Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Who Is Most Guilty?

There has been a lot of Sturm und Drang about Climate Change (previously called "Global Warming" until a US Senator threw a snowball in session to make fun of the term). There has also been a lot of blame laid: (1) for why Climate Change happening (and it really is), and (2) who is still a <stuck-in-the-myth-supporting-Mesozoic> Climate Change Denier? 

Q:To what extent is the Western World having an effect on climate change compared to the rest of the world through their Green House Gas emissions?
God Bless.
- Patric P

A: By what you call the "Western World" - I will assume you mean Europe, North America, and Australia.

Greenhouse gas emissions USED to be disproportionately large from these Developed Countries. Now there are vastly increased - and growing - emissions from the so-called "BRIC" countries (Brazil, India, China).  Coal burning in East Asia and South Asia are causing massive air-quality crises in Beijing and New Delhi as I write this. 

The short answer: we are all guilty of wanting to live a middle-class lifestyle. However, the Guilt Coefficient is shifting even as this is being written.

There is another factor inadvertently adding to everyone's "lifestyle guilt," however.

To understand this, keep in mind that methane (CH4) is a far stronger greenhouse gas, perhaps up to 47 times more effective than CO2 in storing heat. As Developing Countries vie for more animal protein in their diets, the contribution of methane from pigs - and especially cattle - has dramatically increased, and China certainly leads in this growth. Basically, this is animal flatulence, and one cow can emit enough methane to fill three file cabinets in one day. Interestingly, this correlates rather closely with the increased mixing of flu viruses caused by many different animals (ducks, chickens, pigs, cattle) being kept in close proximity with humans. This is a double consequence of our common preferred lifestyle.

There is another factor, however, that may soon come to dominate all the others:

Methane clathrates (also called methane hydrates) dwarf known hydrocarbon reserves on land. These are truly vast quantities of methane frozen in ice in the sub-seafloor below about 300 meters water depth. Any future contribution from these methane clathrates to climate change is THE big unknown here. There is a strong likelihood that rising global temperatures will suddenly lead to a tipping point, and free this trapped form of carbon into the atmosphere. Likewise, a vast methane release could also come from a thawing permafrost in and near the Arctic Circle. The result of both is potentially an explosive increase in greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere. 
If you want to get ahead of the curve, do NOT buy beach-front property, and consider moving to the Canadian prairie provinces.