Gas utilities and industry trade groups are fighting across the country to prohibit municipalities from taking steps to cut greenhouse gas pollution from buildings, efforts those utilities and groups view as an existential threat, NPR and the Washington Post report.
The American Gas Association, which gets its funding from ratepayers via its member utilities, is actively involved in state-level efforts to prohibit localities from requiring new buildings to be fully electric, according to internal reports, emails and recordings of AGA executives reviewed by NPR.
Science shows extracting and burning gas is incompatible with cities' net-zero climate pollution goals because not only does gas emit carbon pollution when burned, its extraction and transportation is responsible for millions of tons of methane pollution — a heat-trapping gas far more potent than CO2.
Studies also show that gas stoves create unsafe levels of indoor pollution, the Post notes.
In addition to paying Instagram influencers, the gas industry mainly uses front groups like "The Empowerment Alliance" and "Partnership for Energy Progress" to push the state preemption laws, the same type of laws long used by the tobacco and plastic bag industries to fight local efforts they viewed as a threat.
Four states have already passed preemption legislation, and bills are under consideration in 12 more.
For a deeper dive:
- U.S. Oil and Gas Industry Is Drilling Us Towards Climate Disaster ... ›
- Interactive Map Shows Where Toxic Air Pollution From Oil and Gas ... ›
- 10 Most Toxic Ingredients Used In Coal, Oil and Gas Production ... ›
By Erin Brock Carlson and Martina Angela Caretta
More than 2 million miles of natural gas pipelines run throughout the United States. In Appalachia, they spread like spaghetti across the region.
Many of these lines were built in just the past five years to carry natural gas from the Marcellus Shale region of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, where hydraulic fracturing has boomed. West Virginia alone has seen a fourfold increase in natural gas production in the past decade.
Such fast growth has also brought hundreds of safety and environmental violations, particularly under the Trump administration's reduced oversight and streamlined approvals for pipeline projects. While energy companies promise economic benefits for depressed regions, pipeline projects are upending the lives of people in their paths.
As a technical and professional communication scholar focused on how rural communities deal with complex problems and a geography scholar specializing in human-environment interactions, we teamed up to study the effects of pipeline development in rural Appalachia. In 2020, we surveyed and talked with dozens of people living close to pipelines in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
What we found illuminates the stress and uncertainty that communities experience when natural gas pipelines change their landscape. Residents live with the fear of disasters, the noise of construction and the anxiety of having no control over their own land.
'None of This Is Fair'
Appalachians are no strangers to environmental risk. The region has a long and complicated history with extractive industries, including coal and hydraulic fracturing. However, it's rare to hear firsthand accounts of the long-term effects of industrial infrastructure development in rural communities, especially when it comes to pipelines, since they are the result of more recent energy-sector growth.
For all of the people we talked to, the process of pipeline development was drawn out and often confusing.
Some reported never hearing about a planned pipeline until a "land man" – a gas company representative – knocked on their door offering to buy a slice of their property; others said that they found out through newspaper articles or posts on social media. Every person we spoke with agreed that the burden ultimately fell on them to find out what was happening in their communities.
A map shows U.S. pipelines carrying natural gas and hazardous liquids in 2018. More construction has been underway since then. GAO and U.S. Department of Transportation
One woman in West Virginia said that after finding out about plans for a pipeline feeding a petrochemical complex several miles from her home, she started doing her own research. "I thought to myself, how did this happen? We didn't know anything about it," she said. "It's not fair. None of this is fair. … We are stuck with a polluting company."
'Lawyers Ate Us Up'
If residents do not want pipelines on their land, they can pursue legal action against the energy company rather than taking a settlement. However, this can result in the use of eminent domain.
Eminent domain is a right given by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to companies to access privately held property if the project is considered important for public need. Compensation is decided by the courts, based on assessed land value, not taking into consideration the intangibles tied to the loss of the land surrounding one's home, such as loss of future income.
Through this process, residents can be forced to accept a sum that doesn't take into consideration all effects of pipeline construction on their land, such as the damage heavy equipment will do to surrounding land and access roads.
One man we spoke with has lived on his family's land for decades. In 2018, a company representative approached him for permission to install a new pipeline parallel to one that had been in place since 1962, far away from his house. However, crews ran into problems with the steep terrain and wanted to install it much closer to his home. Unhappy with the new placement, and seeing erosion from pipeline construction on the ridge behind his house causing washouts, he hired a lawyer. After several months of back and forth with the company, he said, "They gave me a choice: Either sign the contract or do the eminent domain. And my lawyer advised me that I didn't want to do eminent domain."
Pipeline construction cuts through a farmer's field. Erin Brock Carlson, CC BY-SA
There was a unanimous sense among the 31 people we interviewed that companies have seemingly endless financial and legal resources, making court battles virtually unwinnable. Nondisclosure agreements can effectively silence landowners. Furthermore, lawyers licensed to work in West Virginia who aren't already working for gas companies can be difficult to find, and legal fees can become too much for residents to pay.
One woman, the primary caretaker of land her family has farmed for 80 years, found herself facing significant legal fees after a dispute with a gas company. "We were the first and last ones to fight them, and then people saw what was going to happen to them, and they just didn't have – it cost us money to get lawyers. Lawyers ate us up," she said.
The pipeline now runs through what were once hayfields. "We haven't had any income off that hay since they took it out in 2016," she said. "It's nothing but a weed patch."
'I Mean, Who Do You Call?'
Twenty-six of the 45 survey respondents reported that they felt that their property value had decreased as a result of pipeline construction, citing the risks of water contamination, explosion and unusable land.
Many of the 31 people we interviewed were worried about the same sort of long-term concerns, as well as gas leaks and air pollution. Hydraulic fracturing and other natural gas processes can affect drinking water resources, especially if there are spills or improper storage procedures. Additionally, methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and volatile organic compounds, which can pose health risks, are byproducts of the natural gas supply chain.
Oil spills are a major concern among land owners. Erin Brock Carlson, CC BY-SA
"Forty years removed from this, are they going to be able to keep track and keep up with infrastructure? I mean, I can smell gas as I sit here now," one man told us. His family had watched the natural gas industry move into their part of West Virginia in the mid-2010s. In addition to a 36-inch pipe on his property, there are several smaller wells and lines. "This year the company servicing the smaller lines has had nine leaks... that's what really concerns me," he said.
The top concern mentioned by survey respondents was explosions.
According to data from 2010 to 2018, a pipeline explosion occurred, on average, every 11 days in the U.S. While major pipeline explosions are relatively rare, when they do occur, they can be devastating. In 2012, a 20-inch transmission line exploded in Sissonville, West Virginia, damaging five homes and leaving four lanes of Interstate 77 looking "like a tar pit."
Amplifying these fears is the lack of consistent communication from corporations to residents living along pipelines. Approximately half the people we interviewed reported that they did not have a company contact to call directly in case of a pipeline emergency, such as a spill, leak or explosion. "I mean, who do you call?" one woman asked.
'We Just Keep Doing the Same Thing'
Several people interviewed described a fatalistic attitude toward energy development in their communities.
Energy analysts expect gas production to increase this year after a slowdown in 2020. Pipeline companies expect to keep building. And while the Biden administration is likely to restore some regulations, the president has said he would not ban fracking.
"It's just kind of sad because they think, once again, this will be West Virginia's salvation," one landowner said. "Harvesting the timber was, then digging the coal was our salvation. … And then here's the third one. We just keep doing the same thing."
Erin Brock Carlson is an assistant professor of professional writing and editing at West Virginia University.
Martina Angela Caretta is a senior lecturer in human geography at Lund University.
Disclosure statements: Dr. Carlson has received funding this project from the West Virginia University Humanities Center.
Dr. Caretta has received funding for this project from the Heinz Foundation and the West Virginia University Humanities Center.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
Throughout Texas, there are a number of solar power companies that can install solar panels on your roof to take advantage of the abundant sunlight. But which solar power provider should you choose? In this article, we'll provide a list of the best solar companies in the Lone Star State.
Our Picks for the Best Texas Solar Companies
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Sunpro Solar
- Longhorn Solar, Inc.
- Solartime USA
- Kosmos Solar
- Sunshine Renewable Solutions
- Alba Energy
- Circle L Solar
- South Texas Solar Systems
- Good Faith Energy
How We Chose the Best Solar Energy Companies in Texas
There are a number of factors to keep in mind when comparing and contrasting different solar providers. These are some of the considerations we used to evaluate Texas solar energy companies.
Different solar companies may provide varying services. Always take the time to understand the full range of what's being offered in terms of solar panel consultation, design, installation, etc. Also consider add-ons, like EV charging stations, whenever applicable.
When meeting with a representative from one of Texas' solar power companies, we would always encourage you to ask what the installation process involves. What kind of customization can you expect? Will your solar provider use salaried installers, or outsourced contractors? These are all important questions to raise during the due diligence process.
Texas is a big place, and as you look for a good solar power provider, you want to ensure that their services are available where you live. If you live in Austin, it doesn't do you much good to have a solar company that's active only in Houston.
Pricing and Financing
Keep in mind that the initial cost of solar panel installation can be sizable. Some solar companies are certainly more affordable than others, and you can also ask about the flexible financing options that are available to you.
To guarantee that the renewable energy providers you select are reputable, and that they have both the integrity and the expertise needed, we would recommend assessing their status in the industry. The simplest way to do this is to check to see whether they are North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) certified or belong to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) or other industry groups.
Types of Panels
As you research different companies, it certainly doesn't hurt to get to know the specific products they offer. Inquire about their tech portfolio, and see if they are certified to install leading brands like Tesla or Panasonic.
Rebates and Tax Credits
There are a lot of opportunities to claim clean energy rebates or federal tax credits which can help with your initial solar purchase. Ask your solar provider for guidance navigating these different savings opportunities.
Going solar is a big investment, but a warranty can help you trust that your system will work for decades. A lot of solar providers provide warranties on their technology and workmanship for 25 years or more, but you'll definitely want to ask about this on the front end.
The 10 Best Solar Energy Companies in Texas
With these criteria in mind, consider our picks for the 10 best solar energy companies in TX.
SunPower is a solar energy company that makes it easy to make an informed and totally customized decision about your solar power setup. SunPower has an online design studio where you can learn more about the different options available for your home, and even a form where you can get a free online estimate. Set up a virtual consultation to speak directly with a qualified solar installer from the comfort of your own home. It's no wonder SunPower is a top solar installation company in Texas. They make the entire process easy and expedient.
Sunpro Solar is another solar power company with a solid reputation across the country. Their services are widely available to Texas homeowners, and they make the switch to solar effortless. We recommend them for their outstanding customer service, for the ease of their consultation and design process, and for their assistance to homeowners looking to claim tax credits and other incentives.
Looking for a solar contractor with true Texas roots? Longhorn Solar is an award-winning company that's frequently touted as one of the best solar providers in the state. Their services are available in Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio, and since 2009 they have helped more than 2,000 Texans make the switch to energy efficiency with solar. We recommend them for their technical expertise, proven track record, and solar product selection.
Solartime USA is another company based in Texas. In fact, this family-owned business is located in Richardson, which is just outside of Dallas. They have ample expertise with customized solar energy solutions in residential settings, and their portfolio of online reviews attests to their first-rate customer service. We love this company for the simplicity of their process, and for all the guidance they offer customers seeking to go solar.
Next on our list is Kosmos Solar, another Texas-based solar company. They're based in the northern part of the state, and highly recommended for homeowners in the area. They supply free estimates, high-quality products, custom solar designs, and award-winning personal service. Plus, their website has a lot of great information that may help guide you while you determine whether going solar is right for you.
Sunshine Renewable Solutions is based out of Houston, and they've developed a sterling reputation for dependable service and high-quality products. They have a lot of helpful financing options, and can show you how you can make the switch to solar in a really cost-effective way. We also like that they give free estimates, so there's certainly no harm in learning more about this great local company.
"Powered by the Texas sun." That's the official tagline of Alba Energy, a solar energy provider that's based out of Katy, TX. They have lots of great information about solar panel systems and solar solutions, including solar calculators to help you tabulate your potential energy savings. Additionally, we recommend Alba Energy because all of their work is done by a trusted, in-house team of solar professionals. They maintain an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, and they have rave reviews from satisfied customers.
Circle L Solar has a praiseworthy mission of helping homeowners slash their energy costs while participating in the green energy revolution. This is another company that provides a lot of great information, including energy savings calculators. Also note that, in addition to solar panels, Circle L Solar also showcases a number of other assets that can help you make your home more energy efficient, including windows, weatherization services, LED lighting, and more.
You can tell by the name that South Texas Solar Systems focuses its service area on the southernmost part of the Lone Star State. Their products include a wide range of commercial and residential solar panels, as well as "off the grid" panels for homeowners who want to detach from public utilities altogether. Since 2007, this company has been a trusted solar energy provider in San Antonio and beyond.
Good Faith Energy is a certified installer of Tesla solar technology for homeowners throughout Texas. This company is really committed to ecological stewardship, and they have amassed a lot of goodwill thanks to their friendly customer service and the depth of their solar expertise. In addition to Tesla solar panels, they can also install EV charging stations and storage batteries.
What are Your Solar Financing Options in Texas?
We've mentioned already that going solar requires a significant investment on the front-end. It's worth emphasizing that some of the best solar companies provide a range of financing options, allowing you to choose whether you buy your system outright, lease it, or pay for it in monthly installments.
Also keep in mind that there are a lot of rebates and state and federal tax credits available to help offset starting costs. Find a Texas solar provider who can walk you through some of the different options.
How Much Does a Solar Energy System Cost in Texas?
How much is it going to cost you to make that initial investment into solar power? It varies by customer and by home, but the median cost of solar paneling may be somewhere in the ballpark of $13,000. Note that, when you take into account federal tax incentives, this number can fall by several thousand dollars.
And of course, once you go solar, your monthly utility bills are going to shrink dramatically… so while solar systems won't pay for themselves in the first month or even the first year, they will ultimately prove more than cost-effective.
Finding the Right Solar Energy Companies in TX
Texas is a great place to pursue solar energy companies, thanks to all the natural sunlight, and there are plenty of companies out there to help you make the transition. Do your homework, compare a few options, and seek the solar provider that's right for you. We hope this guide is a helpful jumping-off point as you try to get as much information as possible about the best solar companies in Texas.
Josh Hurst is a journalist, critic, and essayist. He lives in Knoxville, TN, with his wife and three sons. He covers natural health, nutrition, supplements, and clean energy. His writing has appeared in Health, Shape, and Remedy Review.
Алексей Филатов / Getty Images
By Zebedee Nicholls and Tim Baxter
Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.
If you have a question you'd like an expert to answer, please send it to [email protected]
Methane is a shorter-lived greenhouse gas - why do we average it out over 100 years? By doing so, do we risk emitting so much in the upcoming decades that we reach climate tipping points?
The climate conversation is often dominated by talk of carbon dioxide, and rightly so. Carbon dioxide is the climate warming agent with the biggest overall impact on the heating of the planet.
But it is not the only greenhouse gas driving climate change.
Comparing Apples and Oranges
For the benefit of policy makers, the climate science community set up several ways to compare gases to aid with implementing, monitoring and verifying emissions reduction policies.
In almost all cases, these rely on a calculated common currency - a carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO₂-e). The most common way to determine this is by assessing the global warming potential (GWP) of the gas over time.
The simple intent of GWP calculations is to compare the climate heating effect of each greenhouse gas to that created by an equivalent amount (by mass) of carbon dioxide.
In this way, emissions of one gas - like methane - can be compared with emissions of any other - like carbon dioxide, nitrous dioxide or any of the myriad other greenhouse gases.
These comparisons are imperfect but the point of GWP is to provide a defensible way to compare apples and oranges.
Limits of Metrics
Unlike carbon dioxide, which is relatively stable and by definition has a GWP value of one, methane is a live-fast, die-young greenhouse gas.
Methane traps very large quantities of heat in the first decade after it is released in to the atmosphere, but quickly breaks down.
After a decade, most emitted methane has reacted with ozone to form carbon dioxide and water. This carbon dioxide continues to heat the climate for hundreds or even thousands of years.
Emitting methane will always be worse than emitting the same quantity of carbon dioxide, no matter the time scale.
How much worse depends on the time period used to average out its effects. The most commonly used averaging period is 100 years, but this is not the only choice, and it is not wrong to choose another.
As a starting point, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report from 2013 says methane heats the climate by 28 times more than carbon dioxide when averaged over 100 years and 84 times more when averaged over 20 years.
Many Sources of Methane
On top of these base rates of warming, there are other important considerations.
Fully considered using the 100-year GWP and including natural feedbacks, the IPCC's report says fossil sources of methane - most of the gas burned for electricity or heat for industry and houses - can be up to 36 times worse than carbon dioxide. Methane from other sources - such as livestock and waste - can be up to 34 times worse.
While some uncertainty remains, a well-regarded recent assessment suggested an upwards revision of fossil and other methane sources, that would increase their GWP values to around 40 and 38 times worse than carbon dioxide respectively.
These works will be assessed in the IPCC's upcoming Sixth Assessment Report, with the physical science contribution due in 2021.
While we should prefer the most up to date science at any given time, the choice to consider - or not - the full impact of methane and the choice to consider its impact over 20, 100 or 500 years is ultimately political, not scientific.
Undervaluing or misrepresenting the impact of methane presents a clear risk for policy makers. It is vital they pay attention to the advice of scientists and bodies such as the IPCC.
Undervaluing methane's impact in this way is not a risk for climate modellers because they rely on more direct assessments of the impact of gases than GWP.
The idea of climate tipping points is that, at some point, we may change the climate so much that it crosses an irreversible threshold.
At such a tipping point, the world would continue to heat well beyond our capability to limit the harm.
There are many tipping points we should be aware of. But exactly where these are - and precisely what the implications of crossing one would be - is uncertain.
Unfortunately, the only way we can be sure of where these tipping points are is to cross them. The only thing we know for sure about them is that the impact on lives, livelihoods and the places we love would be beyond catastrophic if we did.
But we cannot ignore disturbing impacts of climate change that are already here.
The scientific understanding of climate change goes well beyond simple metrics like GWP. Shuffling between metrics - such as 20-year or 100-year GWP - cannot avoid the fact our very best chance of avoiding ever-worsening climate harm is to massively reduce our reliance on coal, oil and gas, along with reducing our emissions from all other sources of greenhouse gas.
If we do this, we offer ourselves the best chance of avoiding crossing thresholds we can never return from.
Zebedee Nicholls is a PhD Researcher at the Climate & Energy College, University of Melbourne.
Tim Baxter is a Fellow - Melbourne Law School; Senior Researcher - Climate Council; Associate - Australian-German Climate and Energy College, University of Melbourne.
Disclosure statement: Zebedee Nicholls is affiliated with The University of Melbourne's Climate & Energy College. He is funded by the Australian Government via the Australian Government Research Training Program (RTP). Tim Baxter is employed by the Climate Council, a non-profit organisation providing independent, authoritative information on climate change and its solutions to the Australian public and has previously been employed under various Australia Research Council grants.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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Arctic Ocean sediments are full of frozen gases known as hydrates, and scientists have long been concerned about what will happen when and if the climate crisis induces them to thaw. That is because one of them is methane, a greenhouse gas that has 80 times the warming impact of carbon dioxide over a 20 year period. In fact, the U.S. Geological Survey has listed Arctic hydrate destabilization as one of the four most serious triggers for even more rapid climate change.
Now, scientists onboard the Russian research ship R/V Akademik Keldysh have told The Guardian that there is evidence this destabilization has already begun off Siberia's eastern coast.
"The discovery of actively releasing shelf slope hydrates is very important and unknown until now," vessel chief scientist Igor Semiletov of the Russian Academy of Sciences told The Guardian. "This is a new page."
The international team of 60 researchers said Tuesday they were the first to observe methane release over a wide area of the continental slope off of Eastern Siberia. They observed bubbles being released from ocean sediment at six different observation points over a 150 kilometer (approximately 93 miles) by 10 kilometer (approximately 6 miles) stretch of the slope.
They also recorded methane concentrations of as much as 1,600 nanomoles per liter at a depth of around 300 meters (approximately 984 feet) on the slope of the Laptev Sea. That's 400 times higher a concentration than would be expected in normal circumstances.
While the methane bubbles are still being absorbed by the ocean, the researchers did measure methane concentrations near the surface that were four to eight times higher than normal, and said this methane would make it into the atmosphere.
"At this moment, there is unlikely to be any major impact on global warming, but the point is that this process has now been triggered. This East Siberian slope methane hydrate system has been perturbed and the process will be ongoing," Swedish scientist Örjan Gustafsso of Stockholm University told The Guardian.
This isn't the first alarming find that Semitelov's expedition has turned up. Last fall, they released images of a methane fountain bubbling up from the floor of the East Siberian Sea, The Moscow Times reported.
However, the researchers urged caution in responding to their findings. They stressed that they needed to be confirmed once the expedition is over and the data can be reviewed and written up in a peer reviewed journal.
"Potentially they can have serious climate consequences," Semitelov told The Guardian of his discoveries, "but we need more study before we can confirm that."
Scientists who were not involved with the study responded with skepticism to The Guardian story, The Week reported.
Climate scientist Zeke Hausfather pointed to a major study of global methane emissions that relied on both satellite data and on-site observations and found that there was no increase in Arctic Ocean methane emissions as of 2017.
Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist and director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, argued that there was no evidence that Arctic methane had had a significant climate impact in earlier eras when the region was even warmer than it is today.
"This story is ... unconvincing," he tweeted. "First off it's just two scientists (no publication), one of whom has made similar (unsupported) claims before & ignores the context that permafrost & methane have been degrading in this region since it was inundated in the early Holocene."
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By Ray Levy-Uyeda
A farmer for most of his life, Sam Stewart bought farmland in Montana about 35 years ago. Since then, he's planted and harvested his wheat and other crops around 16 open oil wells on this land, which he estimates were dug in the 1920s.
Maneuvering around the wells is not an arduous process, per se, but it requires seeding the same area twice, which is wasteful and can slow his process. The real nuisance is the invisible methane wafting into the air—a greenhouse gas with an impact 10 times that of carbon dioxide. "You don't want loose gas being just emitted," Stewart says.
Unplugged wells in Montana and across the country leak thousands of metric tons of greenhouse gases each year. They can also leach toxins into groundwater and surface water systems, contaminating aquifers. More often than not, these wells simply aren't being cleaned up. That's in part because a lack of funding and political will has stymied the state's cleanup efforts, and in part because there's uncertainty around ownership. "I didn't know they were actually abandoned," Stewart says of the multiple orphaned wells on his property. "I thought the oil company was responsible."
A foundation formed in 2019 could finally help clean up some of these abandoned oil wells, including those on Stewart's property. "The operator who is responsible is long gone," says Curtis Shuck, founder of the Well Done Foundation. "Our focus is doing the right thing, leaving it better than the way we found it."
The first oil wells in Montana were drilled at the turn of the century, and the industry experienced its first boom in the 1920s. Energy demands of World War II spurred a second boom; between 1942 and 1945, oil production in the Elk Basin region increased from 16,000 to 940,000 barrels annually. When those wells no longer produced oil, companies could just leave. The Oil and Gas Conservation Commission of Montana, tasked with identifying and plugging abandoned wells, wasn't created until 1954, and by that time an untold number of wells had already been drilled, produced, and abandoned.
As more companies moved into Montana, oil and gas production grew into an increasingly important part of local and state economies; by 2015, it made up 5.6% of the state's general fund. But the industry that once was a cornerstone of Montana's economy is now in a nosedive: a yearslong decline in global oil production and demand compounded by the pandemic-induced economic slowdown has produced some of the worst oil production conditions in recent years.
In 2016, the most recent year for which he was able to provide data, 4,713 oil and gas wells were in operation in the state and 204 had been abandoned, according to Allen Olson, executive director of the Montana Petroleum Association, a trade organization that works on behalf of the businesses. But that's a fraction of the tens of thousands that have been drilled in Montana in the past century.
Data on abandoned wells remain incomplete, which further complicates cleanup efforts. Plus, state legislatures have drastically different policies on how to address abandoned wells. One thing remains certain: The issue is enormous and far-reaching. A 2018 report from the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that the country has 3.2 million abandoned oil and gas wells.
Abandoned wells in Montana—left by companies that filed for bankruptcy, for example, default to the state. Theoretically, a state-run fund pays for well adoption and closure, but even under state control, the wells often lay unplugged, because plugging abandoned wells and restoring the surface land is expensive. Olson believes that the "state regulatory agency here is doing an excellent job staying on top" of plugging wells. But the state's plugging plan doesn't explicitly address the issue of abandoned oil wells, and also neglects to lay out a time-bound plan for plugging wells.
It's not just that states like Montana don't have a legislative apparatus to hold corporations accountable, says Mitch Jones, the climate and energy program director at Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit that pushes for corporate and government accountability. He says that the lack of governmental action is by design. When wells are abandoned, Jones says, "the costs of doing business are passed on to the public instead of being paid by the shareholders in the industry."
Nationwide, the federal government's own agency in charge of plugging abandoned wells, the Bureau of Land Management, has openly acknowledged that it doesn't have the financial resources to tackle the issue of plugging wells on federal land. There was no federal nationwide bond requirement to cover the cost of reclaiming wells until the 1950s, and the required value for bonds has not increased since then.
That's right: the amount required to cover the cost of cleanup has not been increased or adjusted for inflation for nearly 70 years, so the federal amount is woefully ineffective. Bond standards of a couple thousand dollars often don't address wells that cost tens of thousands to plug, another cause for wells to be abandoned.
Jones believes that extractive companies are harming the environment and then escaping culpability by declaring bankruptcy. "Not pointing fingers isn't really an option in order to win this fight against climate change," he says. Identifying the sources of harm holds polluting industries accountable for supporting solutions and provides a pathway for legislation that protects the planet, Jones says. The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, for example, just proposed a $2 billion remediation program for orphaned wells in June, though given the political climate, that legislation has a rocky future.
A Boost or a Burden?
Kirk Panasuk, a lifelong Montanan, farmer, and member of the Northern Plains Resource Council's Oil and Gas Task Force, remembers growing up with oil wells on his grandparents' farm. Panasuk says "once you've leased the land you've lost control." An oil company would lease the mineral rights—not the surface land but the profitable oil below. That lease might expire, the company would leave, and another company would come in to start the process again.
Agriculture is a difficult industry, and Panasuk says what seems like "free money" at the outset can lead to problems down the road. Water systems are connected, which means that an oil leak in Montana has the potential to leach chemicals into bodies of water such as the Yellowstone River that flows into other states through the Missouri River, a river crucial to municipal, industrial, and agricultural function.
Panasuk now volunteers with the NPRC to lobby state legislators on practices that would hold resource extraction companies accountable by mandating water testing and treatment. He admits that he's made money off of these companies by leasing mineral rights to oil producers who then sell the oil at market. Despite the environmental fallout, Panasuk believes that oil companies' leasing of land actually "saved a lot of small farms from failure [and] bankruptcy."
Olson of the Montana Petroleum Association says that in 2019, when oil was $60 per barrel, a company might produce 100 barrels per day and pay a royalty fee of 12.5%, which could garner a farmer $750 per day for leasing their land. Today, with prices and production down, the payoffs look different. In April, oil prices went into the negative, and in August, they're hovering around $30 per barrel.
While an oil lease might benefit a farmer initially, Jones says that oil companies are well-versed in this practice. "The oil and gas industry takes advantage of the inequities in our agriculture system to prey upon farmers and get them to sign leases for drilling on their land," Jones says, which can "undermine agricultural activity that's taking place."
In other farming communities around the country, where oil and gas companies produce natural gas through hydraulic fracturing, farmers and members of the local community often bear the brunt of water pollution. Not to mention that farming is dependent on a predictable and healthy climate, which is being threatened by resource extraction.
A Foundation Is Formed
In early 2019, Curtis Shuck was in the northern town of Shelby, about 15 miles south of the Canadian border, meeting with farmers about agricultural transportation. More than three decades in the oil and gas industry hadn't prepared him for what he saw—abandoned, methane-leaking, unplugged oil wells.
He walked the area with the farmers and learned how they worked around the wells, most of which had stopped producing oil decades earlier. What was left were remnant pipes strewn across the fields and a sulfuric stench like rotten eggs.
On his journey home to Bozeman, Shuck couldn't stop thinking about what he had seen, knowing that each open well was responsible for tons of emissions. On that drive, the idea for the Well Done Foundation was born.
Just over a year after that first trip north, the Well Done Foundation plugged its first three wells and expanded beyond the Montana pilot program into dozens of other states. Shuck says that he hopes the foundation can also gather the concrete data that the government lacks, such as the number of orphaned wells and their emissions, which makes it difficult to develop solutions.
Shuck says he can acknowledge the state's shortcomings in their cleanup efforts while building relationships with those who make regulatory decisions. The "state fund is grossly underfunded," Shuck says, but "why should the public bear the burden of this orphaned well issue?"
The Well Done team identifies abandoned oil wells around the state, and then posts a financial bond to the state's Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, a way for the state to track and partially fund the plugging. In doing so, the state is holding up its end of the bargain, but without this push from Well Done, it might take the state years to accomplish what the Foundation does in months.
The foundation researches individual well emissions for about nine months as well as studying the construction of a well, how deep it goes, and the materials that are required to plug it. Shuck says it's important that the foundation does its due diligence to identify wells that have collapsed in on themselves or have an obstruction that needs to be addressed before plugging.
Then the foundation works with county commissions, private entities, and those who own the surface land to develop and execute a "plugging plan," which so far has been funded by private or anonymous donors. The actual plugging of the well takes only a few days, and then the Foundation works to restore the surface land to its "pre-drilling condition," which allows a farmer to seed the land and grow crops.
Shuck is adamant that the foundation's work is not about fighting corporations, but about taking responsibility for one's community. The foundation has built partnerships with both conservation organizations and oil and gas companies. Shuck says that abandoned wells are a "bit of a black eye to the industry," so plugging the orphaned wells demonstrates their environmental responsibility and develops a partnership that may come in useful as the industry quickly changes.
"There are plenty of folks that want to blame Big Oil, little oil, or oil in general," he says. But the work, to him, is not about pointing fingers. Neither the left's demonization of fossil fuels nor the right's push for energy independence are relevant to the work, in Shuck's view.
In late April, the foundation successfully plugged its first well—a 96-year-old well called Big West Anderson #3 in Toole County that it had "adopted" by taking over legal responsibility from the state. The well, which hadn't produced oil since the 1980s, had been releasing 6,600 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. For comparison, one car on the road releases about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.
Just one day after the foundation plugged Big West Anderson #3, its greenhouse gas emissions were nonexistent.
Shuck says, "What's exciting about this is that we can make an impact one well at a time."
Reposted with permission from YES! Magazine.
Ray Levy-Uyeda is a Bay Area-based freelance writer who focuses on gender, politics, and activism.
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'Resounding' Win for Public Health and Climate as Judge Blocks Trump Attempt to Gut Methane Restrictions
Leonid Eremeychuk / iStock / Getty Images Plus
By Jake Johnson
Green groups celebrated a "resounding victory for taxpayers, public health, and the environment" late Wednesday after a federal judge blocked the Trump administration from rolling back an Obama-era rule designed to limit planet-warming methane emissions.
U.S. District Judge Yvonne Rogers of the Northern District of California said the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) 2018 rescission of the Waste Prevention Rule without "thoroughly and thoughtfully" considering potential environmental impacts was unlawful.
"Instead, in its zeal, BLM simply engineered a process to ensure a preordained conclusion," Rogers wrote in her 57-page decision. "Where a court has found such widespread violations, the court must fulfill its duties in striking the defectively promulgated rule."
Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center, applauded the "forceful repudiation" of BLM's rollback.
"The Trump administration has abused every opportunity — legal or otherwise — to maximize the oil and gas industry's profits at the expense of taxpayers, public health, and the climate," Schlenker-Goodrich said in a statement.
Rogers' decision means the rule requiring oil and gas companies to prevent wasteful venting and leaking of methane on public lands will go back into effect in 90 days. Given that methane can cause over 80 times more warming than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, environmentalists celebrated the ruling as a significant victory for the climate.
"The judge basically rejected every attempt by the Trump administration to gut these common-sense waste prevention measures on behalf of their oil and gas industry cronies," Earthjustice attorney Robin Cooley said in a statement. "Most importantly, the judge said the administration cannot ignore the impacts on health and well-being of the people who live near oil and gas facilities."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
In the coming days, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to use its power to roll back yet another Obama-era environmental protection meant to curb air pollution and slow the climate crisis.
This new rollback concerns methane, a potent greenhouse gas destructive to the earth's atmosphere. The EPA is expected to make the announcement on Friday that it is ending a stricture put in place by the previous administration that curbed the amount of methane that could be released in oil and gas exploration, as The Wall Street Journal reported.
Since the rule is not official yet, anonymous officials at the agency told The Wall Street Journal that the rollback will scrap the new rules that required oil and gas producers to have systems, checks and processes in place to identify and address methane leaks on their rigs.
The rollbacks do not end there. The Wall Street Journal also reported that the EPA will also end its oversight of ozone pollutants and emissions from pipelines and storage sites. Additionally, the agency will reduce its requirement for monitoring and reporting certain pollutants.
The EPA's decision to end its oversight and slacken regulation may result in an additional 5 million metric tons of methane pollution released into the atmosphere each year.
Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that can be 25 times more impactful than carbon dioxide in equal quantities, as The Hill reported. In 2018, it accounted for nearly 10 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity, mostly from the oil and gas industry, although commercial agriculture and the cattle industry are also large contributors to methane emissions.
As the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) noted, the action would also mean no future action could regulate methane production from oil and gas facilities built before 2015. Their analysis shows that 9.3 million people live within half a mile of one of the older wells that the administration is seeking to leave forever unregulated by the EPA.
"Our federal methane safeguards have been in place since 2016, protecting Americans from unhealthy and climate-damaging pollution. The Trump administration's decision to reverse course is deeply and fundamentally flawed," said EDF lead attorney Peter Zalzal, in a statement. "Eliminating these safeguards would ignore the overwhelming body of scientific evidence documenting the urgent need to reduce methane pollution. And it is also starkly at odds with the broad and diverse set of stakeholders — including some major oil and gas producing companies — that support retaining and strengthening methane safeguards."
The administration is using the decline in demand for oil and gas as a justification for easing the pollution rules. It argues that the rule is needed to free the oil and gas industry from what it calls crippling regulations during an economic slowdown due to the novel coronavirus. However, as The New York Times notes, the weakening of the rule has been in the works for more than a year.
As The New York Times noted, several of the world's major fossil fuel companies actually support the methane rules and do not want to see them relaxed. In a 2019 public comment on a draft of the rule, Joe Ellis, a vice president at BP, urged the EPA "to continue to regulate methane emissions from new sources and to adopt a rule for existing sources. EPA regulation of methane across the value chain is the right thing to do for the environment, will support consistent regulation across the U.S. and can be cost-effectively achieved with new technology."
Furthermore, Exxon urged the EPA in 2018 to maintain core elements of the Obama administration's policy. And Gretchen Watkins, the U.S. chairwoman for Shell, which has urged the Trump administration to regulate methane emissions, said, "The negative impacts of methane have been widely acknowledged for years, so it's frustrating and disappointing to see the administration go in a different direction," as The New York Times reported.
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By Brett Wilkins
Texas oil refineries released hundreds of thousands of pounds of pollutants including benzene, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, and sulfur dioxide into the air as they scrambled to shut down during last week's deadly winter storm, Reuters reported Sunday.
Winter storm Uri, which killed dozens of people and cut off power to over four million Texans at its peak, also disrupted supplies needed to keep the state's refineries and petrochemical plants operating. As they shut down, refineries flared — or burned off — gases in order to prevent damage to their processing units.
According to the Texas Commission on Environment Quality, the five largest refiners emitted nearly 337,000 pounds of pollutants in this manner.
ExxonMobil's Baytown Olefins plant in Baytown released 68,000 tons of carbon monoxide and nearly a ton of benzene in what it called a "safe utilization of the flare system."
Critics noted, however, that benzene is harmful to bone marrow, red blood cells, and the immune system.
"There is no safe amount of benzene for human exposure," Sharon Wilson, a researcher at the advocacy group Earthworks, told Reuters.
The five largest U.S. oil refiners emitted tons of pollutants into the skies over Texas this week, including benzen… https://t.co/yZtlbByZ6U— Reuters (@Reuters)1613915765.0
Motiva's Port Arthur refinery released 118,100 pounds of pollutants into the air between Feb. 15 and Feb. 18. This was triple the amount of excess emissions the plant reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the entire year of 2019.
Valero's refinery in Port Arthur flared 78,000 pounds of pollutants over 24 hours beginning Feb. 15, while Marathon Petroleum's Galveston Bay refinery released 14,255 pounds in less than five hours that same day.
Hilton Kelly, who lives in Port Arthur, told Reuters that there were "six or seven flares going at one time."
Wilson said that the flaring "could have been prevented" by winterizing the refineries.
"We need someone in the Texas legislature to file a bill requiring the oil and gas industry to thoroughly winterize all their equipment," Wilson told Earther. "The bill probably won't pass in Texas, but that will create some more scrutiny about it."
“If [the industry] had winterized their equipment, this wouldn’t be happening." ICYMI: oil & gas "pollution event"… https://t.co/5jHzhVhW2d— Earthworks (@Earthworks)1613925540.0
Earther reports that between Feb. 11 and Feb. 18, there were 174 so-called "emissions events" from fossil fuel facilities in Texas, compared to between 37 and 46 such events in weeks before the storm.
In addition to the previously mentioned pollutants, chemicals released from Texas facilities include over 6,500 pounds of the carcinogen isoprene from a Shell plant in Deer Park near Houston, as well as an indeterminate amount of methane, which is 84 times more harmful to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide over the short term.
Wilson told Earther that "in Texas we don't count methane" in pollution reports.
The release of large amounts of dangerous pollutants during Uri stands in stark contrast with claims by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott that alternative energy sources such as solar and wind are responsible for Uri's deadly power outages and that the Green New Deal would be a "deadly deal" for the United States.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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Last year, COVID-19 lockdowns forced many restaurants to close and events to be canceled at the last minute, so a lot of food that was already purchased stood to be wasted.
"There were a lot of businesses that were faced with that harsh reality that they just had so much food that could not be utilized," says Phil Acosta of Aloha Harvest, a Hawaiian food rescue organization.
The group quickly mobilized to collect that food and distribute it to people in need.
As the pandemic wore on, chefs whose restaurants were closed rushed to help meet the growing demand. Aloha Harvest partnered with an organization called Chef Hui.
"And we started to prepare foods and get that out to the community – so, ready-to-eat, ready-to-heat type of meals," Acosta says.
Rescuing food not only helps feed people. It can also reduce global warming pollution because less food needs to be grown, packaged, and shipped. And less waste ends up rotting in landfills and releasing methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
"We want to make sure that everything that's produced is consumed in some way and not wasted," Acosta says. "We need to do a much better job of utilizing our precious food resources."
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
By Emma Charlton
Gluts of food left to rot as a consequence of coronavirus aren't just wasteful – they're also likely to damage the environment.
Mountains of produce, including eggs, milk and onions, are going to waste as the COVID-19 pandemic shutters restaurants, restricts transport, limits what workers are able to do and disrupts supply chains. And as that food decays, it releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
Fresh milk and eggs have been dumped, and some ripe crops reploughed back into fields, according to reports in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. While consumer demand for some supermarket items has risen as a result of lockdowns, it's unlikely to offset steep declines elsewhere, such in restaurants and school and workplace canteens.
Methane on the Rise
Not only is this a tragic waste of food at a time when many are going hungry, it is also an environmental hazard and could contribute to global warming. Landfill gas – roughly half methane and half carbon dioxide (CO2) – is a natural byproduct of the decomposition of organic material.
Food decay leads to production of greenhouse gases, methane and carbon dioxide. EPA
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, 28 to 36 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere over a 100-year period, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
"Many export-oriented producers produce volumes far too large for output to be absorbed in local markets, and thus organic waste levels have mounted substantially," says Robert Hamwey, Economic Affairs Officer at UN agency UNCTAD. "Because this waste is left to decay, levels of methane emissions, a greenhouse gas, from decaying produce are expected to rise sharply in the crisis and immediate post-crisis months."
Food supply chains are easily disrupted. UN FAO
Dumping food was already a problem before the crisis. In America alone, $218 billion is spent growing, processing, transporting and disposing of food that is never eaten, estimates ReFED, a collection of business, non-profit and government leaders committed to reducing food waste. That's equivalent to around 1.3% of GDP.
Since the pandemic took hold, farmers are dumping 14 million liters of milk each day because of disrupted supply routes, estimates Dairy Farmers of America. A chicken processor was forced to destroy 750,000 unhatched eggs a week, according to the New York Times, which also cited an onion farmer letting most of his harvest decompose because he couldn't distribute or store them.
Food Prices Collapsing
The excess has also seen prices collapse. The FAO Food Price Index (FFPI) averaged 162.5 points in May 2020, down 3.1 points from April and reaching the lowest monthly average since December 2018. The gauge has dropped for four consecutive months, and the latest decline reflects falling values of all the food commodities – dairy, meat, cereal, vegetable – except sugar, which rose for the first time in three months.
All this while the pandemic is exacerbating other global food trends.
"This year, some 49 million extra people may fall into extreme poverty due to the COVID-19 crisis," said António Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN. "The number of people who are acutely food or nutrition insecure will rapidly expand. Even in countries with abundant food, we see risks of disruptions in the food supply chain."
Our food systems are failing us. And #COVID19 is making things worse. We must invest in the future & transform our… https://t.co/uV8Kkn78Q1— FAO (@FAO)1592043182.0
The World Economic Forum has launched its Great Reset initiative, which urgently calls for global stakeholders to cooperate in managing the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis. It calls on policymakers to put the environment at the heart of plans to rebuild as we emerge from the pandemic.
Reposted with permission from World Economic Forum.
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There is already robust evidence that human activity is causing the climate crisis. This conclusion is supported by 97 percent of climate scientists, and has been established through direct observations of skyrocketing carbon dioxide levels and rising temperatures. However, the connection between greenhouse gas emissions and their climate effects remained theoretical, until now. NASA scientists have provided evidence through satellite observations that greenhouse gases are heating the Earth. "It's direct evidence that human activities are causing changes to Earth's energy budget," Ryan Kramer, the study's first author and a researcher at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, told CBS News.
The research, published in Geophysical Research Letters on March 25, used satellites to provide evidence of radiative forcing.
Essentially, this is the mechanism behind the greenhouse effect, CBS News explained. When sunlight enters Earth's atmosphere, some of it is reflected back into space, while some of it is absorbed as heat. In order for global temperatures to remain steady, solar energy coming in needs to equal solar energy going out. Heat can be trapped by greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and water vapor. As the concentration of heat-trapping gases increases, the energy balance is thrown off and the Earth becomes warmer. This radiative forcing is the driving mechanism behind climate change.
"While there are well‐established observational records of greenhouse gas concentrations and surface temperatures, there is not yet a global measure of the radiative forcing, in part because current satellite observations of Earth's radiation only measure the sum total of radiation changes that occur," the study authors noted.
To get around this, researchers used radiative kernels (a type of methodology) to separate radiative forcing from the totality of energy balance changes observed by satellites between 2003 and 2018. They found that radiative forcing increased, and that these increases were caused primarily by rising greenhouse gases, and secondarily by decreasing aerosol pollution, which has a cooling effect.
In total, radiative forcing increased by 0.5 watts per meter-squared, which is 10 times the energy used by people in a given year, and enough to heat the atmosphere by more than half a degree Fahrenheit in 16 years, CBS News reported.
The study builds on a new but growing body of direct evidence for radiative forcing. A 2015 study made the first observations of carbon dioxide's ability to absorb heat radiated from Earth's surface at the surface level. That study focused on two locations in North America during 11 years.
"Numerous studies show rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations, but our study provides the critical link between those concentrations and the addition of energy to the system, or the greenhouse effect," Daniel Feldman, lead author and a scientist in the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said in a press release at the time.
However, the NASA study provides the first comprehensive observations of these changes. That said, the observations are just confirming what most scientists already know to be true.
"In reality, the observational results came in just as predicted by the theory," Brian Soden, study co-author and professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, told CBS News. "There is no surprise in the results, but rather it's really more of 'dotting the i's and crossing the t's' on anthropogenic [human-caused] climate change. It closes that last link between rising CO2 levels and planetary warming."
By Peter Giger
The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
Our evolution has selected the "fight or flight" instinct to deal with environmental change, so rather like the metaphor of the frog in boiling water, we tend to react too little and too late to gradual change.
Climate change is often described as global warming, with the implication of gradual changes caused by a steady increase in temperatures; from heatwaves to melting glaciers.
But we know from multidisciplinary scientific evidence - from geology, anthropology and archaeology - that climate change is not incremental. Even in pre-human times, it is episodic, when it isn't forced by a human-induced acceleration of greenhouse gas emissions and warming.
There are parts of our planet's carbon cycle, the ways that the earth and the biosphere store and release carbon, that could trigger suddenly in response to gradual warming. These are tipping points that once passed could fundamentally disrupt the planet and produce abrupt, non-linear change in the climate.
A Game of Jenga
Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.
But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.
One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.
This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.
This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters with important regional variations.
More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.
Cutting Off Circulation
As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.
This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.
The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.
But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.
Recent research suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the cessation of arable farming in the UK, for instance.
It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?
At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.
But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.
We need to act now on our climate. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the Paris Agreement, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.
We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.
Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.
Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.
Reposted with permission from World Economic Forum.