As the shale gas boom continues, the atmosphere receives more methane, adding to Earth’s greenhouse gas problem. Robert Howarth, greenhouse gas expert and ecology and environmental biology professor, fears that we may not be many years away from an environmental tipping point – and disaster.
“We have to control methane immediately, and natural gas is the largest methane pollution source in the United States,” said Howarth, who explains in an upcoming journal article that Earth may reach the point of no return if average global temperatures rise by 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius in future decades.
“If we hit a climate-system tipping point because of methane, our carbon dioxide problem is immaterial. We have to get a handle on methane, or increasingly risk global catastrophe.”
Howarth’s study, “A Bridge to Nowhere: Methane Emissions and the Greenhouse Gas Footprint of Natural Gas,” will be published May 20 in the journal Energy Science and Engineering.
Natural gas – that once seemingly promising link between the era of oil and coal to the serenity of sustainable solar, wind and water power – is a major source of atmospheric methane, due to widespread leaks as well as purposeful venting of gas. Howarth points to “radiative forcing,” a measure of trapped heat in Earth’s atmosphere from man-made greenhouse gases.
The current role of methane looms large, he says, contributing over 40 percent of current radiative forcing from all greenhouse gases, based on the latest science from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The role of methane as a driver of global warming is even more critical than this 40 percent value might indicate, Howarth notes. The climate system responds much more quickly to reducing methane than to carbon dioxide.
If society aggressively controlled carbon dioxide emissions, but ignored methane emissions, the planet would warm to the dangerous 1.5 to 2.0 degree Celsius threshold within 15 to 35 years. By reducing methane emissions, society buys some critical decades of lower temperatures.
“Society needs to wean itself from the addiction to fossil fuels as quickly as possible,” Howarth said. “But to replace some fossil fuels – coal, oil – with another, like natural gas, will not suffice as an approach to take on global warming. Rather, we should embrace the technologies of the 21st century and convert our energy systems to ones that rely on wind, solar and water power.”
Cornell University has television, ISDN and dedicated Skype/Google+ Hangout studios available for media interviews. For additional information, see this Cornell Chronicle story.
Melissa Osgood | Eurek Alert!
Treating ships’ ballast water: filtration preferable to disinfection
30.07.2015 | Helmholtz Zentrum München - Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt
Are Fish Getting High on Cocaine?
28.07.2015 | McGill University
Using ultracold atoms trapped in light crystals, scientists from the MPQ, LMU, and the Weizmann Institute observe a novel state of matter that never thermalizes.
What happens if one mixes cold and hot water? After some initial dynamics, one is left with lukewarm water—the system has thermalized to a new thermal...
Physicists from Regensburg and Marburg, Germany have succeeded in taking a slow-motion movie of speeding electrons in a solid driven by a strong light wave. In the process, they have unraveled a novel quantum phenomenon, which will be reported in the forthcoming edition of Nature.
The advent of ever faster electronics featuring clock rates up to the multiple-gigahertz range has revolutionized our day-to-day life. Researchers and...
Researchers have developed an ultrafast light-emitting device that can flip on and off 90 billion times a second and could form the basis of optical computing.
Joint BioEnergy Institute study identifies bacterial protein that is key to protecting rice against bacterial blight
A bacterial signal that when recognized by rice plants enables the plants to resist a devastating blight disease has been identified by a multi-national team...
Researchers in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin are one step closer to delivering smart windows with a new level of energy efficiency, engineering materials that allow windows to reveal light without transferring heat and, conversely, to block light while allowing heat transmission, as described in two new research papers.
By allowing indoor occupants to more precisely control the energy and sunlight passing through a window, the new materials could significantly reduce costs for...
23.07.2015 | Event News
10.07.2015 | Event News
25.06.2015 | Event News
31.07.2015 | Trade Fair News
31.07.2015 | Transportation and Logistics
31.07.2015 | Physics and Astronomy