The reasons why climate scientists don’t sleep well at night can be condensed into one word: methane. The current methane situation within ongoing planet-wide climate change is already dire. In his ruinous quest to erase the legacy of his predecessor, Donald Trump intends to make matters even worse.
This week, the Trump administration gave climate scientists and the rest of us even more reasons to toss and turn. According to multiple media reports, Trump’s EPA is proposing to roll back Obama-era regulations for methane emissions created by oil and gas wells. Under Obama, methane leaks from drilling sites and pipelines were closely monitored and immediately dealt with. If Trump gets his way, those days are over.
Not to be outdone by the EPA, Trump’s Interior Department is about to repeal restrictions on the venting and burning of methane — known as “flaring” — that is created during drilling operations. As reported by Truthout journalist Mike Ludwig, the Trump administration has been seeking to make these disastrous regulatory changes since the day they got the keys to the building. Now, they are trying again.
These proposals come on the heels of the EPA’s August proposals to weaken regulations on the carbon dioxide pollution that is released from vehicle tailpipes, and to undercut regulations meant to control pollution from coal-fired power plants. Taken in combination with the Trump administration’s pro-methane proposals, what we have here is a giant and highly dangerous step backward in the struggle to blunt the damage caused by climate change.
Make no mistake: The preponderance of methane in our atmosphere lubricates the rails for the nightmare runaway freight train bearing down on us all. Carbon dioxide is dangerous enough, but methane puts it in deep shade when it comes to environmental damage. Even the EPA admits the release of methane is, generally speaking, a very bad thing. The agency’s official proposal concedes the move will “degrade air quality and adversely affect health and welfare.”
“Methane is reckoned to be at least 30 times more powerful than CO2 at warming the Earth,” writes Alex Kirby for Climate News Network, “with some estimates putting its potency much higher still.” Methane emissions hasten the melting of the polar ice caps. Without the ice caps, the sun will warm the seas and kill virtually every living thing in them, but only after those seas have devoured every coastline on Earth. Global weather patterns will change dramatically and harshly.
How much life is left after the full effects of Trump’s environmental policies are felt depends on a few factors: General tolerance for prolonged excessive heat and new diseases, ability to survive unprecedentedly massive storms, sea life surviving in oceans as warm as hot tubs after the ice caps disappear for the first time in three million years, the lethal irony of those oceans overtaking drought-stricken land with water no one can drink, floodwaters combustible with petrochemical toxins unleashing algae blooms wherever anything is wet, massive human displacement, famine, war … in short, take everything happening right now and increase it by an order of magnitude, at least.
We already live beneath a methane Sword of Damocles: The Arctic/Siberian permafrost has billions of tons of methane trapped beneath it. That permafrost is melting right now because of the climate change we have already caused. The release of that methane is hastening the cycle in the same way an exploding bomb hastens shrapnel, and no one will be unharmed when the echo fades.
“The most significant variable in the Permian Mass Extinction event,” writes Truthout journalist Dahr Jamail, “which occurred 250 million years ago and annihilated 90 percent of all the species on the planet, was methane hydrate. In the wake of that mass extinction event, less than 5 percent of the animal species in the seas lived, and less than one-third of the large land animal species made it. Nearly all the trees died.”
“A study published in the prestigious journal Nature in July 2013,” continues Jamail, “confirmed what (climate scientist Natalia) Shakhova has been warning us about for years: that a 50-gigaton ‘burp’ of methane from thawing Arctic permafrost beneath the East Siberian sea is ‘highly possible at any time.’ That would be the equivalent of at least 1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide … For perspective, humans have released approximately 1,475 gigatons in total carbon dioxide since the year 1850.”
A gigaton is 1,000,000,000 tons.
Faced with these challenges, a wise person would immediately take active steps to ameliorate the danger. First and foremost, one would think, would be to do everything possible to curb human-created methane emissions wherever and whenever it can be done. This would seem to be simple common sense, enlightened self-interest on both a local and planetary scale. The president of the United States of America is not a wise man.
This is hardly the first time Trump has labored to bring about the end of life on Earth as we know it, but his attempts have not come without setbacks. Last year, his plan “to put a greater focus on maximizing fossil fuel production from vast expanses of land and sea under federal control” took a nifty beating, as reported by Mike Ludwig. “Environmental and Indigenous groups vowed to fight Trump at every turn and have filed a litany of lawsuits challenging the president’s plans to exploit the nation’s fossil fuel reserves at the expense of public health and the environment.”
Those groups won a great many of those fights, and need to again with our massed and collective assistance if we are to stave off calamity. Greed and recklessness are one thing. This goes well beyond reckless greed and into the realm of some sort of mysterious suicide pact shared by Trump and the billionaire fossil fuel set. Maybe they all dream of dying on beds of wet money. At this point, any explanation is plausible.
In Great Britain, the vulgar term for breaking wind is “to trump.” It suits, because farts are made of methane, and this whole thing stinks.