CO2 or Methane: Who do you Love?

by John Brian Shannon

Greenhouse gas is a catch-all term used to describe a class of gases — either naturally-occurring or man-made (anthropogenic) which have a detrimental effect on the Earth’s atmosphere. It is no longer in academic dispute that any upset to the natural atmospheric equilibrium can wreak havoc on the climate of the entire planet.

As more of these gases are added to the planet’s atmosphere they allow more of the Sun’s rays to penetrate into the air mass which surrounds our planet, instead of bouncing harmlessly back into space. Scientists refer to this process as ‘solar forcing’ whereby more heat is added to the Earth each year than can be removed by natural systems. When more heat is allowed in, more of the polar ice caps melt each summer. It’s a simple equation.

It is likely that later this century there will be no northern ice cap. The other ice cap covers the continent Antarctica which is nearly the size of the United States, and is permanently covered in ice. The ice cap in Antarctica is dissipating at an increasing rate and that is no longer in academic dispute either. Both effectively function as the air-conditioning system for planet Earth and trillions of dollars are at stake for the world farming community.

Heat and drought are the deadly enemies of food crops and both excessive heat and drought are on the increase as more solar forcing is added to Earth’s climate equation. Scientists say that in the best-case scenario — with modern technology and farming practices, that up to a 2 degree worldwide average temperature increase can be accommodated with the only disruptions being in the number of food-producer bankruptcies and higher food costs for consumers. According to scientists, it is beyond our present-day ability to compensate for any worldwide temperature increase of more than 2 degrees.

Here is a staggering number to keep in mind, it costs farmers, ag corporations, consumers and governments one-trillion-dollars per year, for each one degree of worldwide temperature increase – costs which are already starting to be passed on to consumers and taxpayers.

So, who do you love: CO2 or methane? There is no doubt all greenhouse gases contribute to global warming, but some are worse than others — which is why a significant and growing movement is afoot these days to enhance and enlarge the Montreal Protocol an international agreement which limits ozone-depleting gases — to include selected greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide.

Which makes some amount of sense, as methane causes 72 times more global warming per tonne than CO2. Nitrous oxide causes 289 times more global warming per tonne than CO2. Others are exponentially worse, such as sulfur hexafluoride which contributes 16,300 times it’s weight to our atmospheric problems. Get used to hearing the term CO2-equivalent we will be hearing a lot about that in the coming months.

The worldwide tonnage of these pollutants are much lower than the billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere each year, but at those ratios even a few million tons can do a lot of lasting damage. Also, some of these emissions can stay in the atmosphere for up to 50,000 years eating ozone the entire time.

Atmospheric lifetime and GWP relative to CO2 at different time horizon for various greenhouse gases.

Gas name

Chemical
formula

  Lifetime
(years)

Global warming potential (GWP) for given time horizon

20-yr

100-yr

500-yr

Carbon dioxide

CO2

See above

1

1

1

Methane

CH4

12

72

25

7.6

Nitrous oxide

N2O

114

289

298

153

CFC-12

CCl2F2

100

11,000

10,900

5,200

HCFC-22

CHClF2

12

5,160

1,810

549

Tetrafluoromethane

CF4

50,000

5,210

7,390

11,200

Hexafluoroethane

C2F6

10,000

8,630

12,200

18,200

Sulfur hexafluoride

SF6

3,200

16,300

22,800

32,600

Nitrogen trifluoride

NF3

740

12,300

17,200

20,700

This chart is courtesy of Wikipedia, to view it full size, click here.

More CO2 is produced by our civilization than any other gas and it is prudent to limit CO2 emissions wherever possible — and to use carbon capture and storage to mitigate anthropogenic CO2 production. But it is beginning to look like all of the other greenhouse gases are the real story — and the ones most easily reduced.

At one-trillion-dollars per one-degree-of-global-warming, it is already costing consumers and taxpayers a huge amount of money. If our civilization spent just ten percent of that mitigating all of the other greenhouse gases besides CO2, we might be starting to show our planet and each other some respect.

And then, we would then know the answer to the question; Who do you Love?

JOHN BRIAN SHANNON

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“More Agreement than Not” — Canada’s Premiers in 2012

by John Brian Shannon

It was heartening to see Canada‘s Premiers working together today on the challenges facing Canada, it’s provinces and citizens. A provincially-led era of common-sense has appeared across the political spectrum in this country. How reassuringly Canadian.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall felt comfortable enough to make the statement that between the provinces, there is “more agreement, than not.” New Brunswick Premier Robert Ghiz standing beside him indicated his full agreement.

Why can’t politics always be like this?

And I was pleased to see a high level of cooperation between the provinces on the topic of health-care. The Premiers want to lower costs for patients, enhance health-care  and harmonize their somewhat disparate systems. As I said, heartening.

Downplaying Northern Gateway pipeline tensions

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark quite rightly states that BC will be taking all of the risk where the Northern Gateway pipeline is concerned, while so-far receiving little benefit under the present proposal.

In fact, the number of Canadians who will actually benefit from this pipeline over its proposed 30-year lifetime are surprisingly few.

It must be said that during the one-year pipeline construction period, a few thousand temporary jobs would be created. But no more than a handful of oil executives will benefit, but benefit they will — handsomely. And it’s not rocket science to do the math on oil and pipeline company stock market shares, as American citizens own far more of these stocks than any other national group. Less than 15% of the total stock in this market segment are owned by Canadians.

From the British Columbia standpoint, does it really matter to BC citizens if some Ontario or Texas oil executive can afford to buy yet another Bentley at Christmas?

Especially when the risk of damage to wildlife, citizens and to the economics of the region could be catastrophic. Tourism, fishing, forestry, farming and real estate values can dramatically change for the worse in the case of only one major spill. Taken together, these sectors represent billions of dollars per year for the people of BC.

It might interest you to know that under the Canadian Constitution, resources are owned by individual provinces on behalf of the citizens of those provinces. As the owners of these resources, citizens nowadays have precious little say in how they are accessed, developed or sold — and to which entity they are sold. Let alone have any say on the per-tonne selling price of those resources for decades of time.

Premier Christy Clark of British Columbia, acting with parallel support from the leader of BC’s official opposition party, the Honourable Adrian Dix, has questioned the present situation and both politicians have called for an examination of risk/net benefit for British Columbia’s citizens in this matter.

The next logical step is to hire the most reputable, global, petroleum-wise accounting firms available, to have them determine the cost to repair damage to the environment and to cover employment and profit losses resulting from the worst-case oil spill at sea — or wherever the pipeline route crosses the interior of this scenic province.

Whatever the full cost happens to be for a full clean-up and remediation along with the full compensation costs for affected individuals and businesses, that should be the minimum price of admission in order to receive the necessary permissions and permits to build and operate an oil pipeline route  through BC — or through any province for that matter.

A worst-case scenario security-deposit is what all British Columbian‘s should require of companies wishing to cross BC territory with oil pipelines or oil shipping terminals located in the province.

If the appropriate deposit is paid in full and in advance, at that point, even I will put up with an oil pipeline and trans-shipment terminal in BC. Especially if the highest standards and practices are put into place to ensure lower risk for British Columbia.

When a pipeline gets taken out of service (and removed) after years of successful operation (without a single spill) the security deposit — principal only — should be returned to the company.

You’d think that insurance companies would be all over this.

If these proposals were passed into law, it might encourage oil execs to direct their teams to build world-class pipelines which never leak and require the use of double-hulled supertankers as part of their corporate policy. Double-hulled tankers are the law in the EU (since 1996) and the U.S.A. (since 1990) and both have in place, severe penalties for non-compliance. In the GCC nations and Japan it is long-standing convention (but not law) that double-hulled tankers are required anywhere close to the coastline.

Canada, with the most scenic coastline on the planet located here in the province of British Columbia, has no such law nor convention. Pathetic.

IF the price formula outlined above seems too high for pipeline or shipping companies, that’s too bad. We don’t need it. We’re not getting anything from it except risking the wealth and beauty of our province, so take it somewhere else. No really, please. Take it somewhere else.

We can’t jeopardize British Columbia’s pristine coastline, wilderness, rivers, creeks, lakes, farmland and ranchlands. Nor can we risk BC’s entire multi-billion dollar tourism, fishery and forestry industries and the hundreds of thousands of jobs they provide, because comparatively small numbers of people in Alberta, Ontario and the U.S. want a shiny new car next year.

John Brian Shannon writes about green energy, sustainable development and economics from British Columbia, Canada. His articles appear in the Arabian Gazette, EcoPoint Asia, EnergyBoom, the Huffington Post, the United Nations Development Programme – and other quality publications.

John believes it is important to assist all levels of government and the business community to find sustainable ways forward for industry and consumers.


Check out his personal blog at: http://johnbrianshannon.com
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