Click the link on this blog for NASA’s “Vital Signs of the Planet” web site. I spent sometime on it yesterday. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration site is actively monitoring climate change indicators such as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, polar ice melt, and key gases such as methane, which is a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Go to the site and use their interactive tools to study how each indicator has changed over the decades. A recent study on methane gas levels caught my eye. Scientists have been puzzled at a leveling off of methane gas in the atmosphere. The study reports on 30 years of data for ethane/methane and was published in the journal Nature on August 23. Here is an excerpt:
In results published Aug. 23 in the journal Nature, the team led by UC Irvine chemistry professor Donald Blake reported that the observed leveling-off in atmospheric ethane/methane is largely a result of changes in fossil fuel use – specifically, reductions in fugitive emissions of natural gas that can occur during fossil fuel exploration. Fugitive emissions include venting and flaring, evaporative losses, and equipment leaks and failures, but exclude combustion of fuels. The study finds these measures probably account for up to 70 percent of the slowing growth in atmospheric methane levels observed at the end of the 20th century.
This is pointing to positive steps Americans can take right now in the upcoming election. A vote for Romney-Ryan team will likely lead to increases not only in carbon dioxide emissions but also methane emissions because the duo plans to open up drilling and other policies (giving states the right to choose how their coal, gas reserves are managed) that will most likely lead to increases in both these gases if history tells the truth . Obama’s administration has not shown strong leadership in this direction either but the record tends in the right direction, whereas the Republicans will throw us back into even greater emissions of both CO2 and methane. Voters from both parties will need to be actively engaged with their leaders and representatives to make sure policies are not short sighted (what is not economically feasible in the short-term may be very feasible and prudent in the long-term).
Long ago it was determined that the maximum safe level of heat energy in earth’s atmosphere should be no more than 350 parts per million or less of carbon dioxide (CO2 being the most abundant heat-trapping molecule in the atmosphere). According to the NASA site, we are at 393 ppm and rising. Go see for yourself. Add more methane to the atmosphere and the heating goes up at a faster rate – 20 times greater. Think of fracking, one of the new technologies that will be unleased by the policies being unveiled on the republican platform.
Right now my state, Florida, is on a path to converting from coal to mostly natural gas for its primary energy source. This is a trend nation-wide. Obama is tooting clean fuels. How clean are they? NOAA scientists who started measuring air pollution near well-sites in Colorado’s oil and gas fields found they were leaking methane at substantial rates. The industry representatives they spoke to indicate that measuring pollution from wells is expensive and not economically feasible.
The Republicans and Democrats are concentrating on jobs because the public demands it. Yet it will be GAME OVER if we reach a temperature threshold that substantially changes the atmosphere. How will that will be economically feasible?
We are brimming on the edge of that threshold now. Yet, our leaders are silent about climate change because voters – the American public – in substantial numbers ignore the scientific data. If you are one such person, ask yourself why you turn a blind eye to incontrovertible evidence that our climate is changing and that the human thumbprint is in large part the reason for dramatic increases in temperature (carbon dioxide emissions the culprit). We know with certainty that our combined human activities – demands for more and more energy – are creating conditions for environmental degradation on a scale unknown to humankind. (Remember also that Americans per capita are the energy hogs of the planet. Sorry, its just the truth.)
Logic tells us we should look for less polluting fuels, and energy conserving strategies. WE NEED THAT LEADERSHIP SORELY AND WE MUST DEMAND THAT WHOMEVER IS ELECTED RESPONDS WITH PLANS TO REDUCE THE LEVELS OF CARBON DIOXIDE AND METHANE IN THE ATMOSPHERE.
Yet we are wildcats on the prairie again with hydraulic fracking the earth’s surface to get at the natural gas reserves. In doing so, we are releasing increased amounts of methane into drinking water in adjacent watersheds and into the atmosphere. Its bad policy and will be judged as immoral in a more desperate future if we choose that path.
Democrats and Republicans both need to check the facts.
One thought on “Wildcats on the Prairie”
I turn the same frustrations over and over in my mind. I conserve and write letters to the President and legislators on both sides of the aisle. The most important issue is the environment. They say it is jobs they are after, but I think it’s really deregulation. The Republicans made that clear early in the Presidential campaign when they talked about getting rid of the EPA and the clean water and air acts. Politicians need money for their campaigns and the companies and developers are willing to give it. They have bought the power.
I will vote for Obama, but he won’t save us. Ken Salazar just approved Shell Oil drilling in the Arctic even though they admit they don’t have oil spill plans in place.
Thank you for writing such thoughtful pieces.