The Methane Monster is in the Room

A visualization from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory shows the annual Arctic sea ice minimum from 1979 to 2012. The red outline shows the 1979 coverage of this perennial ice, which has been steadily decreasing ever since. (NASA/Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio)
A visualization from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory shows the annual Arctic sea ice minimum from 1979 to 2012. The red outline shows the 1979 coverage of this perennial ice, which has been steadily decreasing ever since. (NASA/Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio)

US expert Jennifer Hynes spoke in Lower Hutt recently about ‘the methane monster’— the monster in the climate change room that nobody has an answer for so doesn’t talk about. (See http//:arctic-news.blogspot.co.nz/2014/08/the-arctic-methane-monsters-rapid-rise.html)

We’ve heard a lot about the effect of carbon dioxide on global warming. We now know that the melting of the Arctic icecap is progressing at a much faster rate than was ever predicted. We know that in recent years the ambient temperature in the Arctic has been up to 20 degrees hotter than normal (and that the cold air has been channelling down the middle of the United States). We can see for ourselves the effects of the melting of the top layers of permafrost. We know that the Antarctic ice is melting at an alarming rate.

We’ve heard very little about methane, but the issue is huge, as Jennifer Hynes’ presentation showed. Enormous deposits of methane are stored as methane hydrate in reservoirs under the ice and permafrost at the poles and in many other regions of the world, including the waters around New Zealand. Its greenhouse potential it is around 20 times more than carbon dioxide. It is volatile and degrades quickly (over hundreds rather than thousands of years). And it is increasingly escaping into the atmosphere around the Arctic as the protective ice and permafrost shields become less stable.

That’s not all. As a gas it has 168 times the volume it has as a liquid, which means that it could create earthquakes and massive craters if it blows its top. This could trigger further explosions and change the atmosphere of the earth suddenly and cataclysmically.

Gloom and doom! We could give up. Or we could move steadfastly towards reversing the damage caused by eras of human extravagance.

How might we do that? Banning the use of concrete is one suggestion, as concrete releases toxic gases. Painting all the roofs in the world white would lead to a reflection of more of the sun’s rays, thus cooling the atmosphere.

Perhaps more feasible is the planting of trees. The latest count shows that there are probably three trillion trees in the world, with most in temperate forests. But the counts do not indicate the size of the trees, their ability to sequester carbon, or their effect on the earth’s climate patterns. And the number is in serious decline. Campaigns such as MillionTreesNYC have busily recruited volunteers in cities across the U.S. to sequester carbon from the atmosphere by planting scores of trees.

Imagine what it would be like if every New Zealander — or every Ōtaki-ite — planted 100 trees a year for five years.

It could start small, with dedicated people providing time to propagate trees, and others donating the use of parts of their land for the purpose. There could be plaques for family plots. There could be a revival of planting ceremonies on Arbor Day. And other communities in New Zealand would certainly take up the call.

There are even easier ways to get involved in tree-planting locally. Join a group such as Ōtaki’s Friends of the River, or the Waitohu Stream and Dune Care Group, which have their own nurseries and plant trees throughout the growing season each year, with many thousands planted over the last decade. Or plant a few in your own garden.

TTO is a group working towards a sustainable community. It holds regular gatherings at members’ homes or local venues. Topics are relevant to the theme of sustainability food, energy, housing, education, climate change. Membership is free and open to all. For further information check the web-site http://transitiontown.otaki.org.nz/home