JoNova

A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).


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Methane emissions: don’t blame cows and camels, blame the oceans

Steak-lovers — look at the volatility in the graph of methane levels. That is not the cows…

Methane emissions are a bit of a sleeper. They are ignored (even by me) yet and cows, sheep, pigs and lamas produce a whopping 11% of the Australian national greenhouse emissions (mostly as methane and nitrous oxide). Livestock emissions are 70% of our entire agricultural sector emissions. They are so important, at one stage Australia was considering a camel genocide — hoping to stop storms and reduce droughts by knocking off some camels. So if we like ham, steak and hamburgers, we need to pay attention. The carbon-politisi are coming.

The UN thinks we need to worry about methane which has 34 times the impact of CO2 (which is 34 times something immeasurably insignificant, so who cares?). Somehow global methane levels are often blamed on fossil fuels and farting cows, but this latest analysis suggests humans are pretty much irrelevant.

Tom Quirk tracks the annual changes in methane and finds that it bumps up by both big and small amounts, and the volatile pattern doesn’t match human agriculture or mining but rises and falls in time with El Ninos. This is not entirely [...]

Save the world and raze some forests

Look out, another knot of tortured researchers just went past. All this time we’ve been pouring money into planting trees and stealing land from farmers because we were sure that trees would cool the world. (Just like solar panels do, yeah?) But life is so complicated — for years now some researchers have been quietly wondering if more trees were actually going to warm the planet instead, but they didn’t want to say much. It turns out that while trees absorb the sacred CO2 (that’s cooling!) they also emit methane (that’s warming!), and terpenes (cooling) and isoprene (warming and cooling!) If that’s not complicated enough, then there is the albedo effect. Trees are dark, they absorb more sunlight than bare ground and snow. So depending on where they are planted, that makes for “warming”. Then some VOCs or volatile organic compounds also seed clouds.

So what’s the net effect? Who knows, it’s not like there are whole industries dependent on it…

Now they ask?

How much can forests fight climate change? Trees are supposed to slow global warming, but growing evidence suggests they might not always be climate saviours. Gabrielle Popkin, Nature

As usual, the debate is based on [...]

Global methane emissions driven by Soviet leaks, volcanoes and El Ninos, not cows

CSIRO wants to stop methane emissions: but can they get a grant to stop El Nino’s and cap volcanoes?

This type of trans-Siberian cow used to emit a lot of methane.

Tom Quirk sent me a short note to point out that the big rise in global methane almost certainly was man-made — at least up to the mid 1980′s, but in the last 20 years, the culprit for rising methane appears to be volcanoes and El Ninos. (Note the timing of the spikes in the graph below, as methane pours into the atmosphere some years, but barely changes in most other recent years).

Apparently, the man-made emissions in the 70s and 80s were largely due to leaky pipes in the Soviet Union. Natural gas was dirt cheap up til the mid 1970′s. It was so cheap the Russians didn’t bother to plug those flawed pipes. But as prices rose (and after a big nasty explosion in 1982*) they got serious, fixed the pipes and stopped a lot of the out-gassing.

Meanwhile, the Australian government is spending millions and killing camels in the hope of reducing global methane and changing the weather.

There are many graphs of atmospheric methane [...]