Cities are banning natural gas in new homes, citing climate change

by Irina Ivanova, CBS News

A growing number of U.S. cities are taking a stand against gas stoves, long billed as a more convenient way to cook, because of their contribution to climate change.

Since June, a dozen cities have banned natural gas equipment in new buildings. Berkeley, California, was the first, followed in the state by San Jose, Mountain View, Santa Rosa and Brisbane. A half-dozen other cities have passed laws to strongly encourage all-electric construction without banning fossil fuels outright.

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Aerial view of fracking wells.

The methane mystery is solved, giving direction and hope

by Andy Ferguson

A scientific mystery has been solved, giving direction and hope on the climate front.

Methane is 102 times more powerful than CO2 as a cause of climate change, but because it remains in the atmosphere an average of only nine years, reducing methane emissions offers quick and tangible results for fighting climate change. The biggest reductions will come from rapidly phasing out natural gas use, plus eating less meat and getting rid of animal feed lots. Here we consider the biggest culprit, natural gas.

Since 2006, methane emissions have been rapidly increasing, helping to drive up recent worldwide temperatures. Scientists have debated the cause of the increase. Because methane has increased in step with the development of natural gas emissions from hydraulic shale fracturing (“fracking”), many pointed to that activity as the main cause. Other scientists pointed to known increased methane emissions from animal feed lots, as well as tropical wetlands and rice paddies. The data was unclear, because emissions from all sources, taken separately, added up to a total even higher than what was being observed. This cast doubt on all of the scientists’ arguments and no consensus could be reached.

Now the debate has been solved. NASA scientists recently determined that one category of methane emissions, the burning of tropical forests, has declined much faster than previously thought. The result is that the total increase in methane emissions must be primarily due to the oil and gas sector, and renewed attention has now been focused on methane emissions from natural gas leaks. The major oil companies have belatedly recognized this fact, and have now begun measures to try to address this issue by reducing leaks from their operations.

But methane emissions caused by natural gas leaks cannot be reduced enough by the limited steps being taken by the oil giants. Recent studies have shown that leaks from fracking and active oil well drilling, while very large, are by no means the only causes of the problem. Rapidly increasing (and leaky) abandoned oil and gas wells, leaky pipelines, and old, creaking gas distribution systems in cities also are major contributors to the problem. Trying to fix all these issues is prohibitively expensive and ultimately futile. The unavoidable solution to methane leaks is a rapid phase out of natural gas as a source of heating energy throughout society.

The “electrify everything” movement is the result of this methane crisis. Technology is available for transitioning to electric appliances and heating in homes and businesses, even if consumers remain largely unaware of new, low-cost and low-emission options. In California, heating water occupies much of total energy demand, so replacing natural gas water heaters with electric heat pump models is garnering much attention. Ductless or ducted heat pumps that can replace central natural gas furnaces are also gaining ground rapidly. These and other appliances like electric induction ranges, high-efficiency electric clothes dryers, and a slew of other electric products now permit even existing homes to reduce or eliminate their use of natural gas. Such steps are essential to help avoid the worst effects of climate change.

The time to rapidly phase out natural gas has arrived. For more information on how to electrify everything, click here.

NPS Climate Change Response NPS Photo (C.Ciancibelli)

Permafrost thawing in Siberia bringing with it anthrax outbreaks & huge methane explosions

by James Ayre, Clean technica

The ongoing melting of permafrost in Siberia has brought with it some very strange events — including the creation of massive methane blowout craters. In addition to the — sometimes catastrophically violent — release of methane from the previously frozen tundra, the melting has also been accompanied by the return of microbial illnesses that haven’t been present in the region for quite some time.

Of particular note are the recent outbreaks of anthrax in the remote Yamal Peninsula, after a more than 75-year-long absence from the region. One such outbreak last August involved the death of a boy, along with 20 other infections.

That outbreak followed closely after a heatwave in the region that saw temperatures climb to more than 30° Celsius — high enough to melt permafrost.

The Guardian provides more: “Long dormant spores of the highly infectious anthrax bacteria frozen in the carcass of an infected reindeer rejuvenated themselves and infected herds of reindeer and eventually local people.

“More recently, a huge explosion was heard in June in the Yamal Peninsula. Reindeer herders camped nearby saw flames shooting up with pillars of smoke and found a large crater left in the ground. Melting permafrost was again suspected, thawing out dead vegetation and erupting in a blowout of highly flammable methane gas.

“Over the past three years, 14 other giant craters have been found in the region, some of them truly massive – the first one discovered was around 50m (160ft) wide and about 70m (230ft) deep, with steep sides and debris spread all around.

“There have also been cases of the ground trembling in Siberia as bubbles of methane trapped below the surface set the ground wobbling like an airbed. Even more dramatic, setting fire to methane released from frozen lakes in both Siberia and Alaska causes some impressive flames to erupt.”

These are all good examples of just how weird and non-intuitive much of what will be happening over the coming decades and centuries as a result of climate change will seem.
While rising temperatures and sea levels are pretty easy to imagine (in some ways, anyway), the wider effects relating to disappearing ice sheets — the accompanying increase in volcanic activity and earthquakes, rapid isostatic rebound far from the melting ice sheets themselves, changes in ocean salinity that greatly increase the prevalence of some parasites, etc. — as well as changes to humidity levels, wind and rainfall patterns, storm formation, etc., are as of right now probably incomprehensible to most people.

The world is going to be getting weirder and weirder by the year, for the rest of your life. Massive explosions from underground that leave huge pits in the earth, and the release of long dormant microbial life and toxins from frozen soil, are just the start of things.
Then there are also the sociopolitical and economic ramifications.