CO2’s nasty little brother

Based on study after study about the increasingly disastrous effect of CO2 on climate, I have long been concerned about the imminence of disastrous consequences from the unrelenting and dangerous heating of our earth’s atmosphere. Sea-level rise, ocean de-oxygenation and other signs of global warming have accelerated faster than prior scientific projections. Scientists are now saying: “Global warming is not a future threat. It is a present reality. The mercury does not lie.”

Despite this worrisome research, I have been talking myself reluctantly into believing that gas from fracking could serve as a temporary, acceptable, transitional source of energy until we somehow magically reverse course away from coal and oil in record time and sprint toward a world able to run on renewable energy.

Now we may well be facing a game-changer. It’s something that environmental populist, Bill McKibben calls “CO2’s nasty little brother, otherwise known as CH4, methane.” Methane is a greenhouse gas like carbon dioxide, and when burned, is somewhat cleaner than coal or oil. However, “pound for pound, unburned methane can be 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. And methane is the main constituent in natural gas.”

A recent study published in Geophysical Research Letters has concluded that “our new natural gas infrastructure has been bleeding unburned methane into the atmosphere in record quantities. These leaks are big enough to wipe out a large share of the gains from the Obama administration’s work on climate change-all those closed coal mines and fuel-efficient cars. It appears that, while we have closed coal plants, we are now spewing tons and tons of raw methane into the atmosphere through both purposeful venting and accidental leaks, and the result is that things have gotten worse.”

My favorite prayer has always been the popular “Prayer of Serenity: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Up until recently, against my better judgment, I had listed global warming among the things that we could, indeed, change. However, only ambitious and immediate action can avert the most severe impacts of climate change, and most scientists now think that the pace of remedial action is not coming anywhere close to matching the strong signals that our planet is dying.

So of late, I have moved global warming into the column of things beyond our willingness, if not our ability, to control. Daily now, in fear we will continue to reject the steps necessary to avoid a calamity, when I say the Prayer of Serenity, I conclude with these words: “And Lord, if we drop the ball, please make the reassurances of the fossil fuel industry true and the apocalyptic warnings of the world’s scientists false.”

Tim Mannello


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