Fast & Cheap: Shortcuts to Curb Global Warming

by |January 12, 2012

UPDATE: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday (Feb. 16) that the United States and five other nations will undertake a special effort to cut emissions from methane, soot and other pollutants, based largely on the findings of the study outlined below. A related SOP post is here.

Landfills are rich in methane-producing bacteria that decompose garbage. Typically, excess methane simply leaks into the atmosphere, but a system of pipes can capture the gas underground and divert it to power plants instead. Installing such systems on a broad scale could reduce human-caused methane emissions by 8 percent, according to a new study.

Landfills are rich in methane-producing bacteria that decompose garbage. Typically, excess methane simply leaks into the atmosphere, but a system of pipes can capture the gas underground and divert it to power plants instead. Installing such systems on a broad scale could reduce human-caused methane emissions by 8 percent, according to a new study. Photo: Credit: King County (WA) Solid Waste Division

Relatively cheap, simple steps using existing technologies could cut projected global warming by one degree Fahrenheit – a substantial amount — by focusing on sources of methane and soot, concludes a new study by an international team of scientists.

The study, published today in Science, suggests reducing sources of pollution could have immediate effects on the emissions of greenhouse gases, reduce the number of premature deaths from air pollution and boost crop yields. The effort would target methane escaping from coal mines, oil and natural gas operations, wastewater treatment plants and landfills, and agricultural operations; and soot from diesel-powered vehicles, burning of agricultural lands and family cookstoves, among other sources.

Carbon dioxide, a product of human fossil-fuel and biomass burning, is the major long-term driver of global warming. But the political, economic and technological challenges to reducing emissions are huge, and once in the air, CO2 remains for centuries. Methane and soot contribute to warming too, but they naturally cycle out of the air much faster—and there are already immediate ways available to deal with them, say the authors.

“Ultimately, we have to deal with CO2, but dealing with these pollutants is more doable, and it brings fast benefits,” said lead author Drew Shindell, a researcher at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) and Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

(This post is adapted from the full story by EI’s chief science writer, Kevin Krajick.)

Read more about the new research:
www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/interactive-charts.html

Link to Study in Science
www.sciencemag.org/lookup/doi/10.1126/science.1210026

Link to UNEP/WMO Assessment Report
www.unep.org/dewa/Assessments/Ecosystems/ClimateChange/ta…

Interview with Drew Shindell
www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/cleanair-warming.html

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7 thoughts on “Fast & Cheap: Shortcuts to Curb Global Warming

  1. klem says:

    Well I’ve recently installed one of those curly lightbulbs in my basement, that change alone will cut projected global warming by one degree Fahrenheit. That was easy.

  2. Ryan says:

    I think reducing methane and other harmful substances will improve our state of living tremendously. This year my resolution is to carpool more and pollute less. Thanks!

  3. Clint says:

    I agree completely. My resolution is to use standby switches on all my electrical appliances, energy saving lightbulbs and also get on the bicycle instead of cars & busses! Make smart choices I say

  4. peter says:

    Great info…

    Now just to get it into those thick skulls of the greedy guys sitting in their designer chairs…

    The comfort zone is a tough place to get out of – even if it is for your own good – or the greater good.

    just my 0.02c

    peter

  5. Roupas Importadas says:

    agree completely. My resolution is to use standby switches on all my electrical appliances

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