If Arctic Methane Is Released, the Fallout Will Cost $60,000,000,000,000

If Arctic sea ice vanishes, thereby releasing trapped methane, the global economy will take a colossal hit, say experts.
Ice floats atop the East Siberian Sea in the North Pole. (Photo: Getty Images)
Jul 24, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Salvatore Cardoni holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.

Remember Arctic methane? You know, the ecological time bomb lurking inside the polar region's thawing permafrost?

Well, we now know how much the fallout will cost when and if this subterranean gas is ever released.


If you’re scoring at home, that’s $60 trillion. For comparison, the value of the world economy in 2012 was $70 trillion. The findings, which assumed 50 gigatons of methane would be released, were published today in the journal Nature.

Last month TakePart covered in detail just what will happen if this buried gas ever gets released:

Almost a quarter of the northern hemisphere is covered by permafrost. Entombed in this frozen ground is an awful lot of primordial organic material, mostly roots and leaves, which contains up to 1,700 gigatons of carbon—almost twice the quantity that’s currently in the atmosphere.

Complicating matters, scientists aren’t yet sure of the gaseous form that the carbon in this prehistoric subterranean vault will take when the permafrost inevitably thaws.

While many expect it to be released as carbon dioxide, there are also a growing number that say it could be secreted as methane, which is 20 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

“If we let out this methane, our best efforts won’t work,” said scientist Jason Box. “It’ll be beyond our control. This is the trajectory we’re headed on. It’s only a matter of time.”

Arctic sea ice, which melts and refreezes each year, is eroding at an unheard of rate—about twice as fast as the rest of the globe. In 2012 alone, it was only 40 percent of the size it was in the 1970s.

"Because the ice is also losing its thickness, some scientists expect the Arctic ocean to be largely free of summer ice by 2020," reports The Guardian.

Back to that $60 trillion pricetag. It's laughably large, a fee Dr. Evil from Austin Powers would demand when threatening world leaders.

But it's only a fraction of the total amount that economists estimate climate change will cost the planet by 2040. That number is $400 trillion.

So, estimating for about 8.73 billion Earthlings come 2040, the average cost of climate mitigation and cleanup will come to roughly $45,819.00 per person.

Time to dust off your piggy bank!