Progress in Stopping Global Warming

Good news. Methane concentration in the atmosphere has not increased during the past 8 years. Methane is estimated to be responsible for 9 to 17% of the global warming caused by human activity. During its total life in the stratosphere, methane does 23 times the heat trapping damage of CO2 over a 100 year period.

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse_gas) Fortunately methane released into the atmosphere largely dissipates in about 12 years. CO2 stays as part of the heat trap for about 100 years.

Back in 1860, before we became big users of fossil fuels, methane concentration was 750 ppb. By the year 1998, it was 1,750 ppb, a frightening increase. Since 1998, however, there has been no increase. This represents major progress in the battle to stop global warming. We should celebrate.

The good news was reported by Dr. Sherwood Rowland, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for co-discovering the atmospheric damage caused by another family of greenhouse gases – chlorofluorocarbons (CFC). Dr. Rowland and his team at the University of California at Irvine have been carefully monitoring greenhouse gas concentrations for many years. I had the good fortune of taking chemistry from Dr. Rowland when I was a student at UCI.

The growing atmospheric concentration of CFC was the result of using the chemicals in refrigerants, hairspray and more. A life threatening hole in the ozone was developing. The ozone layer protects us from getting zapped and fried by gamma rays, x-rays, and ultraviolet rays. This ozone shield was saved thanks to the brilliant work of Nobel Prize chemists Dr. Sherwood Rowland, Dr. Mario Molina, and Dr. Paul Crutzen. (http://today.uci.edu/Features/profile_detail.asp?key=90)

Although the news is good about reducing emissions of methane and CFC, CO2 concentration continues to increase at a rate which threatens our future. What works? What needs to be done?
Methane concentration may have stopped growing because natural gas prices have skyrocketed, and natural gas is typically 90% methane. Natural gas is often a byproduct of oil drilling. When natural gas was cheap, oil producers let it vent into the atmosphere. As more power plants have used natural gas, its price has increased. In 1946, natural gas cost only 5 cents per thousand cubic feet. By 2000, $3.68. Now it makes money to capture it and sell it, or produce energy on the spot.

Landfills are the #1 emitter of methane in the USA (http://www.epa.gov/methane/index.html). The city of Burbank formerly let landfill gas go into the atmosphere. Now it pipes the gas into 11 microturbines that generate 5500kW of electricity (http://www.burbankwaterandpower.com/microturbines.html). The city estimates that it achieves a 100% return on investment annually. As committed to in the City’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, 20% of the power used by Burbank’s residents and businesses will come from renewable sources by 2017.

Major emitters of methane include the oil and gas industry, the coal industry, and landfills. All now have the technology and market incentives to capture natural gas for power and fuel. Another major source of methane is cattle ranching. If methane emissions were priced into beef, we would be less likely to say “supersize me.” Ranchers would raise more wind towers and less cattle.

CO2 emissions must be brought under control. Because CO2 has an average atmospheric lifetime of 100 years, it is accumulating at a dangerous rate. From a preindustrial concentration of 280 ppm, it now nears 400 ppm. Business as usual, in our lifetime, could take it to 600 ppm. This growth creates the risk of runaway effects. For example, should the ice melt on large land bodies now covered with ice, there could be huge methane releases. Another runaway danger is if tropical forests and oceans stop absorbing CO2. The fastest way to reduce our CO2 emission is to reduce our use of coal and oil. With coal, it is a double bonus because reducing coal mining also reduces methane emissions. Coal is used to feed power plants. Most of the energy input from coal is lost through inefficient power plants and inefficient use of energy in homes and industry. Energy efficiency and renewable alternatives are the best ways to reduce coal usage. Oil reduction can be achieved if we spend more time riding together, riding less and riding clean.
It is most possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. CFC concentrations are starting to decline because on September 16, 1987, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was signed into agreement by the major countries of the world (originally 24 countries, now 175). A process for all nations to phase-out production of dangerous CFCs and halons was established. Later, other dangerous chemicals were added to the list. Now, the phase-out is largely complete.

International treaties work. Market mechanisms work. International treaties that include market mechanisms for trading greenhouse gas emissions work great. A new treaty with binding targets and pricing mechanisms is needed. It is time for the world’s biggest emitters, the USA and China, to lead the process to a health future and away from a reckless joy ride towards climate chaos.

John Addison is the author of the upcoming book Save Gas, Save the Planet. He publishes the Clean Fleet Report (www.cleanfleetreport.com) and is a popular speaker.

3 replies
  1. Nick
    Nick says:

    John, your last three paragrafs start with: CO2 emissions must be brought under control. It is most possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. International treaties work. I hope you are right! To me, for electricity, heating and transportation, humanity burn things and it will do that until will burn everything. Probably one day, not too late, collectively we will understand that not sequestration, trading greenhouse gas emission, and other band-aid solutions are the answer. Converting sunlight into electricity is the only critical contribution to the non-CO2 energy of the future.

  2. chalacuna
    chalacuna says:

    Global climate has never been this worst for the past 500 years. Based on scientific studies, harmful emmissions from plants, cars and other fuel burning machines are the major culprit to the rapid climate change. This phenomenon called global warming has been felt in several parts of the world and is noticable in the abnormal behavior of thyphoons and tidal waves.it is everybodys responsiblity to help maintain the environment and save mother earth. You might find this sites useful:Alternative FuelsFuture CarsHybrid Cars

  3. Yeomans
    Yeomans says:

    Sadly there is as yet, almost zero Progress in Stopping Global Warming. To end global warming and restore carbon dioxide levels to near pre-industrial is easy. It can be achieved at around zero costs. It means ending our dependency on fossil fuels for power and transport and ending our adoption of an agricultural system based on huge imputes or powerful agrochemicals. Unfortunately those industries, just like the cigarette companies, know how to use their money and public relation consultants. Playing Russian roulette with World climates based on oil and coal company PR claims that the gun is probably empty, is just plain silly. Reality, observation, common sense and even overwhelming scientific opinion says, time and luck is running out fast. Global warming has to be fixed now. The solution to global warming need not and should not involve requiring Western society to go on some energy starvation diet.I maintain in my book PRIORITY ONE Together We Can Beat Global Warming that we can keep our high standard of living. We can have as many cars as we want and they can be as big as we desire. Our affluent society can be even more affluent. Because fundamentally we are not short of anything, energy or raw materials, and we never will be. For us to continue, and to continue to improve our health and wealth and standard of living the only things we must change is our support for countries and industries that mine and sell fossil carbon based materials. (Both PRIORITY ONE and also STRAIGHT TALKING On Ending Global Warming, which is a summary of the book's concepts are freely available at http://www.yeomansplow.com.au ) There are just four requirements to end cancerous climate change.FIRST We remove the current excess carbon dioxide from our atmosphere that our use of fossil carbon materials have added. We use plants to extract it, and then turn it into masses of soil organic matter – and so produce rich healthy productive soil. We do this by switching to organic type agricultural practices. Recognize that past soil fertility losses in the Great Plains contributed as much carbon dioxide to the atmosphere as came from all the cars Detroit ever built. We simply reverse that process. SECOND For our mobile transport – cars trucks busses and airplanes, we switch totally to ethanol and biodiesel – produced from sugarcane and grains, and oil palms and oil seeds. Both these biofuels are economically practical and utterly feasible.Tropical Africa could fuel Europe and Asia. Brazil could easily fuel the Americas – both north and south. America imports its petroleum fuel. So too it can import its biofuels. (And subsidize its local farmers if it wishes.) To make all this happen we must demand the elimination of all taxes and all excises on biofuels and we must set a minimum petroleum oil price of something over $60 per barrel so oil interests can not continue to juggle the oil market to kill biofuel development. THIRD For large-scale industrial power generation we must accept, weather we like on not, the reality that nuclear energy is our only feasible option – and it's safer and it's unbelievable abundance. Nuclear energy admittedly, is a highly emotive subject. In my book PRIORITY ONE I describe and catalogue the history and the motives behind the creation of the well funded, and vociferous anti-nuclear movement. I also demonstrate that moderate levels of nuclear radiation, (just like sunlight) are a noticeable health benefit and actually increase longevity.FOURTH Sadly, we can no longer trust the motives of all too many environmental movements. To maintain the sale of oil fuels, petrochemicals and agrochemicals, global warming issues have to be consistently and systematically defused. It is logical and astute public relations to fund, to infiltrate and then influence and modify the aims and objectives of all major environmental movements (and governments).If the end result of some environmental campaign results directly or indirectly in the increased sales of fossil fuels or agrochemicals, they should not be supported nor trusted. Patric Moore was one of the founders of Greenpeace. However he now believes we should adopt nuclear energy. So Greenpeace vilify him. Another example, throughout Australasia, the giant BP Oil Company was run by Greg Bourne. He moved sideways and now runs the World Wide Fund for nature, the WWF – the one with the Panda logo. "—-but you can't fool all of the people all of the time" . But that's what they are trying to doGlobal warming is happening now and is already proving enormously expensive in life and property and decreased living standards. It's frightening, and it's much worse than we are ever encouraged to believe. Being convinced is not enough. We all must convince others. Allan Yeomans (Australia)

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