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Climate Change Mitigation: Refocus Needed

In most of the discussions about anthropogenic (i.e., human-influenced) climate change, the concept of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is usually short-handed to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.  In fact, humans are responsible for emissions of many other pollutants that contribute to climate change, and while these emissions are sometimes converted into “CO2-equivalents” to make discussions simpler, it’s pretty clear that — when it comes to climate change — some emissions are much more important than others.

While CO2 represents the bulk of GHG emissions (in terms of quantities), methane (CH4) is about 20-25 times as potent on a per-unit basis.  And, when it falls to the ground, soot (technically referred to as “black carbon”) increases the rate of snow/ice melt, and is possibly at the root of accelerating melt in the polar ecosystems.

Accordingly, in a recent issue of the journal Science, a new study by a long list of collaborators posits that the fastest way to a significantly better (i.e., less dramatically increasing) trajectory in future average planetary temperatures is for society to focus on reducing methane and soot emissions, rather than CO2 emissions.  Based on the study’s projections, it appears that concerted efforts to reduce methane and soot emissions will achieve a large share of the reduced rate of temperature increase that an all-out effort to curb CO2 emissions would achieve.

Since methane and soot have short residence times in the atmosphere (unlike CO2), an immediate reduction on these emissions will translate to immediate improvements in GHG levels.  Also, reducing methane and soot emissions will have significant benefits in alleviating local air quality issues and thereby improving human health, by mitigating ground-level ozone formation and reducing airborne particulates.

Of course, the big kahuna in anthropogenic climate change remains CO2, which is emitted into the atmosphere when anything is burned — and much of what gets burned is fossil fuels.  Alas, fossil fuels represent a very lucrative enterprise for many of the world’s largest corporations in the energy business, and a critical enabler of the commercial output and social lifestyles that define 21st Century human existence.  Consequently, there’s immense political and public resistance to imposing any limitations on fossil fuel consumption in order to reduce CO2 emissions. 

So, perhaps a shifting of focus by the cleantech world away from CO2 reductions toward methane/soot reductions would be much more politically acceptable for the foreseeable future and thus would actually gain some real traction. 

It would certainly be more helpful to the planet than another series of endless climate negotiations in far-flung exotic cities that themselves produce a lot of emissions (figuratively and literally) and little substantive progress. 

Some of the most strident opponents of cap-and-trade on CO2 emissions will have a hard time objecting to measures that reduce methane and soot emissions.  Indeed, the more that methane can be captured rather than released to the air, the more it can be used to supply our energy needs.  Thus, cleantech innovators and investors should put soot and methane emissions higher on the list of areas to tackle with their incremental efforts — as they are more likely to be rewarded than a continued frontal-assault on CO2 emissions.

 

Gambling on Global Warming

Gambling on global warming? It sounds like a really bad made-for-the-internet soap opera. But apparently at one online betting site, you actually can. So move over carbon trading and Sir Nicholas Stern – Vegas is weighing in on the true likelihood of damages from climate change.

I figured that rated a column on a lazy Friday the 13th afternoon. And while not for the not for faint of heart – here are the bets and the odds listed on their website:

“Will any of the following occur?
Hollywood will be under water before 2015 +10000
A major motion picture studio will be under water +5000
A celebrity sea-side will be under water bef 2015 +500
“Water World” becoming a reality +30000

Which will cause more damage in California?
Global warming +5000
Earthquakes -9999″

You can look it up at BetUs.com under their sportsbook “other”. According to one news story on the subject, they have received over 3,000 bets.

My preference, let’s just invest in cleantech and next generation energy technologies and actually try to solve the problem, but if you happen to prefer to spend your money in casinos, be my guest.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Author for Inside Greentech, and a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks.

Order in the Court

by Richard Stuebi

This past week, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a landmark verdict against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

NYT article

In essence, the verdict demands that EPA justify why it should continue to exempt carbon dioxide from being regulated as a pollutant, given the increasing evidence that climate change is an urgent environmental problem and that CO2 is a major contributor to it.

It’s getting harder to see how the U.S. government will be able to avoid taking material action soon to deal with carbon dioxide emissions.

Richard Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.