In Beware how you meddle with climate change, Robert Matthews reports on new research that highlights the complexity of environmental science.
This is not a product of trees and plants rotting, which everyone already knew was a source of methane; it is an entirely natural side-effect of plant growth that scientists had somehow missed. Yet it is by no means trivial: preliminary estimates suggest that living trees and plants account for about 10 to 30 per cent of the methane entering the atmosphere.
In fact, evidence pointing to huge holes in the science of atmospheric methane has been circulating for years. In 1998, Nature carried a study showing global increases in methane were mysteriously levelling off. Now it seems that deforestation – that bête noire of the environmentalist movement – may have helped combat the rise of this greenhouse gas.
Everyone knows fossil fuel power stations are hefty producers of CO2 and need urgently to be replaced. Yet they are now also recognised as hefty producers of aerosols – tiny particles in the atmosphere that play a key role in reflecting the sun’s heat back into space.