Think global warming is controlled if we solve CO2 output? Think again.
By Theresa Brady
The other greenhouse gases are becoming an increasing problem: efforts to shift to natural gas, as other fossil fuels become scarce, are driving up the amount of methane released into the atmosphere. Other fluorine based gases are being manufactured by corporations to make a profit off rules intended to encourage the reduction of fluorocarbons. These gasses are significantly more powerful warming agents than CO2 and must be addressed if we are to stabilize the climate.
We all know that CO2 needs to be reduced if we want to leave a world not radically changed from the one we grew up in. Conspicuous use of fossil fuel through SUV use is on the decline not just for economic reasons but also due to a sense of responsibility. Bicycle riding is up. But what of the other green house gasses?
Natural gas is 75% methane which is 25 times more powerful a warming gas than CO2 though it lasts only 12 years, it would not be a good alternative to other fossil fuels. But corporate lobbyists are asking for just that.
According to an article in the Guardian newspaper[i], a recent study indicates natural gas is at least as bad a fossil fuel regarding global warming as other fossil fuels, including coal. The main constituent of natural gas (CH4) is methane (CH4). In fact 75% of what we know as natural gas is methane. Methane is 25 times as potent a warming agent as CO2. It lasts 12 years in the atmosphere as opposed to the variable hundreds of years in the atmosphere for CO2. Methane also is released during the extraction of natural gas in the process known as fracking. Methane released in the process of extracting and using natural gas should be regulated.
In a recent article in the Guardian newspaper, a study by Cornell University[ii] scientists showed the amount of global warming gases produced by the extraction and use of natural gas is at least as bad as coal. Charts in their report break down the fossil fuels produced in the extraction and use of each of the major fossil fuels. When they added together the CO2 and Methane for all the fossil fuels from ground to end of use, they found that natural gas is actually worse for the climate than coal.[iii]
Koch funded scientist, Richard Murrell, who as of recently, is convinced that global warming is human induced, has since campaigned that the solution to global warming is to convince China to shift to natural gas instead of coal. According to the Cornell study, there would be no benefit regarding global warming if China agreed to natural gas instead of coal. China has made efforts to install some renewables [iv] and this should be encouraged. Their plans to install coal fired power plants is a harmful policy, as are US coal fired power plants. However, simply shifting all coal use to natural gas use is equally if not more harmful.[v]
Both fracking for natural gas and extracting and burning coal, have other environmental problems as well. Coal pollutes air. It destroys mountain landscapes. It pollutes waterways in the region of the mining. Fracking pollutes water. To date the corporations that frack have not been required to reveal what chemicals they use when they frack. There are seriously hazardous chemicals in the lists that have been made public, and evidenced in the fact that the water from wells near where fracking occurs, is flammable. There are also large numbers of illnesses such as cancer.
According to a recent Mother Jones [vi]article, there are scientists being bought by the natural gas industry. This would explain why while natural gas is worse than coal, it is being promoted by government agencies and many scientists, to replace other fossil fuels.
CO2 is the most common of greenhouse gasses, therefore emphasis has been on tracking and reducing CO2. Methane is the second most common, and deserves attention. However other Global warming gasses also increasingly warrant concern: Nitrous Oxide, Hydrofluorocarbon 23, sulphur hexafluoride, and pfc-14, all pose serious threats to climate stability.[vii] [viii] These other chemicals and fossil fuels must be regulated stringently to avoid timebombs of global warming. [ix]
The UN has allowed the a company in Gujarat to build plants to create chemicals that are harmful to climate stability and then get credit for destroying them.[x] Better regulation is especially urgent as corporations are taking advantage of rules intended to curb global warming in order to make a profit. The New York times reported last month that there are communities all over Asia that are being saddled with these chemical plants[xi] that are polluting their local air and creating these gasses, not for use, but for the credits they can sell on the carbon trading market.
“So since 2005 the 19 plants receiving the waste gas payments have profited handsomely from an unlikely business: churning out more harmful coolant gas so they can be paid to destroy its waste byproduct. The high output keeps the prices of the coolant gas irresistibly low, discouraging air-conditioning companies from switching to less – damaging alternative gases. That means, critics say, that United Nations subsidies intended to improve the environment are instead creating their own damage. “ [xii]
This is becoming a serious threat to local health in the areas of India[xiii] and China where it occurs. It is also a serious threat to health of life on the entire planet since some of these gasses are 14,000 times[xiv] more potent than CO2 and do that damage for a much longer period of time than the hundreds of years that CO2 stays harmful.
New nuclear power plants are not a solution to global warming either[xv], since they also have a huge global warming footprint. We must count the construction impact of such plants to truly assess their value in replacing other energy sources. 10s of thousands of years that nuclear waste is a risk makes that an unviable energy option as well.
The fossil fuel and chemical industries have been allowed to “externalize of costs” of their pollution, and their misrepresentation of both short and long term risk to the public for too long. There is a need to regulate these industries, and to require responsibility and accountability from the heads of these corporations. The social and health risks of allowing the “externalization of costs” has been imposed on the environment and the human community as well. This is not to let the nuclear industry off the hook. They also lobby our government mercilessly in order to keep us stuck in their toxic technology. We need the human community to recognize these deceptive efforts to implement hazardous and deceptive schemes and to require accountability. The dangers of continuing to establish infrastructure toward any future fossil fuel: (tar sands, natural gas, or coal) use should be revealed, so that real solutions can be put it place.
We need to get corporate influence out of the way so that false solutions no longer waste time on debate, and real solutions can be put forward and implemented. Real solutions include: conservation and weatherization. Supporting local economy. Buy local produce. (The average American meal travels 1000 miles. In the 70’s it traveled less than 100.) Transporting food farther makes us less food secure, while wasting energy, and destabilizing the food economy of many localities. Local food security efforts include: local CSA’s, farmer’s markets, community gardens, backyard gardens and the Transition Towns movement that are sprouting up all over the world[xvi]. Bicycles and public transit are needed (but not natural gas powered). One of the important tools of the transition movement is an energy descent plan: one in which the uses of energy are prioritized so that energy is available for emergencies. Doing less than real solutions right now indicates a disregard for life as we know it.
While human induced release of Carbon dioxide is a serious threat to life and a stable climate, there are other little known gases that are potentially even more threatening. These other gases should also be receiving more scrutiny and regulation. There are several gasses that cause global warming: methane (natural gas) , CO2 and Hydrofluorocarbon 23 are three that require prompt regulation if we are to stop runaway global warming.
[i] Guardian Newspaper “How Green is Shale Gas?” Leo Hickman, May 29,2012
[ii] [ii] Cornell University Study. www,springerlink.com Climate Change, Vol 113, p 537-539. “Venting and leaking of Methane from Shale Gas Development…”
[iii] Methane is a naturally occurring by product of natural life processes such as composting. However, there are methods of composting which minimize the release of methane. All living beings give off some methane and CO2. When setting regulations we must be careful to word it in such a way that it doesn’t make it illegal to exist or breathe.
[v] Cornell University Study. www,springerlink.com Climate Change, Vol 113, p 537-539. “Venting and leaking of Methane from Shale Gas Development…”
[ix] Amy Goodman, Democracy Now, headlines August 9, 2012
[x] New York Times, ”Profits on Carbon Credit Drive Output of Harmful Gas” August 6, 2012, Elisabeth Rosenthal and Andrew Lemren.
[xi] New York Times,”Profits on Carbon Credit Drive Output of Harmful Gas” August 6, 2012, Elisabeth Rosenthal and Andrew Lemren.
[xii] New York Times, ”Profits on Carbon Credit Drive Output of Harmful Gas” August 6, 2012, Elisabeth Rosenthal and Andrew Lemren.
[xv] Bill McKibben at the Los Angeles Times festival of books, when presenting his book EAARTH , In response to a question regarding whether nuclear was a preferred option over fossil fuels in regards to global warming, stated that when the construction CO2 emmisions are taken into account for nuclear power plants, they are not an improvement over fossil fuels.
[xvi] The Transition Handbook, Rob Hopkins, Chelsea Green Publishing