Researchers at Oxford University have developed GWP*, a new climate metric that accurately measures the impact of methane emissions on global warming – recontextualising the debate surrounding ruminant methane emissions and climate change.
ffinlo Costain, host of FAI Farm’sFarm Gate podcast interviewed Myles Allen and John Lynch from Oxford University to explore their new method of measuring the impacts of methane on climate change. GWP* is a new metric for global warming potential that measures the change in emission rates for methane instead of measuring emissions by volume. According to their research, GWP* gives a more accurate picture of the influence greenhouse gases have on the world’s climate than existing measures, which assign gases a nominal CO2 equivalent number.
Current climate measures, like GWP100, categorise ruminant-emitted methane and agricultural activities among the greatest contributors to climate change. GWP100 reaches this conclusion by comparing the total amount of emissions and extrapolating the potential impacts on the global climate. According to Roland Bonney, co-founder of FAI Farms and Benchmark Holdings plc, many farmers and farm organisations feel unfairly demonised by these conclusions and public reaction to them. Allen and Lynch echo this view and assert that the GWP100 metric doesn’t capture the full relationship between emissions and climate change.
Bonney asserts that raising ruminants sustainably can be part of the solution to climate change. Raising cattle and sheep in a mixed rotation system, ensuring they are grass-fed and that they have access to natural pastureland can reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly. In his view, how we farm has a greater impact on global climate than what we choose to eat.
The differences between methane and carbon dioxide
Though both methane and CO2 contribute to climate change, they impact global temperatures differently. Humans emit more carbon dioxide than any other greenhouse gas and it remains the largest contributor to climate change. Though some CO2 can be absorbed by the ocean or be fixed in plant biomass, the bulk of human emissions go into the atmosphere. According to Allen, the CO2 left in the atmosphere causes a persistent warming effect over thousands of years, making its impact more cumulative than other gasses. Unless humans ramp up efforts to remove carbon, it will remain in the environment.
In contrast, methane is emitted in smaller quantities. The gas has a stronger warming effect than CO2, but it breaks down quickly. This means that after a few decades, the methane will be out of the atmosphere and any warming affects will cease.
When describing the different impacts of the gases, Lynch compared the impacts of methane emissions to drinking excessively and getting a hangover – the immediate effects will set you back, but as long as you don’t drink to excess again, the pain and nausea will dissipate. Carbon dioxide, on the other hand, is more akin to lead poisoning – exposure will cause immediate negative effects, and sustained exposure will cause significant damage in the future.
Metaphors aside, comparing one tonne of emitted CO2 to one tonne of emitted methane (CH4) doesn’t give researchers an accurate picture of the gases’ warming potential. Allen’s research indicates that for methane to have the same warming effect as CO2, humans would need to increase methane emissions by multiple tonnes per year and maintain that emissions level indefinitely. In his view, it’s more appropriate to compare the emission rates of methane with a single tonne of emitted carbon dioxide – the central aim of the new GWP* measure. The new metric will also give more accurate climate forecasting than the current GWP100 standard.
GWP* appears to capture these subtleties more effectively than GWP100. Researchers at the SRUC found that measuring the warming impact of farms with a traditional carbon calculator overestimated the impact of farm emissions on climate. When they used GWP* to analyse the same farm data however, methane emissions fell by 75 percent, halving the total climate impact of agricultural emissions.
Ruminant methane and GWP*
In Allen’s analysis, methane’s contribution to climate change is historic – we are feeling the effects of methane pulses from 50 years ago when the global ruminant herd increased. Ruminants contribute to global methane emissions as the herd expands. A new source of methane will have a huge effect, but a sustained source won’t be as impactful. If the herd remains stable or declines (which is happening currently), the methane they produce won’t add to the warming that’s already occurred. Allen argues that the methane produced by the world’s ruminants is keeping global temperatures at stasis – it isn’t contributing to warming or cooling either way.
GWP* allows researchers to differentiate between new sources of methane and existing ones, meaning that fluctuations in the global ruminant herd can be accurately accounted for. According to Lynch, analysing discrete methane sources makes GWP* more accurate and prevents overestimates of the gas’s climate effects.
In Allen’s view, removing all ruminants in order to tackle methane emissions wouldn’t provide a huge climate benefit. Culling ruminants would only give the climate a temporary pulse of cooling – a temporary reduction of 0.1 degrees at the absolute maximum. That’s the equivalent of a few years’ worth of warming from CO2 emissions. Instead of focusing solely on ruminant emissions, activists should also account for methane leakages in Britain’s natural gas infrastructure. Both Lynch and Allen agreed that eliminating CO2 emissions would do more to counteract climate change than simply reducing methane produced by ruminants.
Refocusing on carbon
Allen told Costain that though reducing methane would help the climate, tackling carbon emissions from the fossil fuel industry is more pressing. The emissions from this sector are “additional” to the world’s existing carbon cycle and cause present and future warming events. Unless the UK and other countries enact zero net carbon emissions policies, global climate change will continue. Lynch echoed these sentiments, saying that carbon emissions needed to be removed or offset to stabilise global temperatures.
We are experiencing long shifts of climatic conditions that are characterised by a change in temperature, rainfall, winds, and other indicators.
Currently, the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is much higher than in the past years, and its ability to trap heat is changing.
Burning fossil fuels and deforestation are the primary causes of climate change. It presents a substantial threat to humans and animals now and in the future. The following are some of the biggest human causes of climate change:
GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSION
These gases accumulate in the atmosphere, blocking heat from escaping, and they don’t respond to the temperature changes (the greenhouse effect). When they remain for an extended period in the atmosphere, they are likely to cause climate change.
Greenhouse gas emission is a major human causes of climate change, and their sources include transportation, electricity production, burning fossil fuel in industries, commercial and residential application, agriculture, and land use. These gases include;
• CARBON IV OXIDE
Carbon dioxide (CO2, or Carbon IV Oxide) is the main greenhouse gas produced through human activities that leads to adverse climate changes. It is a result of burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas. Fossil fuel generates electricity worldwide, leading to high emissions of CO2. Locomotion is the second-largest source of carbon emission; humans contribute daily to CO2 emissions by use of transport vehicles either for leisure or business purposes.
Carbon stored in the form of fossil fuels is more stable, and when heated, they release the stored carbon in the form of CO2. If humans couldn’t burn these fuels for energy, the carbon is unlikely to reach the atmosphere.
We use fossil fuel to power cars, machines, and generate electricity, and as the human population increases, more fuel is used, leading to higher CO2 emissions.
Methane accounts for about 16 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. The petroleum industry and agriculture emit methane, especially from the digestive systems of grazing animals, manure management, and rice cultivation.
It also accumulates through waste decomposition in landfills. It is a far more active greenhouse gas than CO2.
• NITROUS OXIDE
Cultivation practices like the use of organic and commercial fertilisers lead to the emission of nitrous oxide. It also accumulates in the atmosphere through fossil fuel combustion, nitric acid production, and biomass burning.
Chlorofluorocarbons and hydrofluorocarbons are used in home appliances like the refrigerator and industrial applications. They are associated with severe atmosphere impacts like ozone layer depletion and heat-trapping.
• SULPHUR HEXACHLORIDE
They are primarily used in dielectric materials like the dielectric liquids and for special medical procedures. Also, they act as insulators in high voltage applications like the transformers and grid switching gear.
Deforestation is one of the major human causes of climate change; trees capture greenhouse gases such as CO2, preventing them from accumulating on the atmosphere, which could result in warming our planet. Most forests are getting cleared to create space for agriculture, buildings, and other human activities.
Trees take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen to the atmosphere during photosynthesis; hence, surplus carbon iv oxide is stored in the plants to help in growth and development. When we cut trees, their stored CO2 gets emitted to the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming.
Trees also help in regulating regional rainfall which prevents floods and drought in the area, cutting down trees influences the rainfall patterns globally. Deforestation also leads to changes in the landscape and the earth’s surface’s reflectivity, which leads to increased absorption of energy from the sun that results in global warming leading to changes in climate patterns.
Food is a basic human need, but before you get it on your table, it goes through production, storage, processing, packaging, transportation, and preparation. Every stage of food production releases substantial amounts of greenhouse gases. Agriculture is one of the most common human causes of climate change through emissions of gases and the conversion of forests to agricultural land.
The modern agriculture practices and food production method using synthetic fertilisers are great contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, global warming, and climate change. The introduction of large scale farming has led to deforestation and machine intensive farming, which contributes to carbon emissions.
In livestock farming, ruminant animals digest their food through enteric fermentation that results in methane production; there are also substantial methane emissions from irrigated rice fields. Generally, agriculture contributes to climate change through deforestation, biodiversity loss, acidification of the oceans through agricultural chemical wastes, and accelerated soil erosion.
Although the industrial revolution, and industrialisation, has led to improved living conditions in various aspects, it is associated with adverse environmental effects that cause climatic changes. With recent innovations, human labour has been replaced with machinery that uses new sources of energy in the industries.
Manufacturing involves the use of large amounts of power and the alteration of natural systems; it is directly responsible for domestic emissions and indirect emissions through electricity and fuel use. The manufacturing operations are linked to direct greenhouse gas emissions, for instance, in the production of chemicals, iron, or steel, which are highly energy-intensive.
People are moving to urban areas in search of employment; urbanisation is another great contributor to climate change. It results in overcrowding, pollution, and poor sanitation; massive urbanisation can also lead to deforestation, emission of more greenhouse gases.
Increased commercialisation and industrialisation increase the use of fossil fuels leading to global warming and climate change.
Human emissions and activities have caused the highest percentage of global warming, which has resulted in climate change, in recent years. The global warming indicators are clear from increased temperature, humidity changes, sea level rising, showing that the land is warming up very fast due to fossil emissions, and thus changing the climate.
Any farmer can tell that the weather patterns have been altered, which is likely to affect food security worldwide. The fingerprints that humans have left on the environment through industrial activities and civilisation can be seen in the oceans, atmosphere, and the earth’s surface.
Scientists are finding hidden climate time bombs—vast reservoirs of carbon dioxide and methane—scattered under the seafloor across the planet.
And the fuses are burning.
Caps of frozen CO2 or methane, called hydrates, contain the potent greenhouse gases, keeping them from escaping into the ocean and atmosphere. But the ocean is warming as carbon emissions continue to rise, and scientists say the temperature of the seawater surrounding some hydrate caps is within a few degrees of dissolving them.
The oceans absorb a third of humanity’s carbon dioxide emissions and 90 percent of the excess heat generated by increased greenhouse gas emissions; it’s the largest carbon sink on the planet. If warming seas melt hydrate caps, there’s a danger that the oceans will become big carbon emitters instead, with grave consequences for climate change and sea level rise.
“If that hydrate becomes unstable, in fact melts, that enormous volume of CO2 will be released to the ocean and eventually the atmosphere,” says Lowell Stott, a paleoceanographer at the University of Southern California.
Ancient cave art may depict the world’s oldest hunting scene
The discovery of these deep ocean CO2 reservoirs, as well as methane seeps closer to shore, comes as leading scientists warned this month that the world is now surpassing a number of climate tipping points, with ocean temperatures at record highs.
The few CO2 reservoirs that have been found so far are located adjacent to hydrothermal vent fields in the deep ocean. But the global extent of such reservoirs remains unknown.
“It’s a harbinger, if you will, of an area of research that is really important for us to investigate, to find out how many of these kinds of reservoirs are out there, how big they are, and how susceptible they are to releasing CO2 to the ocean,” Stott says. “We have totally underestimated the world’s total carbon budget, which has profound implications.”
Jeffrey Seewald, a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who studies the geochemistry of hydrothermal systems, questioned the magnitude of hydrate-capped reservoirs.
“I don’t know how globally significant they are as most hydrothermal systems that we know of are not associated with large accumulations of carbon, though there’s still a lot to be explored,” he says. “So I would be a little careful about suggesting that there are significant accumulations of CO2 that are just waiting to be released.”
Other scientists are far more concerned about potential climate time bombs much closer to home—methane hydrates that form on the shallower seafloor at the margins of continents.
For one thing, there apparently are a lot of them. Between 2016 and 2018, for instance, researchers at Oregon State University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) deployed a new sonar technique to discover 1,000 methane seeps off the Pacific Northwest coast of the United States.
In contrast, just 100 had been identified between 2015 and the late 1980s, when scientists first stumbled across methane deposits. There are likely many more to be located, given that as of 2018, researchers only had mapped 38 percent of the seafloor between Washington State and Northern California.
“Because a lot of methane is stored on the continental margins in relatively shallow water, the effects of ocean warming will get to it sooner and potentially destabilize the methane hydrates that are present in the sediment,” says Dave Butterfield, a senior research scientist and hydrothermal vent expert at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle.
He noted that these methane seeps likely constitute a far larger global reservoir of greenhouse gases than pools of carbon dioxide under the deep ocean floor.
“This idea is that if you destabilize the methane hydrates, that methane would be injected into the atmosphere and cause more extreme global warming,” says Butterfield, who in 2003 was part of an expedition that discovered a hydrate-capped reservoir of liquid CO2 at a hydrothermal system on the Mariana Arc in the Pacific.
Stott and colleagues earlier this year published a paper presenting evidence that the release of carbon dioxide from hydrothermal seafloor reservoirs in the eastern equatorial Pacific some 20,000 years ago helped trigger the end of the last glacial era. And in a new paper, Stott finds geological indications that during the end of Pleistocene glaciations, carbon dioxide was released from seafloor reservoirs near New Zealand.
The spike of atmospheric temperatures during previous periods when ice ages were ending mirrors today’s rapid rise as a result of greenhouse gas emissions. While the oceans have long been suspected as significant contributors to ancient global warming, the prevailing consensus was that the CO2 was released from a layer of water resting deep in the ocean. But research from Stott and other oceanographers over the past decade points to a geological culprit.
“Even if only a small percentage of the unsampled hydrothermal systems contain separate gas or liquid CO2 phases it could change the global marine carbon budget substantially,” Stott and his co-authors write of present-day carbon reservoirs.
Like a needle in a haystack
Take the hydrate-capped liquid CO2 reservoir found by Butterfield and his colleagues on a volcano in the Pacific. They calculated that the rate that liquid CO2 bubbles were escaping the seafloorequaled 0.1 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted on the entire Mid-Ocean Ridge. That may seem like a small amount, but consider that the CO2 is escaping from a single, small site along a 40,390 mile-long system of submerged volcanoes that rings the planet.
“That’s an astonishing number,” says Stott.
Scientists believe such reservoirs can be formed when volcanic magma deep beneath the ocean floor interacts with seawater to produce superheated fluids rich in carbon or methane that rise toward the surface. When that plume collides with cooler water, an ice-like hydrate forms that traps the carbon or methane in subsurface sediments.
The risk the reservoirs pose depends on their location and depth. For example, rising ocean temperatures could in coming years melt a hydrate capping a lake of liquid CO2 in the Okinawa Trough west of Japan, according to Stott. But the absence of upwelling currents there means a mass release of carbon dioxide at a depth of 4,600 feet would likely acidify the surrounding waters but not enter the atmosphere for an extremely long time.
Stott notes that finding CO2 and methane reservoirs in the deep ocean is a “needle and haystack situation.”
But in a paper published in August, scientists from Japan and Indonesia revealed that they had detected five large and previously unknown CO2 or methane gas reservoirs under the seafloor in the Okinawa Trough by analyzing seismic pressure waves generated by an acoustical device. Since those waves travel more slowly through gas than solids under the seafloor, the researchers were able to locate the reservoirs. The data indicates that hydrates are trapping the gas.
“Our survey area is not broad, so there could be more reservoirs outside of our survey area,” Takeshi Tsuji, a professor of exploration geophysics at Kyushu University in Japan and a co-author of the paper, says in an email.
“Methane or CO2 in this environment is not stable, because of intensive hydrothermal activities in the axis of the Okinawa Trough. Therefore, the CO2 or methane could be leaked to seafloor (and atmosphere).”
A new study from Swansea University has given new insights into how the greenhouse gas methane is being produced in the surface waters of lakes, which should signal a rethink on the global methane cycle.
After carbon dioxide, methane is the second most important carbon-based greenhouse gas and its continuous increase in the atmosphere is a global climate threat.
Conventional research, including the assessments by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has suggested that methane is produced naturally in oxygen-depleted environments such as swamps and wetlands. However the result of this new study, which is published in Nature Communications has now challenged these previous assessments.
The research team from the University’s College of Science analysed Lake Stechlin in north-eastern Germany and found that a significant amount of methane was being produced there in the well-oxygenated surface layer.
It was also discovered that as the methane gas is produced at the surface in direct contact with air, the levels of emissions that travel directly into the atmosphere are also significant.
The researchers also predicted that emissions from these surface waters are likely to increase with the lake size, and could account for over half of surface methane emission for lakes larger than one square kilometer.
Professor Kam Tang, of Swansea University’s Department of Biosciences said: “Our research shows that well oxygenated lake waters are an important, but long overlooked, source of methane emissions to the atmosphere. These novel findings open new avenues for methane research and support a more accurate global assessment of this powerful greenhouse gas.”
Lead author of the study, Marco Günthel said: “Methane emission in lakes is based on a complex network of biochemical and physical processes, some of which are still poorly understood. I hope our study will stimulate more research on this topic as it is needed to fully understand the global methane cycle and to improve climate change predictions.”
Marco Günthel, Daphne Donis, Georgiy Kirillin, Danny Ionescu, Mina Bizic, Daniel F. McGinnis, Hans-Peter Grossart, Kam W. Tang. Contribution of oxic methane production to surface methane emission in lakes and its global importance. Nature Communications, 2019; 10 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-13320-0
Swansea University. “Lake methane emissions should prompt rethink on climate change: Global methane cycle should be reconsidered in light of new research.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 December 2019. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/12/191204124545.htm>
The livestock industry’s peak body, Beef and Lamb New Zealand, already uses a measure called “breeding value” to help breeders select rams with characteristics they want to bolster within their flocks. Within two years breeders will be able to select rams whose traits include lower methane emissions.
“Farmers are more interested than I anticipated,” said a stud breeder, Russell Proffit. His family has been producing rams for more than 40 years.
“I’ve undertaken the [methane] measurements because I believe an animal that is healthy and doing well should produce less methane and I wanted to test that.
“I don’t know if that’s the case yet, but either way breeding for less methane complements what we are working to achieve on our stud. That is, more robust rams that require [fewer] inputs and make less demand on the environment.”
Breeders who want to produce low-methane rams will need to measure a portion of their flock in an accumulation chamber, where their gas emissions are measured. Sheep spend 50 minutes in the chamber, and must be measured twice with an interval of more than 14 days.
The resulting data is used alongside other genetic information to calculate a “methane breeding value”.
Farmers who want to participate are expected to have access to breeding rams within two years, given the time it takes to breed the rams on a commercial scale.
The pastoral greenhouse gas research consortium, which is jointly funded by the agricultural sector and the government, said the concept was to take advantage of variations in levels of methane emissions and research that found the differences were passed on to the next generation.
“This is a global first for any species of livestock,” the consortium’s general manager, Mark Aspin, said.
“Launching the methane breeding value gives New Zealand’s sheep sector a practical tool to help lower our agricultural greenhouse gases. This is significant. Up until now, the only option available to farmers wanting to lower their greenhouse gas emissions has been to constantly improve their overall farming efficiency.
“This takes us a step further – towards actually lowering sheep methane emissions, in keeping with the sector’s commitment to work towards reducing its greenhouse emissions.”
Progress via breeding could be about 1% a year, but it would be cumulative and have no negative impact on farm productivity.
Aspin said amounts of feed were the biggest factor that contributed to methane emissions, and the consortium was working on three technologies that aimed to reduce amounts of methane generated by feed.
“So by breeding sheep that produce less methane per mouthful eaten – as other methane-reducing technologies come on stream – the influence of these sheep on the national flock’s methane production becomes compounding.”
Beef and Livestock New Zealand’s chief executive, Sam McIvor, said recent research of 1,000 farmers found that information about reducing greenhouse emissions was among farmers’ top five priorities.
The codes, most of them passed since June, are meant to keep builders from running natural gas lines to new homes and apartments, with an eye toward creating fewer legacy gas hookups as the nation shifts to carbon-neutral energy sources.
For proponents, it’s a change that must be made to fight climate change. For natural gas companies, it’s a threat to their existence. And for some cooks who love to prepare food with flame, it’s an unthinkable loss.
“There’s no pathway to stabilizing the climate without phasing gas out of our homes and buildings. This is a must-do for the climate and a livable planet,” said Rachel Golden of the Sierra Club’s building electrification campaign.
These new building codes come as local governments work to speed the transition from natural gas and other fossil fuels and toward the use of electricity from renewables, said Robert Jackson, a professor of energy and the environment at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.
“Every house, every high-rise that’s built with gas, may be in place for decades. We’re establishing infrastructure that may be in place for 50 years,” he said.
These “reach” or “stretch” building codes, as they are known, have so far all been passed in California. The first was in Berkeley in July, then more in Northern California and recently Santa Monica in Southern California. Other cities in Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington state are contemplating them, according to the Sierra Club.
Some of the cities ban natural gas hookups to new construction. Others offer builders incentives if they go all-electric, much the same as they might get to take up more space on a lot if a house is extra energy-efficient. In April, Sunnyvale, a town in Silicon Valley, changed its building code to offer a density bonus to all-electric developments.
No more gas stoves?
The building codes apply only to new construction beginning in 2020, so they aren’t an issue for anyone in an already-built home.
Probably the biggest stumbling block for most pondering an all-electric home is the prospect of not having a gas stove.
“It’s the only thing that people ever ask about,” said Bruce Nilles, who directs the building electrification program of the Rocky Mountain Institute, a Colorado-based think tank that focuses on energy and resource efficiency.
Roughly 35% of U.S. households have a gas stove, while 55%have electric, according to a 2017 kitchen audit by the NPD Group, a global information company based in Port Washington, New York.
For at least a quarter of Americans, it doesn’t matter either way. They already live in houses that are all-electric, and their numbers are rising, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That’s especially true in the Southeast, where close to 45% of homes are all-electric.
For the rest of the nation, natural gas is used to heat buildings and water, dry clothes and cook food, according to the EIA. That represents 17% of national natural gas usage.
But the number of natural gas customers is also rising. The American Gas Association, which represents more than 200 local energy companies, says an average of one new customer is added every minute.
“That’s exactly the wrong direction,” Nilles said.
States weigh climate change solutions
The nudge toward all-electric buildings is the type of shift Americans will begin to experience more and more in coming years. Last year, California’s governor signed an executive order directing state agencies to work toward making the entire state economy carbon-neutral by 2045.
California is not alone. New York, Hawaii, Colorado and Maine have economywide carbon-neutrality goals, and several more are debating them. More than 140 U.S. cities have committed to transitioning to carbon-neutral energy.
The natural gas industry rejects the notion that it should not be part of the nation’s energy future.
“The idea that denying access to natural gas in new homes is necessary to meet emissions reduction goals is false. In fact, denying access to natural gas could make meeting emissions goals harder and more expensive,” said American Gas Association President and CEO Karen Harbert.
The association calls the new zoning codes for new construction burdensome to consumers and to the economy. They also say it’s more expensive to run an all-electric home. A study by AGA released last year suggested that all-electric homes would pay $750 to $910 a year more for energy-related costs, as well as amortized appliance and upgrade costs.
But critics question AGA’s conclusions.
Amanda Myers, a policy analyst at Energy Innovation, a research nonprofit group focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, said AGA presumed high electricity rates because of unrealistically large increases in expected electricity use and made unusual assumptions for how any anticipated electric load growth might be met.
An analysis last year by the Rocky Mountain Institute found that in locations as diverse as Chicago, Houston and Providence, Rhode Island, all-electric new homes over a 15-year time frame could save residents as much as $260 a year compared with new homes with air conditioners powered by electricity and natural gas.
You’ll pry my cold, dead hands off my gas range
The selling point for getting away from natural gas may come from a type of electric range that, according to chefs, is just as good if not better than gas. As fundamentally attached as people might be to cooking with fire, induction stoves are making headway.
Long popular in Europe and increasingly trendy in the United States, induction cooktops are different from the kind of traditional electric range where coils become red-hot. Induction ranges use electromagnetic energy to directly heat pots and pans.
They are fast, energy-efficient and safe because there’s no open flame, and they are cool to the touch unless you’re a piece of metal.
As Reviewed.com puts it, they’re “gentle enough to melt butter and chocolate, but powerful enough to bring 48 ounces of water to a boil in under three minutes.”
The downsides are that induction cooktops are more expensive than traditional electric stoves, generally a third to half more. They also work only with pans with steel or iron bottoms.
Professional chefs say modern induction ranges are comparable to gas. The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, America’s preeminent cooking school, trains its chefs on both induction and gas stoves because they will encounter both types and must know how to use them.
“Some of the finest restaurants in Europe are often out in mountainous areas or places where there isn’t gas. They cook on induction and that works just fine,” said Mark Erickson, a certified master chef at the institute.
Regular electric stoves aren’t a deal-breaker either, said Erickson, who lives in a townhouse with one and cooks on it every night.
“If I were given the chance and if it were a choice of gas or electric, I would choose gas because it’s what I’m used to,” he said. “But in all honesty, it’s not the end of the world.”
Livestock contributes to climate change through the emission of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane, which are potent greenhouse gases (GHGs). They are the largest source of methane emissions, a gas that has 34 times higher global warming potential than carbon dioxide as stated by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. Growing demand for animal-based protein by increasing the human population is likely to further intensify GHG emissions from livestock, which can put more pressure on the global climate.
The recent climate summit in New York and the global momentum for reducing GHG emissions to curb climate change by governments and communities worldwide are pointing towards comprehensive climate action. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests reducing emissions from agriculture and land-use change by changing diets and another report advocates for reducing reliance on fossil fuels. While there is a convincing case for reducing emissions by changing diets and by limiting supply-side fossil fuels, the livestock industry can play a major role in reducing global emissions. The role of livestock in addressing climate change so far has been overlooked.
GHG accounting guidelines of the IPCC and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization include enteric fermentation and manure management to capture emissions from the livestock sector. However, these guidelines do not include emissions associated with the entire value chain of livestock such as those associated with animal feed production, emissions from soils, land degradation, transport of feed, livestock, and its products, processing, packaging and distribution, consumption, and waste generated at each stage as pointed by Dr Harpinder Sandhu and his colleagues in their new study published in The Anthropocene Review.
Another study led by the United Nations Environment—the Economics of Ecosystem and Biodiversity for Agriculture and Food (TEEBAgriFood) advocated holistic analysis of value chains to capture all significant impacts of food systems to make appropriate policy responses. While TEEBAgriFood suggested full-scale evaluation of food systems, IPCC and other global assessments continue to produce their reports based on partial assessments. Although the outcomes are not in favor of the livestock industry, there is an urgency for various UN bodies to be consistent in their approach. According to one study, by Jeff Anhang, an environmental specialist at the World Bank Group, emissions from livestock are about 51 percent of the total global GHG emissions if the whole lifecycle is included and not 14.5 percent as estimated by the FAO. It is a matter of grave concern for the planet and people if there is an error in our calculations. A global consensus on livestock-related emissions is the need of the hour to correct GHG accounting and its implications for climate change policy. What if we have been underestimating total GHG emissions from the livestock sector? Therefore, there is a need to address discrepancies related to livestock-related GHG emissions. Correct estimation of all GHG emissions can help to know the full extent of impacts of the livestock industry on global climate change. So far none of the livestock environmental assessment models are being able to capture all emissions through the entire value chain. To comprehensively capture emissions from the livestock sector, a full-scale evaluation using the TEEBAgriFood framework may lead to better outcomes for the livestock industry and the planet. In addition to limiting fossil fuels, managing livestock provides much better option to reduce total global GHG emissions. Global community will be able to manage what it can measure accurately by fixing the livestock emissions metrics.
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Dutch specialty chemicals company DSM is expecting strong demand for its feed additive which limits the amount of methane burped into the air by cows, its contribution to the global fight against climate change.
Methane has a much larger effect on global warming than carbon dioxide (CO2) and reducing methane emissions could buy time to confront the much bigger challenge of cutting the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere.
“We see a lot of demand already, from food producers and farmers”, DSM’s Clean Cow program director Mark van Nieuwland told Reuters in an interview, even though the launch of the additive, Bovaer, is still more than a year away.
“Large (food) companies have clear climate targets, and they need farms to change to meet those. Also consumers are increasing pressure on farmers and many farmers themselves want to limit emissions.”
Swiss KitKat and Nescafe maker Nestle this month said it wanted to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, while French dairy maker Danone has said it wants to halve its CO2 emissions by 2030.
Cows constantly burp up the powerful greenhouse gas methane but DSM says including Bovaer in a cow’s diet could cut these emissions by at least 30%.
“Giving this to only three cows will have the same effect as taking one car off the road”, Van Nieuwland said.
DSM expects to launch Bovaer in Europe either late next year or in early 2021. It is currently waiting for authorization from the European Union to label it as an environmentally beneficial product.
The company estimates that Bovaer has a potential global market value of 1 to 2 billion euros and aims to expand into other markets soon after the European launch.
DSM has made a profitable switch from bulk chemicals to sustainable food ingredients and materials, growing sales of animal feed products to around 30% of its 9 billion euros ($9.8 billion) in total sales last year.
“We have to deal with methane in the next 5 to 10 years if we want to limit the rise in temperatures to 1.5 degrees”, Van Nieuwland said.
Bovaer cuts methane emissions when mixed into a cow’s feed by inhibiting an enzyme in the digestion process which normally causes the release of the gas.
After ten years of research the Dutch company says it has dozens of global peer reviewed studies backing its claims and showing no effect on the health of cows or the milk they deliver.
DSM on Monday said it had teamed up with Dutch scientists and animal feed producers to measure the effects of Bovaer in different dosages and different diets.
The trial will run from November until February 2020, and the results are expected to be applicable throughout Europe, DSM said.
“This can have a real impact and we want to make it as big as possible”, Van Nieuwland said. “The faster we move, the better.”
Jonathan Safran Foer: why we must cut out meat and dairy before… https://www.theguardian.com/books/20 19/sep/28/meat-of-the-mat. c#ftian Jonathan Safran Fo€r: why we must cut out meat and dairy before dinner to save theplanet Animal products create more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector, but we don’t want to confront this inconvenient truth: our eating habits are a problem
Jonathan Safran Foer
Sat 28 Sep 2019 03.00 EDT
Our planet is facing a crisis. But even when we know that a war for our survival is raging, we don’t feel that it is our war. Although many of climate change’s accompanying calamities – extreme weather events, floods and wildflres, displacement and resource scarcity chief among them – are vivid,
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personal and suggestive of a worsening situation, they don’t feel that way in aggregate. The distance between awareness and feeling can make it very difficult for even thoughtful and politically engaged people – people who want to act – to act.
So-called climate change deniers reject the conclusion that97% of climate scientists have reached: the planet is warming because of human activities. But what about those of us who say we accept the reality of human-caused climate change? We may not think the scientists are lying, but are we able truly to believe what they tell us? Such a belief would surely awaken us to the urgent ethical imperative attached to it, shake our collective conscience and render us willing to make small sacrifices in the present to avoid cataclysmic ones in the future.
In zot8, despite knowing more than we have ever known about human-caused climate change, humans produced more greenhouse gases than we’ve ever produced, at a rate three times that of population growth. There are tidy explanations – the growing use of coal in China and India, a sttong global economy, unusually severe seasons that required spikes in energy for heating and cooling. But the truth is as crude as it is obvious: we don’t care. So now what?
Of course there are some moments when the planetary crisis is acutely felt. Watching Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth was an intellectual and emotional revelation for me. When the screen went dark after the final image, our situation seemed perfectly clear, as did my responsibility to participate in the struggle. And when that film’s credits rolled, at the moment of greatest enthusiasm to do whatever was asked to work against the imminent apocalypse that Gore had just delineated for us, suggested actions appeared on the screen. ‘Are you ready to change the way you live? The climate crisis can be solved. Here’s how to start.”
Among the suggestions were: tell your parents not to ruin the world that you will live in; if you are a parent, join with your children to save the world they will live in; switch to renewable sources of energy; plant trees, iots of trees; raise fuel economy standards; require lower emissions from automobiles.
A[ Gore in An inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. Photograph: Participant Media/Paramount Pictures
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There is a glaring absence in Gore’s list, and its invisibility recurs in 2017’s An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, with one minuscule exception. It is impossible to explain this omission as accidental without also accusing Gore of a kind of radical ignorance. In terms of the scale of the error, it would be equivalent to a doctor prescribing physical exercise to a patient recovering from a heart attack without also telling him he needs to quit smoking, reduce his stress and stop eating burgers and fries twice a day.
So why would Gore deliberately choose to leave this particular issue out? Almost certainly for fear that it would be distractingly controversial and dampen the enthusiasm he had just worked so hard to ignite. It has also been largely absent from the websites of leading environmental advocacy organisations – although this now seems to be changing. It is unmentioned in the celebrated book Dire Predictions, written by the climate scientists Michael E Mann and Lee R Kump. After forecasting existential climate disasters, the authors recommend that we substitute clotheslines for electric dryers and commute by bicycle. Among their suggestions, there is no reference to the everyday process that is, according to the research director of Project Drawdown – a collection of nearly zoo environmental scientists and thought leaders dedicated to identifying solutions to address climate change – “the most important contribution every individual can make to reversing global warming”.
What I am thinking of is the fact that we cannot save the planet unless we significantly reduce our consumption of animal products. This is not my opinion, or anyone’s opinion. It is the inconvenient science. Animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector (all planes, cars and trains), and is the primary source of methane and nitrous oxide emissions (which are 86 and 3ro times more powerful than CO2, respectively). Our meat habit is the leading cause of deforestation, which releases carbon when trees are burned (forests contain more carbon than do all exploitable fossil-fuel reserves), and also diminishes the planet’s ability to absorb carbon. According to a recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, even if we were to do everything else that is necessary to save the planet, it will be impossible to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Accord if we do not dramatically reduce our consumption of animal products.
Why is this subject avoided? Conversations about meat, dairy and eggs make people defensive. They make people annoyed. It’s far easier to vilify the fossil fuel industry and its lobbyists – which are without a doubt deserving of our vilification – than to examine our own eating habits. No one who isn’t a vegan is eager to go there, and the eagerness of vegans can be a further turnoff. But we have no hope of tackling climate change if we can’t speak honestly about what is causing it, as well as our potential to change in response.
It is hard to talk about our need to eat fewer animal products both because the topic is so fraught and because of the sacrifice involved. Most people like the taste of meat, dairy and eggs. Most people have eaten animal products at almost every meal since
they were children, and it’s hard to change lifelong habits, even when they aren’t freighted with pleasure and identity. Those are meaningful challenges, not only worth acknowledging but necessary to acknowledge. Changing the way we eat is simple compared with converting the world’s power grid, or overcoming the influence of powerful lobbyists to pass carbon-tax legislation, or ratifying a significant international treaty on greenhouse gas emissions – but it isn’t simple.
I certainly haven’t found it to be effortless. In my early 3os, I spent three years researching factory farming and wrote a book-length rejection of it called Eating Animals.I then spent nearly two years giving hundreds of readings, Iectures and interviews on the subject, making the case that factory-farmed meat should not be eaten. So it would be far easier for me not to mention that in difficult periods over the past couple of years – while going through some painful personal experiences, while travelling the country to promote a novel when I was least suited for self-promotion – I ate meat a number of times. Usually burgers. Often at airports. Which is to say, meat from precisely the kinds of farms I argued most strongly against. And my reason for doing so makes my hypocrisy even more pathetic: they brought me comfort. I can imagine this confession eliciting some ironic comments and eye-rolling, and some grddy accusations of fraudulence. I wrote at length, and passionately, about how factory farming tortures animals and destroys the environment. How could I argue for radical change, how could I raise my children as vegetarians, while eating meat for comfort?
I wish I had found comfort elsewhere but I am who I am. Even as my commitment to vegetarianism, driven by the issue of animal welfare, has been deepened by a full awareness of meat’s environmental toll, rarely a day has passed when I haven’t craved it. At times I’ve wondered if my strengthening intellectual rejection of it has fuelled a strengthening desire to consume it.
Confronting my hypocrisy has reminded me how difficult it is to even try to live my values. Knowing that it will be tough helps make the efforts possible. Efforts, not effort. I cannot imagine a future in which I decide to become a meat-eater again, but I cannot imagine a future in which I don’t want to eat meat. Eating consciously will be one of the
‘Rarely a day has passed when I haven’t craved meat’ Jonathan Safran Foer. Photograph: Christopher Lane
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struggles that span and define my life.
We do not simply feed our bellies, and we do not simply modify our appetites in response to principles. We eat to satisfy primitive cravings, to forge and express ourselves, to realise community. We eat with our mouths and stomachs, but also with our minds and hearts. All my different identities – father, son, American, New Yorker, progressive, Jew, writer, environmentalist, traveller, hedonist – are present when I eat, and so is my history. When I first chose to become vegetarian, as a nine-year-old, my motivation was simple: do not hurt animals. Over the years, my motivations changed because the available information changed, but more importantly, because my life changed. As I imagine is the case for most people, ageing has proliferated my identities Time softens ethical binaries and fosters a greater appreciation of what might be called the messiness of life.
There is a place at which one’s personal business and the business of being one of seven billion earthlings intersect. And for perhaps the first moment in history, the expression “one’s time” makes little sense. Climate change is not a jigsaw puzzle on the coffee table, which can be returned to when the schedule allows and the feeling inspires. It is a house on fire. The longer we fail to take care of it, the harder it becomes to take care of, and because of positive feedback loops – white ice melting to dark water that absorbs more heat; thawing permafrost releasing huge amounts of methane – we will very soon reach a tipping point of “runaway climate change”, when we will be unable to save ourselves, no matter how much effort we make.
We do not have the luxury of living in our time. We cannot go about our lives as if they were only ours. In a way that was not true for our ancestors, the lives we live will create a future that cannot be undone. The word “crisis” derives from the Greek krusls, meaning “decision”.
Future generations will almost certainly look back and wonder why on earth – why on Earth – did we choose our suicide? Perhaps we could plead that the decision wasn’t ours to make: as much as we cared, there was nothing we could do. We didn’t know enough at the time. Being mere individuals, we didn’t have the means to enact consequential change. We didn’t run the oil companies. We weren’t making government policy. The ability to save ourselves, and save them, was not in our hands. But that would be a lie.
Our attention has been fixed on fossil fuels, which has given us an incomplete picture of the planetary crisis and led us to feel that we are hurling rocks at a Goliath far out of reach. Even if they are not persuasive enough on their own to change our behaviour, facts can change our minds, and that’s where we need to begin. We know we have to do something, but “we have to do something” is usually an expression of incapacitation, or at least uncertainty. Without identifying the thing that we have to do, we cannot decide to do it.
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Forest fires in A[tamira, Para state, Brazil[ … ‘Our meat habit is the leading cause of deforestation, which releases carbon when trees are burned’ Photograph: JoSo Laet/AFP/Getty images
Climate change is a crisis that will always be simultaneously addressed together and faced alone. The four highest impact things an individual can do to tackle the planetary crisis are: have fewer children; live car-free; avoid air travel; and eat a plant-based diet. Most people are not in the process of deciding whether to have a baby. Few drivers can simply decide to stop using their cars. A sizable portion of air travel is unavoidable. But everyone will eat a meal relatively soon and can immediately participate in the reversal of climate change. Furthermore, of those four high-impact actions, only plant-based eating immediately addresses methane and nitrous oxide, the most urgently important greenhouse gases.
Some argue that plant-based eating is elitist. They are either misinformed, or knowingly taking the favorite emergency exit of privileged, performatively thoughtful people who don’t want to change what they eat. It is true that a healthy traditional diet is more expensive than an unhealthy one – about $SSo (f44o) more expensive over the course of a year. And everyone should, as a right, have access to affordable healthy food. But a healthy vegetarian diet is, on average, about $ZSo (f6oo) Iess expensive per year than a healthy meat-based diet. In other words, it is about $2oo (f16o) cheaper per year to eat a healthy vegetarian diet than an unhealthy traditional diet. Not to mention the money saved by preventing diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and cancer – all associated with the consumption of animal products. Nine per cent of Americans making less than $3o,ooo per year identify as vegetarian, whereas only 4% of those making more than $75,ooo are. People of colour are disproportionately vegetarian. It is not elitist to suggest that a cheaper, healthier, more environmentally sustainable diet is better. But what does strike me as elitist? When someone uses the existence of people without access to healthy food as an excuse not to change, rather than as a motivation to help those people.
Different studies suggest different dietary changes in response to climate change, but the ballpark is pretty clear. The most comprehensive assessment of the livestock industry’s environmental impact was published in Nature in October 2018. After analysing food-production systems from every country around the world, the authors
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concluded that while undernourished people living in poverty across the globe could actually eat a little more meat and dairy, the average world citizen needs to shift to a plant-based diet in order to prevent catastrophic, irreversible environmental damage. The average US and UK citizen must consume 90% less beef and 6o% less dairy.
No animal products for breakfast or lunch would come close to-achieving that. It might not amount to precisely the reductions that are asked for, but
OVER THE NORWEGIAN SEA, Norway(Reuters) – Banking hard over the whitecaps off the west coast of Norway, the jetliner flying Dominika Pasternak and her fellow scientists descends so sharply that it seems for a moment as if the crew is about to ditch them all in the drink.
But the pilot, an unflappable veteran of Britain’s Royal Air Force, conveys a done-this-a-thousand-times confidence as the aircraft levels off at a nerve-shredding 50 feet above the Norwegian Sea.
“Three, two, one,” he advises over the intercom. “Now!”
And so begins the work of this giant airborne laboratory – a four-engine, 112-seat passenger plane stripped out and refitted with sensors that suck in air samples for analysis in real time.
Although they squint through the cabin windows as the plane makes its pass, Pasternak, 23, and her colleagues are chasing a quarry they will never actually see: methane, an invisible gas that poses a growing risk to the Earth’s climate.
When the United Nations hosts a summit in New York on Monday to try to shore up the 2015 Paris Agreement to curb global warming, calls to cut emissions will focus on a more familiar greenhouse gas – the carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels.
But methane, another carbon-based compound, is emerging as a wild card in the climate-change equation. If CO2 has a warming effect akin to wrapping the planet in a sheet, the less-understood methane is more like a wool blanket.
Emitted from sources such as thawing permafrost, tropical wetlands, livestock, landfills and the spidery exoskeleton of oil and gas infrastructure girdling the planet, methane has been responsible for about a quarter of manmade global warming thus far, some models calculate.
For more than a decade, scientists have been documenting a mysterious rise in levels of methane in the atmosphere. And it’s getting worse: Earlier this year, data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed that the rate of the increase surged by 50% in the 2013-2018 period compared with the preceding five years.
But the very urgency of the methane threat is also, paradoxically, what gives some scientists hope. Because methane is acting like a foot on the accelerator for climate change, then rapidly reducing the amount leaking from oil and gas facilities could, at least in theory, ease the pressure on the environment. That could buy time to confront the much bigger challenge of cutting emissions of CO2.
In the United States, environmental groups have sought to bring methane emissions down by pushing the growing fracking industry to take more stringent measures against leaks of the gas. But last month, the Trump administration proposed rolling back Obama-era regulations to curb methane emissions, saying the move would save companies money and remove red tape.
As the clock ticks, a network of researchers the world over is racing to find out why global methane levels are increasing so fast – and what can be done to stem the flow.
Here in the Arctic Circle, which is warming three times faster than the global average, Reuters accompanied three women in their 20s as they hunted for clues. Working separately but with the same goal, these researchers have staked their claim on a place where some of the most dramatic climate changes are starkly visible, and the biggest dangers may await.
In their painstaking, sometimes solitary work, the young scientists wrestle with the intellectual challenges posed by the methane riddle. But for all three women, their work in the Arctic connects them to something deeper than science: a return to childhood joys of the natural world, and a powerful sense of purpose.
Pasternak, wearing a white T-shirt bearing the words “Climate: The Fight of Our Lives” and a stylized image of the Earth engulfed in flames, is clear-eyed about the stakes.
“I think it’s terrifying how much we are changing our planet, and how little is really done to counteract it,” she says. “We are guessing, but the more measurements we actually have, the better we can understand what’s going on.”
THE HUNT BEGINS
As the jet races over the waves, Pasternak’s gaze flickers between the cabin window and her laptop, which displays a rolling graph of data recorded by the plane’s instruments.
The clipped voice of the pilot, laconic as ever, crackles over her headset, “I can see rigs on the left.”
Pasternak, a Polish PhD student in atmospheric chemistry at Britain’s University of York, focuses on the target: a cluster of oil rigs rising from the sea like fortresses, their squat legs supporting imposing superstructures of derricks, helipads and cranes.
Operated by the Natural Environment Research Council, a British government science funding agency, the flight is one of a series of sorties that Pasternak and colleagues from several universities conducted in late July and early August from Kiruna, an iron mining town in the Lapland region of northern Sweden.
The plane moves in a deliberate path, passing back and forth at different altitudes to build up a profile of the atmosphere downwind of the rigs below. Securely strapped in against the G-force at low altitudes, Pasternak and the other researchers confer over headsets and monitor the readings scrolling across their screens for any sign of a spike in methane levels. Their concentration is palpable, chatter kept to a minimum in the rigours of low-level flight.
But after hours of methodically surveying the rigs, there is no sign of the kind of methane cloud they detected billowing from another platform the day before.
Frustratingly for Pasternak, the aircraft also narrowly missed a giant supertanker, its bright red hull bulging with domes used to store liquefied natural gas.
“They unfortunately got out of our range now, which is a shame,” says Pasternak, who had hoped to take a methane reading near the vessel. “They are hard to catch because they are very specialized ships.”
For Pasternak, the flight is more than a research trip: It’s the realization of a childhood dream. Growing up on a hillside outside the city of Krakow, she would awake to see a layer of pollution settled over the city like a shroud, then brave the smog to go to school in the valley below. Escaping to the pristine Bieszczady Mountains for horse-riding summer camps or to the old-growth Białowieża Forest, Pasternak promised herself she would find a way to protect the environment by pursuing a career in science.
FILE PHOTO: Methane bubbles are seen in an area of marshland at a research post at Stordalen Mire near Abisko, Sweden, August 1, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
As the plane makes its way back to its temporary base in a hangar in Kiruna, she is sober about the uncertainties.
“Not many people paid attention to methane until quite recently,” she says. “We don’t know enough about it to be able to tell how dangerous it is, but we suspect it’s very dangerous.”
Although the Italian inventor Alessandro Volta is better known for designing an electric battery, he is also credited as the first scientist to identify methane, or CH4. Collecting gas seeping from the marshes on Lake Maggiore in 1776, he later showed the gas could be ignited with a spark.
More recently, scientists have quantified methane’s potency as a greenhouse gas. Although it is much less prevalent in the atmosphere than CO2, the scientists found, it can generate more than 80 times more warming – molecule for molecule – than CO2 in the 20 years it takes to dissipate.
Today, there is broad agreement on the trend showing a surge in methane levels, but there is far less consensus on why it’s happening. Although oil and gas facilities are the leading industrial source of methane, scientists believe that growing amounts of the gas seeping from tropical wetlands in Africa and South America could be the biggest single driver of the current methane surge.
As the burning of fossil fuels pushes global temperatures higher, methane-spewing microbes in fast-warming soils near the equator are going into overdrive, causing the wetlands to emit more of the gas. These emissions in turn feed more warming, in a vicious circle. Climate scientists call such loops “positive feedbacks” – although their effects are anything but.
In the long term, the Arctic could be just as dangerous. As the permafrost thaws, dormant microbes find themselves immersed in the perfect warm, wet conditions to begin producing methane in climate-altering quantities, just like their tropical cousins.
“The methane is then going to mix around the world multiple times,” says Ruth Varner, director of the Earth Systems Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, who runs a long-term methane study. “What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.”
A LONELY VIGIL
In winter darkness, meters of snow cover Stordalen Mire, a spongy patch of Swedish peatland about an hour’s drive from Kiruna Airport. The ice on a nearby lake is so thick you can confidently scoot across it on a snowmobile.
But in summer, the snowpack recedes to slithers on distant peaks, wispy heads of cottongrass peek through the soil, and the sun rarely sets. On such a day, Kathryn Bennett, 22, can be found pulling the oars of a rowboat.
On the shore, bogs lie in wait for anyone who strays too casually from a precarious series of walkways made from planks.
“I have fallen in clear to the waist,” says Bennett, a postgraduate student in earth sciences from Medway, Massachusetts, and a member of the methane research program at the University of New Hampshire. Although she laughs, her expression suggests the dunking was amusing only in retrospect.
If Pasternak is serving in the air wing of the methane army, then Bennett is one of the grunts – picking her way across the bogland day after day and kneeling at the water’s muddy edge, where tiny bubbles of methane burp periodically from a surface with a texture like used coffee grounds. Syringe in hand, she extracts samples of gas accumulating in floating, foam-reinforced funnels, which she will later test to determine how much methane they contain.
A few locals pass by in the distance picking cloudberries, and a dragonfly zips in jagged loops over the brackish water. Bennett keeps half an eye out for antlers, having been startled and delighted to see a couple of moose cooling off in the marsh two days before.
“It’s so wild out here, you never know what you’re going to run into,” says Bennett, who traces her love for the outdoors to a childhood growing up camping and catching frogs.
Even to a first-time visitor, something about the landscape at Stordalen doesn’t look right. The walkways have subsided in places as the ground has given way, meaning Bennett’s footfalls sometimes splash in the stagnant water – which she says has crept a little higher than during her fieldwork the previous summer.
The slumping is a sign that the underlying layer of permafrost that once kept the ground rock solid has started to thaw. On drier patches of ground, long, narrow cracks have appeared. In the marshland, new ponds have formed.
Researchers in other parts of the Arctic are witnessing similar changes. A team from the University of Alaska Fairbanks reported earlier this year how amazed they had been to find millennia-old permafrost in Canada thawing 70 years earlier than models had predicted, leaving depressions resembling those at Stordalen.
“If this continues to happen, we can’t turn it off,” Bennett says, her concern suddenly audible in her voice as she pauses by one of the bogs. “You can’t just flip a switch and switch to an electric car or solar panels. You can’t just stop the permafrost from thawing, because it’s already begun, which we see very clearly in places like this.
“Then it becomes: ‘Well, what can we do?’ As scientists, what we can do is just try and understand this system and make better predictions about how it’s going to change in the future.”
Although she draws some comfort from the contribution she’s making to understanding methane’s role in climate change, she’s also keenly aware that even by flying to Sweden from the United States, she’s adding to the emissions that cause it.
“Seeing really dramatic changes like this makes me think a lot harder about the individual choices that I make and think about how can we get other people to care,” she says, nearing the end of a nine-week stint in Lapland. “It hurts me to think that I fly all the way over here to study this, but then it’s so important to tell people this story, to understand, and tell people about what’s happening here.”
A CLIMATE “LEVER”
Climate scientists say the world must rapidly wean itself off its dependence on fossil fuels to stand a chance of averting the worst effects of rising temperatures. In the United States, oil companies argue that they can support a wider transition to renewable energy by providing natural gas from the fracking industry as a “bridging” fuel. Gas has already displaced much of the country’s coal-fired power generation, which produced more CO2.
But studies suggest that about 2-3% of natural gas escapes as methane during production, storage and transport – exerting significant short-term warming.
Alex Turner studies methane as a postdoctoral fellow in atmospheric chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley. Because methane is such a fast-acting, relatively short-lived warming agent, cutting leaks of the gas would have a quick impact on the climate system, Turner argues. That might help prevent runaway climate change from kicking in before the world has managed to control CO2 emissions – by far the biggest driver of long-term global warming.
Slideshow (24 Images)
“Of the greenhouse gases, methane is a really big lever on near-term climate change,” Turner says. “Large fractions of emissions tend to come from a small number of sources, and if you can find those sources that emit a lot of methane, you might be able to make a huge dent in the total emissions.”
In 2012, a network of governments, scientific institutes, businesses and civil society groups founded the Climate & Clean Air Coalition to curb emissions of powerful, short-lived pollutants such as methane. Since then, the U.N.-backed network has funded research around the world, including Pasternak’s flight this summer.
Some big oil companies say they’re taking the problem seriously. Under pressure from activists and investors to show it is doing more to tackle emissions, British oil major BP Plc just announced plans to use cameras, drones and robots to try to detect and prevent methane leaks at facilities around the world, for example.
“We are wanting to do continuous measurements and monitoring in all our future big projects,” says Gordon Birrell, a chief operating officer at BP.
But some smaller drilling companies say they lack the resources that the majors can bring to bear on the methane problem.
“There are certainly countries and firms that are very resistant, but the issue has started to gain real momentum, almost from a standing start just a few years ago,” says David McCabe, a senior scientist at the Clean Air Task Force, a U.S. advocacy group. “It’s a case of trying to speed that up.”
FIGHT FOR SURVIVAL
Clad in a khaki shirt and shorts like an old-school explorer, Nina Lindstrom Friggens sets off through the dwarf willow shrubs clinging to a lakeside near the northern Swedish village of Abisko. Her mission: to understand how the hidden lives of trees will influence the future of the climate.
Kneeling at the base of a mountain birch, a stunted tree adapted to survive the Arctic’s incessant cold and wind, she flicks open a saw-toothed pocketknife and begins to dig.
Delicately, she lifts a lattice of roots between forefinger and thumb and uses the knife tip to point out minute white sheaths that have formed over the finest filaments: fungi that live symbiotically with trees under the soil.
The 26-year-old Danish-British ecologist has always been fascinated by Arctic landscapes, in part thanks to her childhood love of Philip Pullman novels set in frozen Norse fantasy worlds. Unlike Pasternak and Bennett, who are methane hunters to the core, Lindstrom Friggens works on a broader carbon canvas, working to piece together the interplay between soil, ice and vegetation that will determine how quickly greenhouse gases seep from these northern lands.
The fungi she studies form a biological version of the internet – what scientists have nicknamed a “wood-wide-web” – that allows trees to swap chemical signals and nutrients. As the Arctic has warmed, it has also increasingly turned from white to green, as saplings gain a foothold in the depressions left as the permafrost thaws.
That’s good news in terms of methane, because tree-covered land is likely to emit less of the gas, says Lindstrom Friggens, a PhD student in plant-soil ecology at Scotland’s University of Stirling. But there’s a big catch: The expanding root networks help to rapidly decompose ancient subsoil stores of carbon into vast quantities of CO2, setting new feedback loops in train.
How quickly thawing permafrost could push the Arctic’s production of methane into overdrive is still a subject of speculation. But the impact of warming on the region was made vividly clear earlier this month, when scientists jolted Swedes by announcing that the south peak of Kebnekaise, the large mountain not far from where Lindstrom Friggens was conducting her research, had been dethroned as the country’s highest peak.
The glacier on the summit, which generations of Swedish schoolchildren have considered a permanent, majestic fixture of Scandinavia’s natural heritage, melted so much that it is now lower than the mountain’s ice-free northern peak.
Reflecting on the prospect of far greater climate impacts, Lindstrom Friggens finds solace in nature’s ability to endure.
“I quite like that it’s bleak and it’s rough; there’s a beauty in that somewhere – that struggle to survive in an environment which is throwing everything at you all the time,” she says.
A seagull glides low over the lake, and the immense landscape of water, sky and rock feels almost unfathomably old. A raw life force seems to hum inaudibly in the Arctic silence as Lindstrom Friggens reaches a path leading back to the research station that is her temporary home, where she will watch the endless summer days start to shorten.
“There’s so much life, yet it’s so harsh to survive here,” she says. “But it perseveres.”