There’s a lot to write about at the moment, so forgive me if I occasionally ignore important topics. They’ll have another turn in due course.
This is rather a sideshow, but we have the Coal Action Network (CAN) agitating with alarmist zeal against Fonterra to bully them into limiting their carbon dioxide emissions for no practical purpose and I don’t know of anyone who is opposing their stupidity. Let me briefly show how this will make no difference to the climate and will simply impede the efficiency of one of New Zealand’s best companies. CAN’s latest post says:
But while Fonterra may have bailed out on their Studholme plans, they are still the company most responsible for keeping the New Zealand coal industry afloat. That’s why the CANA Summerfest, January 2017, is being held in Ashburton in mid-Canterbury, right in Fonterra’s heartland, where the connection between dairying’s rampant appetite for water, its rampant appetite for coal, and its contribution to the alarming growth in methane emissions is very evident.
Really—an alarming growth? That claim is linked to Eurekalert which comments on a paper just published in Environmental Research Letters. But the claim is false. Have they read their own reference? It clearly doesn’t support these alarming statements.
Eurekalert itself admits: “The reason for the spike is unclear but may come from emissions from agricultural sources and mainly around the tropics — potentially from farm sites like rice paddies and cattle pastures.” Eurekalert claims, “It’s a stark contrast from the early 2000s when methane concentrations crept up by just 0.5 parts per billion on average each year.” But I don’t see such a slow rise and they don’t cite their source. The increase in 2005 (from the paper mentioned next) seems to be in the right range (0.5–1.0 ppb) but the following year it was 6 ppb.
The paper which Eurekalert links to, The growing role of methane in anthropogenic climate change, Saunois et al., 2016, claims: “atmospheric methane concentrations are rising faster than at any time in the past two decades,” but doesn’t state the rate of rise. From their graph of atmospheric concentrations from 2013 to 2015, the rate of rise appears to be about 11 ppb/yr, or 0.6%/yr. Over the whole period since 2005, the rise has been 58 ppb (3.2%), or 5.8 ppb (0.32%) per year. Though the trend rises somewhat, you cannot on any pretext call it a spike. See for yourself (p.2 of the paper, p.3 of the pdf).
This is scare-mongering
1. They admit they don’t know where the methane comes from. The <a href=”https://eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-12/fe-sim120916.php”>paper they cite</a> contains this <a href=”http://cdn.iopscience.com/images/1748-9326/11/12/120207/Full/erlaa4f95f1_lr.jpg”>graph of emissions since 2005</a> which shows a slow rise but no acceleration. The authors of the latest methane inventory suggest the increased emissions might come from agricultural sources (not just from dairying) and mainly from the tropics (where there are very few dairy farms and none of Fonterra’s). Total atmospheric methane now is about 1850 parts per billion by volume, which is the equivalent of 1.85 ppmv—insignificant when CO2 levels are 400 parts ppmv.
2. They don’t know how much warming methane causes—nobody knows. I found it impossible to locate a figure for how much the various greenhouse gases actually heat up the air, which is kind of the point, don’t you think? It’s not a battle against the atmospheric concentration of methane, it’s a battle against global warming. If methane doesn’t cause warming, there’s no reason to care. And methane’s contribution to warming is certainly infinitesimal. The warming from human-generated CO2 (the so-called ‘greatest threat’ to mankind) is in the range of one third of a degree Celsius since 1950, and methane forms a much tinier fraction than CO2, so it is impossible for methane to dangerously warm the atmosphere. Did I mention scare-mongering?
Other alarmist statements in these documents include: “surge in methane emissions,” “methane emissions seem to be soaring,” “recent rapid increase in methane,” “results for methane are worrisome,” “this runaway pace.” Yet the data describe the entire methane budget, not just anthropogenic sources, and the rate of rise is very low, at only 0.6%/yr in the last two years—when, they claim, it was surging.
Unknown sources of methane: trees, ocean microbes
Remember that we must focus on man-made methane, not natural emissions. Methane is emitted naturally by termites, wetlands, tundra and, recently discovered, trees and ocean microbes. I haven’t found an up-to-date list of all sources, but in the old one, dating from 1997, man-made and natural sources were in a ratio of about 70:30, though the paper quotes 60:40. With the discovery of the involvement of trees and the ocean, one would expect the natural fraction now to be even higher than 40%.
Another thing to remember about methane is that almost every flame consumes every molecule of CH4 that falls into it. It’s disappearing every second, taking two oxygen molecules and reacting to form a carbon dioxide molecule and two water molecules.
Crucially, science observes that Fonterra’s effect on the climate with CO2 emissions (much less methane) is undetectable; indeed, the whole nation’s output of carbon dioxide does not register. China, in 2014 (the last year with full statistics) consumed just under 2 Gt (billion tons) of coal, which represented about 50% of global use. The whole of New Zealand got through about 1.5 Gt, which was less than 0.05% — just a footnote in the BP report. Fonterra? They consumed 0.0005 Gt. Perfectly infinitesimal. It had not the slightest effect on the climate. Of course, they did much productive work with it—why else would they use it?
Executive Summary for Coal Action Network
To chastise the honest, hard-working people at Fonterra for efficiently producing food for society is not understandable. Please give them a break. It is entirely reasonable to ask that you follow scientific principles to show the harm carbon dioxide actually causes to the climate, because you haven’t yet done so.
Using coal is entirely legal. Using coal is immensely useful. Using coal with appropriate safeguards against real pollution does no harm. Remember that you’re actually fighting to disadvantage, not Fonterra, but their customers (who probably include your good self, your relatives and your friends). Fonterra produces food, and you would restrict their output—now, whom would you say should be deprived of that food? You choose.