil-fuel extraction accounted for about 62% of total methane emissions since from 2007 to 2016.”

NOAA’s latest figures were released months after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned in its 2021 landmark report that atmospheric methane levels are currently higher than at any point in the last 800,000 years.

Despite such a dire finding, global policymakers took few steps to substantively address methane emissions at the COP26 climate summit in November. While dozens of additional countries signed on to a pledge to reduce methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by the end of the decade, climate groups argued that “pledges are just words on a page without concrete action to make them real.”

Amid the COP26 talks, the Biden administration unveiled rules aimed at cutting U.S. methane emissions, but critics said they do not go nearly far enough. The U.S. is the second-largest emitter of methane in the world.

“For too long, we’ve known the damaging impacts of this potent heat-trapping pollutant, known that oil and gas operations continue to be a major source of it, and known that solutions to drive rapid reductions across the sector already exist—yet still, oil and gas operations continue to release untenably high and entirely preventable methane emissions,” Julie McNamara, deputy policy director of the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement at the time.

“Swiftly reducing methane emissions,” said McNamara, “will result in significant and much-needed near-term climate progress.”

27 comments

  1. Yes, we hippies in the 1960s warned you all that this would happen if you didn’t change your ways BACK THEN, but you chose to ignore us and laugh at us as “hippy tree huggers” who were only interested in drugs, sex, and rock’n’roll.
    Too bad that it’s not a laughing matter; we (and all the other [innocent] species on the planet) are going to go down with you.

    1. I too, was a hippie.. still am.
      Sex, drugs and rock n roll were all that mattered.
      As a matter of fact, still is.. all that matters.
      Humans are no good anyway…every single one of us. What a wonderful thing that we’re finally all going away, completely, real soon.
      Thank god for that.

      1. @David,
        There were basically two kinds of hippies: party hippies and political hippies. Many if not most were some combination of the two. The closest I ever was to being a hippie was being a Freak, and as soon as I discovered the punk rock scene I turned to that. So I can’t say that I’m an expert here, but I’ve never heard anyone say that sex, drugs, and rock & roll were all that matters.

    2. @Susan Mercurio
      And the Natives here warned the colonizers about these types of things centuries ago.

      Human harms toward the natural environment and the life there go way beyond the SYMPTOM of global warming/climate change, it’s just that this problem is existential. The Natives even remarked in their own way about how overpopulated the colonizers are (they were shocked that there were so many of them and that they kept coming), about the colonizers’ materialism (“This love of things is like a disease with them.” Sitting Bull), and generally about the colonizers’ generally unnatural lifestyles. SOME people have always known how to live and how wrongful living would do great harm to our web of life, but most obsess on self-centered things like ego and materialism. THOSE are the root causes of the problems, and until people change their attitudes, feelings, and behaviors, these problems will get worse until there are no humans. As you pointed out, the problem is that humans are doing great harm to the Earth and the life on her, not that they are causing their own demise.

  2. The only chain reaction this predictive programming is designed for is climate change ‘problems’ leading to more ‘solutions’ from the biosecurity state, like lockdowns on all of us convenient human causes of manufactured crisis until we’ve been properly disciplined as digital slaves by carbon credit scores. Meanwhile, geoengineering, weaponizing weather, and establishing full spectrum dominance from space form some of the real crises on earth as it is turned into one big prison planet.

    1. @Don LeMerde
      This particular problem is industrial emissions from burning fossil fuels, not natural emissions from animals.

      Cattle are their own immense problem, but global warming/climate change is very minor compared to what their major harms are, which are mainly destruction of entire ecosystems and the resulting deaths of the native species there. Cattle did not evolve naturally — they were bred by humans — and they therefore cause harm wherever they are, but far more in some places like the western U.S. than in others like where the bison used to roam.

  3. Now, I understand what you tried to say to me
    And how you suffered for your sanity
    And how you tried to set them free
    They would not listen, they did not know how
    Perhaps they’ll listen now

    1. Don’t it always seem to go
      That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone
      They paved paradise, put up a parking lot

  4. I have no doubt that we’re already in the feedback loop, and I think that we have been for some time. Scientists are constantly moving the goalposts on this issue — they’ll say that we have must do something about it by a certain time, then when that time comes, they’ll say that we need to do something about it by some later time), so it’s clear to me that the feedback loop time has long passed.

    To be clear, this doesn’t at all mean that we should give up hope or do nothing. If anything, it means that we need to redouble our efforts on this issue. The prognosis is rather bleak, but giving up is not an option.

    1. So what’s the best way to lead a doomed life? In protest, no? Grab onto to somebody and dance, live, love and protest the mother you never knew.

  5. Ain’t Capitalism wunnerful?

    It is a suicide cult and nothing more. But don’t expect anyone in the corporate owned media to lean into this story anytime soon, much less the corporate owned government. The US Chamber of Commerce is one of the biggest reasons nothing could get done about Climate Change for the last four decades.

    “At the edge of extinction, only Love remains” Dr. Guy McPherson.

    1. – – – – – The View From The Canopy – – – – –

      At the edge of extinction, only savagery remains.

      It will not be nice.

  6. Oceanographer Jim Massa has posted a video this past week in which he hypothesizes that the planetary tipping point was in 1995. He uses supporting data to show that 1995 was the year when the oceans were no longer able to sequester effectively all the heat they have been absorbing to depth.
    https://youtu.be/pctkg_LDqcU
    Watch 33:40 to 40:00 if you don’t want to spend an hour.

    1. @Julie Ashton
      1995 may have been the tipping point for global warming/climate change, but humans have caused a lot more harm than that, and I think the tipping point came a long time ago. If you looked at the Earth 10,000 years ago before people began using agriculture, then looked at the Earth now, you’d think that you were looking at two different planets. Destruction of entire ecosystems, deforestation, desertification, mass killings of plants & animals, the current extinction crisis, etc., all caused by humans, have made what was an ecological paradise into a hellscape. Earth is now more like Giedi Prime than what it was 10,000 years ago, and global warming, while an existential problem, is only the latest destruction of our planet that humans have caused.

  7. Peak methane, peak chemical.
    Peak ocean temperatures.
    Peak microplastic. Peak oil.
    Peak deforestation, peak glacial melt.
    Peak population.
    Peak propaganda.
    Yet all of the above continue at peak speed.
    The only peaks not yet reached are ignorance, hypocrisy, self absorption and greed.
    Me my mine, more more more.

  8. Progressivism is self negation. Reading the comments just reinforces lefty lunacy. It’s hard for you jingoistic idiots to see your own lack of virtues and won’t try, just know the world was far better off without you Malthusian, self hating miscreants.

    1. @Lucky
      You haven’t provided one word of evidence to support your childish name-calling. The world was much better off before people started using agriculture and overpopulated, and even before people started leaving Africa and caused extinctions wherever they went. You like your false delusional world view, and you clearly get upset when someone points out that it’s not based on reality.

      1. @terry smythe
        Funny comment, I like it.

        The term “snowflakes” as used in this context means overly sensitive people, generally on the left. I think that it’s a legitimate complaint about many on the left, who have become quite whiny and who complain about every little thing. This doesn’t at all mean that I agree with abusing or discriminating against people, but many if not most of these people need to get some thicker skin. Life isn’t all ponies & flowers. Both the complainers and society would be better off if these people weren’t overly sensitive.

      2. This doesn’t justify response in so many ways I can only think, hypocrisy, hypocrisy, hypocrisy………………………. such impenetrable obtuseness………….

  9. Are you really so asleep that you do not know that the entire AGW thing is fake?

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