How big? The arctic has been sucking up carbon in the form of methane for millions of years trapping it in a prison made of ice, 1,000 to 10,000 gigatons, compared to 240 gigatons humanity has emitted into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution began. Now the arctic ice is melting releasing this prisoner into the atmosphere replicating on a super-fast track the conditions that triggered the Permian-Triassic extinction,250 million years ago that snuffed out more than 90 percent of all life forms on the planet. At some tipping point this big fart will burst free.

In recent months there has been a steady stream of research papers and essays exploring this, the scariest story ever, the best of which is The Climate Change Scorecard - Are We Falling Off the Climate Precipice? Scientists Consider Extinction by Dahr Jamail.

“We as a species have never experienced 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” Guy McPherson, professor emeritus of evolutionary biology, natural resources, and ecology at the University of Arizona and a climate change expert of 25 years, told me. “We’ve never been on a planet with no Arctic ice, and we will hit the average of 400 ppm... within the next couple of years. At that time, we’ll also see the loss of Arctic ice in the summers… This planet has not experienced an ice-free Arctic for at least the last three million years.”

McPherson, Wadham, and Nissen represent just the tip of a melting iceberg of scientists who are now warning us about looming disaster, especially involving Arctic methane releases. In the atmosphere, methane is a greenhouse gas that, on a relatively short-term time scale, is far more destructive than carbon dioxide (CO2). It is 23 times as powerful as CO2 per molecule on a 100-year timescale, 105 times more potent when it comes to heating the planet on a 20-year timescale -- and the Arctic permafrost, onshore and off, is packed with the stuff. “The seabed,” says Wadham, “is offshore permafrost, but is now warming and melting. We are now seeing great plumes of methane bubbling up in the Siberian Sea… millions of square miles where methane cover is being released.”

According to a study just published in Nature Geoscience, twice as much methane as previously thought is being released from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, a two million square kilometer area off the coast of Northern Siberia. Its researchers found that at least 17 teragrams (one million tons) of methane are being released into the atmosphere each year, whereas a 2010 study had found only seven teragrams heading into the atmosphere.

The most sobering question is how this possibility overturns the assumption that our children or their children will have a future, any future.

Tom Hartman produced a ten-minute short The Last Hours that explains the story in simple and graphic terms. Both are worth your time.

Michael Mendizza

I contacted Tom Engelhardt of TomDispatch about the article:
I'll be posting a huge and impressive piece on natural gas and methane in perhaps a week or so... keep an eye out for it at