June 26, 2013

White House misinformation and inaction regarding greenhouse gases

Thanking Obama for his "climate action", as Paul Burns of VPIRG has asked me to do, would be like thanking him for universal health care — not only are Obama's "actions" utterly phony, they are a meaningless sideshow to distract attention of the willfully gullible from the creation of such a paranoid militarized corporatist murderous state that Obama makes Dick Cheney look like Elmer Fudd and Dick Nixon like one of the Three Stooges.

On the White House web site, the President's climate action plan includes this graphic, with the EPA cited as reference:

What's glaringly missing is any indication that the non-CO₂ greenhouse gases (GHGs) have a much greater warming effect per unit of mass emitted. For example, the EPA, despite ignoring it on one page in the same way as the White House, notes on another page the different "global warming potential" (GWP) values of a few GHGs relative to CO₂. They note that over 100 years, methane (CH₄) has a GWP of 20 and nitrous oxide (N₂O) a GWP of 300. That would appear to mean that the 9% of GHG emissions represented by methane actually has more than twice (9 × 20), and the 5% represented by nitrous oxide more than 17 times, the effect of the 84% represented by CO₂.

Moreover, the EPA notes that CO₂ persists for thousands of years in the atmosphere, whereas CH₄ persists only about 10 years and N₂O over 100 years. [Update:  “Continued global warming after CO₂ emissions stoppage”, Thomas Lukas Frölicher, Michael Winton & Jorge Louis Sarmiento, Nature Climate Change, published online 24 November 2013, doi:10.1038/nclimate2060.]

In other words, even if we were successful in drastically reducing CO₂ emissions, there would be no effect for thousands of years. If we want to more quickly reduce the effects of GHG emissions, the obvious primary target is CH₄, with at least 20 times the warming effect of CO₂ and one that lasts only 10-12 years. According to other sources, CH₄ has a 100-year GWP of 25 and a 20-year GWP of 72.

The White House graphic describes methane as coming from the production and transport of coal, natural gas, and oil, as well as from landfills. It neglects to mention that the hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") process of releasing natural gas, which Obama strongly supports, releases a particularly large amount of methane into the air. [Update: "Study: Methane Leakage From Gas Fields Guts Climate Benefit".] And it completely ignores the methane emissions from animal agriculture, which the United Nations has calculated contributes more to global warming than all transportation. [Update:  “Anthropogenic emissions of methane in the United States” [are probably at least twice as high as previously assumed], Scot M. Miller, Steven C. Wofsy, Anna M. Michalak, et al., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Published online November 25, 2013, doi:10.1073/pnas.1314392110.]

Simply changing our diet away from meat and dairy would have much more effect on climate change than all of Obama's "actions".

And there are many other benefits in reducing animal agriculture:
When emissions from land use and land use change are included, the livestock sector accounts for 9% of CO₂ deriving from human-related activities, but produces a much larger share of even more harmful greenhouse gases. It generates 65% of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the GWP of CO₂. Most of this comes from manure.

And it accounts for 37% of all human-induced methane (23 times as warming as CO₂), which is largely produced by the digestive system of ruminants, and 64% of ammonia, which contributes significantly to acid rain.

Livestock now use 30% of the earth's entire land surface, mostly permanent pasture but also including 33% of the global arable land used to produce feed for livestock, the report notes. As forests are cleared to create new pastures, it is a major driver of deforestation, especially in Latin America where, for example, some 70% of former forests in the Amazon have been turned over to grazing. [Between 25% and 30% of the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere each year -- 1.6 billion tonnes -- is caused by deforestation.]

At the same time, herds cause wide-scale land degradation, with about 20% of pastures considered to be degraded through overgrazing, compaction and erosion. This figure is even higher in the drylands where inappropriate policies and inadequate livestock management contribute to advancing desertification.

The livestock business is among the most damaging sectors to the earth's increasingly scarce water resources, contributing among other things to water pollution, eutrophication, and the degeneration of coral reefs. The major polluting agents are animal wastes, antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers, and the pesticides used to spray feed crops. Widespread overgrazing disturbs water cycles, reducing replenishment of above- and below-ground water resources. Significant amounts of water are withdrawn for the production of feed.

Livestock are estimated to be the main inland source of phosphorous and nitrogen contamination of the South China Sea, contributing to biodiversity loss in marine ecosystems.

Meat and dairy animals now account for about 20% of all terrestrial animal biomass. Livestock's presence in vast tracts of land and its demand for feed crops also contribute to biodiversity loss; 15 out of 24 important ecosystem services are assessed to be in decline with livestock identified as a culprit.
Another obvious target is to reduce hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which have come into use as refrigerants and propellants to replace chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs, such as freon). CFCs were phased out because of their destruction of the protective ozone layer in the atmosphere. They are also potent GHGs, as are HFCs. For example, HFC-134a (CF₃CFH₂) has a 100-year GWP of 1,430 and 20-year GWP of 3,830 and persists in the atmosphere only 14 years, making it, with methane, another obvious candidate for meaningful action. In fact, in 2011 the E.U. banned HFC-134a in new cars in favor of HFC-1234yf (100-year GWP of 4), with a total ban on all uses being phased in through 2017. Meanwhile the U.S. has only talked and delayed about doing the same.

Update (note):  Like his continuing delay (renewed in this latest "action") to finally approve the Keystone XL pipeline to appease Bill McKibben and his 350.org "activists", while it continues to be built nonetheless, Obama's "climate action" seems to be little more than another cynical bone thrown to them, who are just as phony, just as adept at misinformation and inaction, because 350.org also ignores all but CO₂ in the atmosphere, ensuring no reversal of anthropogenic warming – let alone environmental depredation – at all.

environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, vegetarianism, veganism