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!
Foxes in the city: citizen science helps researchers to study urban wildlife
14.12.2018 | Veterinärmedizinische Universität Wien
Machine learning helps predict worldwide plant-conservation priorities
04.12.2018 | Ohio State University
Researchers from the University of Basel have reported a new method that allows the physical state of just a few atoms or molecules within a network to be controlled. It is based on the spontaneous self-organization of molecules into extensive networks with pores about one nanometer in size. In the journal ‘small’, the physicists reported on their investigations, which could be of particular importance for the development of new storage devices.
Around the world, researchers are attempting to shrink data storage devices to achieve as large a storage capacity in as small a space as possible. In almost...
The more objects we make "smart," from watches to entire buildings, the greater the need for these devices to store and retrieve massive amounts of data quickly without consuming too much power.
Millions of new memory cells could be part of a computer chip and provide that speed and energy savings, thanks to the discovery of a previously unobserved...
What if, instead of turning up the thermostat, you could warm up with high-tech, flexible patches sewn into your clothes - while significantly reducing your...
A widely used diabetes medication combined with an antihypertensive drug specifically inhibits tumor growth – this was discovered by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum two years ago. In a follow-up study, recently published in “Cell Reports”, the scientists report that this drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off their energy supply.
The widely used anti-diabetes drug metformin not only reduces blood sugar but also has an anti-cancer effect. However, the metformin dose commonly used in the...
A research team from the University of Zurich has developed a new drone that can retract its propeller arms in flight and make itself small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. This is particularly useful when searching for victims of natural disasters.
Inspecting a damaged building after an earthquake or during a fire is exactly the kind of job that human rescuers would like drones to do for them. A flying...
12.12.2018 | Event News
10.12.2018 | Event News
06.12.2018 | Event News
17.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
17.12.2018 | Architecture and Construction
17.12.2018 | Life Sciences