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US emissions fell 2.1% in 2019 (rhg.com)
495 points by prostoalex 14 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 409 comments



This is largely because we are replacing coal plants with fracked natural gas plants, which we are doing because fracked gas is cheap and plentiful.

Fracked gas is way better from an air pollution point of view and a little better from a direct carbon emission point of view. But when you consider the methane leaks from wellheads and pipelines and facilities it is roughly as bad as coal for climate. This is overall not a good story for climate as we lock in gas plants for decades.

Renewables and nuclear deployments did not factor in much to this decrease.


Natural gas is not at all "roughly as bad as coal for climate". There is a lot of research indicating this, so I will just point to one article:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/natural-gas-re...

Natural gas isn't the ultimate solution, of course, but it's a mistake to treat it the same as coal.


The subtitle in the article you link is exactly my point. At the moment, we are just now getting better at tracking methane leaks. No one knows for sure how much is leaked from the infrastructure. It may easily be just as bad or worse than coal, and is absolutely "roughly" as bad as coal.

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/12/12/climate/texas...

Take the average IPCC meta-analysis numbers [1] at face value: 820 gCO2-eq/kWh for coal, 490 for gas. Those are both extraordinarily high. This is because they both combust carbon in the presence of oxygen to form energy and CO2. They're both very high-carbon fuel sources. If we are trying to reduce carbon emissions, we need to build things that do not combine C + O2 to make CO2 + energy. Options with less than 50g CO2-eq/kWh (in decreasing order of emissions) include solar (41), geothermal (38), hydro (24), tidal (17), nuclear (12), and wind (11).

[1] https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/ipcc_wg3_ar5...

Given this situation it makes no sense to switch from coal to gas for the sake of the climate. Both endpoints have wholly unacceptably high carbon. If you build a bunch of $2B shiny new gas facilities, as we are doing today, utilities will want to run them for decades. And gas companies are portraying themselves as climate heros, and people are believing them because emissions are going down (again, towards an unacceptable final destination). To me it seems crazy.


The perfect is the enemy of the good.

Natural gas is roughly half as bad as coal, and it's an easy win, compared to the alternatives. It's also better in terms of particulates.

If we sit around waiting for reduction of energy use and increase in renewables to save us, we are screwed. Gotta take what we can get for now, and continue fighting for even better solutions.


> The perfect is the enemy of the good.

The bad is also the enemy of the good.

Nuclear would be an example of a good solution that isn't perfect. Natural gas is an example of bad solution, in that it doesn't actually fit the definition of a solution because it doesn't in any way contribute to solving the problem.

> Natural gas is roughly half as bad as coal, and it's an easy win, compared to the alternatives.

This is simply false. Given methane emissions, we don't actually know that it's better at all, let alone half as bad.

> If we sit around waiting for reduction of energy use and increase in renewables to save us, we are screwed.

Actually, we're pretty much screwed no matter what we do, which is why the marginal-improvement-that-might-not-even-be-an-improvement you're trying to say is acceptable, isn't acceptable.

> Gotta take what we can get for now, and continue fighting for even better solutions.

Is "fighting for even better solutions" what you think you're doing here?


> This is simply false. Given methane emissions, we don't actually know that it's better at all, let alone half as bad.

Methane emissions have a much shorter residency time in the atmosphere than carbon. It's literally an order of magnitude difference: methane is significantly worse for a short period, but over the course of a century carbon dioxide is far worse. That lopsidedness gets even worse when you go out to a millenium. Thinking out to a century from now, it's appropriate to more or less ignore methane and focus on carbon dioxide.

> Actually, we're pretty much screwed no matter what we do, which is why the marginal improvement you're trying to say is acceptable, isn't acceptable.

"It's unacceptable for ten million people to die, so we shouldn't have a preference between ten and twenty million people dying!"

> Is "fighting for even better solutions" what you think you're doing here?

As someone who has actually worked full-time on climate solutions and whose carbon emissions are in the bottom 1% of Americans, it's presumptuous of you to assume that you're doing more for the climate because you're regurgitating an article you saw on the Facebook newsfeed.


I really respect anyone who's chosen to willingly sacrifice their lifestyle to reduce their carbon emissions. Very few people are actually willing to do that.

So I'm curious about your opinion. Do you think that promoting hope that what we're doing is enough is the right play at this point in time? Decades of warning from the scientific community have yielded effectively 0 progress on halting our exponential march towards ecological collapse. Sure, you can argue for marginal progress here and there. But when the likely end goal remains total collapse of civilization and possible extinction of our species, does it really matter?

I know we tend to think of panic and despair as something that prevents us from finding solutions, or even make the problem worse. But maybe pretending that we're going to mostly be OK and figure out climate change is just causing us to be complacent and procrastinate on the problem until it's too late. It may already be too late due to tipping points being triggered.

Like I said, I'd love to hear your thoughts, but I've increasingly started to believe that panic is an idea worth spreading. It may be the only way we can ever hope to collectively wake up and start making the sacrifices necessary to survive this extinction event.


Well, I used to worry a lot about my carbon footprint. Then I realized that it doesn't matter. I'm always just going to be that weird guy. I told Spanish colleagues I cringed when looking at upcoming transatlantic tickets because of environmental impact and they laughed! They thought I was joking. Honestly, I live in Ireland, Spain is likely to be destroyed, at least if you like producing food.

So I stopped worrying about it. There was a time for that and it's past.

However, more recently, I've been trying to live life like civilization has a decent chance of collapsing, and that has meant coppicing trees for heat, making a home out of materials that might be possible to produce directly (wood, not concrete) etc. - and that happens to be lower carbon. I worry about national defence but can only do so much.

But I still cringe at the thought of flying, especially for work trips of dubious benefit. I am terrified of positive feedback loops - Australian fires igniting coal seams, dark blue oceans at the same time we finish dumping all that energy turning solid water to liquid in tha Arctic, etc.

There was a time to stop the asteroid hitting Earth, but now you're better off trying to be on the other side when it hits.


I used to think like this. Constantly stressing about how I was going to get the hell out of the city and start homesteading to escape the coming collapse.

But now, I feel like that's a waste of time. There's no "other side" of the coming catastrophe to run to. When the gears of global industrial civilization grind to a halt, the resulting chaos will only allow the ruthless or the lucky to survive. And even if you do survive, the world you'll be struggling in isn't something I want to be a part of.

Not to mention tipping points already triggered will likely keep the world warming to the point where humans just can't survive at all and we go extinct. If that's not the case, and our species survives for millions of years, then we've already used up all the easily accessible resources, and won't ever get back to space faring civilization, and eventually we'll go extinct.

The only way out is forward. We either beat this thing and make it out the other side as something greater, more unified, and more enlightened than we've ever been, or our story ends.

We're not going to stop the asteroid, but maybe we can all wake up soon enough to act to soften the blow just enough to survive. We don't have a lot of time.


I worry you're right but I see a range of possible outcomes and yeah, human extinction isn't one I think we'd manage (by definition). but "simultaneous world breadbasket failure" .. maybe. If nobody takes your lovely permaculture smallholding from you that is.


This is a dumb take. Differences at the margin still matter and just because we continue to emit doesn't mean you can abdicate yourself of personal responsibility.


Nice to see the hn ethos of attacking ideas, not people, in action.

It's more like a death row inmate worrying about another cigarette.

Anyway, like I said my current life is fairly low impact. Remote work helps a lot. But it doesn't make any difference, especially inasmuch as me not buying fossil fuels made infinitesimally cheaper for someone else to. It will stay that way until we price emissions appropriately.

Converting a few acres of sheep grazing land to forest could make this chunk of my lifs carbon negative, for that matter. Lamb is especially bad.


I said it was a dumb take, which is an attack on the idea. Saying that one is responsible for ones own impact on the planet isn't a personal attack either.

This is like someone saying that, since other people litter, there's no harm in me littering too. Sure, your individual action doesn't matter but collective action does.

Similarly, by your logic, why should I vote? After all, it is extremely improbable that my vote will have any impact on an election.


Depressingly accurate. We bought a property somewhere in the US that is likely to be least impacted by climate change. Efforts should still be made, but prepare for the worst.


Suspect we agree on a lot. Aim for the best, prepare for the worst, etc. We decided it was wise to seek another citizenship.


I may be misreading/misinterpreting their comments, but the gist I got was that while natural gas isn't great, it is better than coal. And if we only focused on going for great, we'd still be coal only.

I might be misreading, but I don't think they were advocating avoiding solar/wind/etc. (just that they weren't easy wins).


This is about where I stand. If there's a cheap and easy way to reduce carbon emissions that is already happening because of existing market forces, at the very least we shouldn't stand in its way. I'd even support government subsidies of it, if it helps it kill off coal, but it already seems like it'll do so without any help.

Best would be strong climate change policies that set the price of carbon at its actual (high) cost, and that would naturally drive people from coal to gas and gas to low-carbon approaches, but that doesn't seem like it's in the cards in the short term.


The real best approach would be going all in on nuclear but it's not a political possibility right now.

Carbon neutral or at least very close to it is essentially obtainable now, we just lack the political will.


I think the point is that it's not worth celebrating as a win, because the shift wasn't driven by a desire to reduce emissions. It was driven by the fact that gas is cheaper. It's just a nice coincidence that it's lower emissions.

Sure, this is better than nothing, and every little bit counts, but it shouldn't give anyone hope that the tides are changing.


Same. Not sure why you're getting downvoted.

People have been saying we need to avoid scaring people for decades, and look where we are. Panic now, helpfully, to avoid panic later when we are more helpless.

I don't know what other options we have for effective systemic change, and would love to hear from anyone who has a better model. Clearly everything we've tried up until now has not worked.


I'm not sure there's a switch we can flip that turns people from apathetic to supporting a panic-driven set of aggressive and durable legislation to address climate change. The effects of climate change are too long term and stochastic for voters to link policy with their everyday lived experience. Even in Australia at this very moment, only about half of people think Australia should do more about climate change, and it's unclear how many of them would actually prioritize that over other things they value.


I personally believe that a key switch we can try flipping is universal basic income. The reasoning is not obvious.

Basically, I think we live in a world now where almost everyone is stuck in tunnel vision for surviving today. For example, we have studies now that show significant drops in IQ when people are stressed about how they're going to be paying bills. If the vast majority is struggling financially, they literally might be made dumber and less able to think about complex problems.

If we change the rules in a way that effectively says, nobody is getting left behind and nobody is dying of poverty, then maybe, that will be enough to give the masses the breathing room to look up and see long term risks bearing down upon us.

Maybe not, but I think it's worth a shot.

That's why I'm all in on Andrew Yang. He's the only candidate who gives me a semblance of hope for waking everyone up so that we can try to solve these problems.


I also see this connection. On a game theoretical level, it doesn't pay off for the individual to make a personal effort, unless the right incentives are in place.

The status quo would be a great opportunity for a drastic policy switch: introduce correct pricing of resources (nomore externalizing) and "recycle" the generated income as an UBI.

If you do the pricing only (even if just small amounts), you get yellow vests. If you do the UBI only, you would likely just boost consumption and even aggravate the ecological problem.

But combined, it could be the solution the world is looking for.


Society is in no way set up to support UBI. Everyone gets $1000 and then rent, food, and everything else become more expensive.

Instead focus should be on guaranteeing necessities like healthcare with Medicare For All, relinquishing student loan debt, and making public college free to attend. Bernie is the only one focused on universal coverage for all of these things.


Yang supports Universal Healthcare as a key attachment to UBI. [1]

He does care about the student loan problem, but has a less aggressive and more nuanced plan than blanket forgiveness. [2]

Traditional college is not a necessity for most people. We should be pushing for more trade school participation like most of Europe does and train people for skilled labor that won't be automated any time soon. [3]

Most importantly, Bernie doesn't seem to even want to acknowledge the coming wave of automation. And somehow, he thinks that a $15 minimum wage won't just accelerate the drive to automate jobs. Higher wages also does nothing to help stay at home parents or caretakers (mostly women) who find themselves completely dependent on their breadwinner.

1 https://www.yang2020.com/policies/medicare-for-all/

2 https://www.yang2020.com/policies/student-loan-debt/

3 https://www.yang2020.com/policies/promoting-vocational-educa...


Realistically, the solution has to be to lie and link every natural disaster that could plausibly be related to the climate to the climate.

I hate to say that, but thats what needs to be done if we want to compel action.


I think we are stick from a policy standpoint. We have some climate engineering ideas that might work, with the certainty of side effects. Those might keep civilization chugging long enough for fossil fuels to become scarce enough to price themselves out of existence. Even alternative power sources have waste heat, so we have to taper power usage no matter the source, but that is a much longe term problem.


> Decades of warning from the scientific community have yielded effectively 0 progress on halting our exponential march towards ecological collapse.

This kind of doomsday fatalism is both factually incorrect and unhelpful. Between 2005 and 2015, a single decade, the US doubled its use of renewable energy [1]. co2 emissions from energy peaked in 2006 and have gently decreased since then [2]. Compared to significant upward slope before then, and the continued growth of the economy and population, that's a significant improvement. From 2000 to 2008, the number of people bicycling to work increased by 60% [3]. (It's still small in absolute terms, but this is a change that requires significant effort and lifestyle changes at the individual level.) In 2008, 30% of Americans felt dealing with climate change should be a top Presidential and Congressional priority. By 2018, that number was 44%, despite continued well-funded climate denial campaigns.

The world is a giant ship with 8+ billion each with their own oar in the water. A vessel like that turns very slowly and with a danger on the horizon as complex and difficult to understand as climate change, we should not expect everyone to wake up overnight and be all-in on fixing the problem. But almost every trend shows that people are waking up, changing their habits, and shifting their priorities in the right direction. The ship is turning.

Is it turning fast enough to avoid hitting the iceberg? No. But is it plowing full steam ahead? Not that either.

> But when the likely end goal remains total collapse of civilization and possible extinction of our species, does it really matter?

This is simply not true and you are very unlikely to find any reputable scientific source saying that. It is and will be a catastrophe. People have died and more will die. It has and will cause more political uprisings.

But humanity as a species will almost certainly survive and as the reality of the problem becomes more and more apparent, we will put more and more resources into dealing with it. It's going to be bad, yes. But we (as a species and civilization) survived the Last Glacial Period, the Neolithic decline, the Plague of Justinian, the Black Death, multiple cholera pandemics, the fall of the Roman Empire, and the Spanish flu pandemic.

We survived all of those with only a fraction of the technology, knowledge, and resources that we have today. Climate change is an entirely solvable problem with the capacity we have right now and we can and will solve as the necessity of doing so becomes more apparent and accepted.

Only a hundred years ago, nearly 5% of the entire human population was wiped out by Spanish flu and today flu innoculation is a minor inconvenience for most and the pandemic is a footnote in history. We've kept humans alive in the hottest deserts, the coldest tundra, across oceans, and on the fucking moon. We are like cockroaches but smarter and better organized.

[1]: https://www.energy.gov/eere/articles/4-charts-show-renewable...

[2]: https://www.statista.com/statistics/183943/us-carbon-dioxide...

[3]: https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2014/cb14-86....

[4]: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/04/19/how-america...


> The world is a giant ship with 8+ billion each with their own oar in the water.

I agree with most of what you said, except for this. We are much more like a modern cruise ship with a few thousand people on the button for the engine, heading full power towards the iceberg because there's some sweets they want in the same direction. If one of them doesn't collect enough sweets, they usually get sent down to the oars.

There are also 7-8 billion other people with oars in the water, pulling in several different directions, getting told either that they will also get some of the sweets if they row towards the iceberg, or that we wouldn't be in this mess if the just rowed against the engines harder. Obviously, the rowers can't change the direction of the ship - they can either hope that the people controlling the engine change their mind, or they can leave their oars and go take down the engine people en masse.

Point being, the vast majority of people, even pulling together, can't do anything to reverse global warming through direct action. We need to organize and take political action to force governments and companies to act if we are to have any real impact. Of course this will in turn affect us as well (less stuff, less meat, less AC and so many others), but the change must come from the top down at this point. At this point, even if entire countries chose spontaneously to buy half the stuff and eat half the meat, that would probably not have a significant impact on CO2 emissions, given that production would likely continue and switch to more exports.


In my metaphor, I consider both direct action and political action to be "rowing". It's all about what the 8 billion people put their attention, time, and labor into.

Change must and will happen at all levels. While those at the top have more power, they are also dramatically outnumbered. Those at the bottom have greater power if they are organized (which is why those at the top spend so much time trying to keep them disorganized and divided).


> This kind of doomsday fatalism is both factually incorrect and unhelpful. Between 2005 and 2015, a single decade, the US doubled its use of renewable energy [1]. co2 emissions from energy peaked in 2006 and have gently decreased since then [2]. Compared to significant upward slope before then, and the continued growth of the economy and population, that's a significant improvement. From 2000 to 2008, the number of people bicycling to work increased by 60% [3]. (It's still small in absolute terms, but this is a change that requires significant effort and lifestyle changes at the individual level.)

You're basically using a sophist trick here, where you keep taking the rate of change until you get the the positive outcome you want. The problem (global temperature) is still a problem, so you look at the thing causing rise. That (carbon) still rising, so you look at the rate that carbon is rising. That (carbon emissions) is still rising, so you look at a) the rate carbon emissions are increasing, or b) narrow it to the US, where carbon emissions are decreasing. And then if you focus on that, everything looks peachy! Nevermind that the actual problem is still there and getting worse!

> In 2008, 30% of Americans felt dealing with climate change should be a top Presidential and Congressional priority. By 2018, that number was 44%, despite continued well-funded climate denial campaigns.

It takes a special kind of optimism to see a glass 44% full and say it's half full.

> Is it turning fast enough to avoid hitting the iceberg? No. But is it plowing full steam ahead? Not that either.

To put the rate of change thing into your metaphor. We're not slowing down. We're not even taking our foot off the gas--we're still pressing down harder on the gas pedal. What's decreasing is the rate at which we're pressing down harder on the gas pedal. We're still accelerating, we're just not accelerating as quickly!

I agree with the rest of your post: humans will likely not go extinct. But look at what you're comparing this to! The black death might not have been an extinction event, but it was still pretty horrible.


It is a long-term problem, which means sign of the highest derivative is what matters most. If acceleration is negative then eventually velocity will be too, and that means eventually we'll start lowering absolute values.

Since change at human scale is never a step function, signs of progress will always appear at higher derivatives firsts.


> It is a long-term problem, which means sign of the highest derivative is what matters most. If acceleration is negative then eventually velocity will be too, and that means eventually we'll start lowering absolute values.

And how many people will die first?


> The world is a giant ship with 8+ billion each with their own oar in the water. A vessel like that turns very slowly and with a danger on the horizon as complex and difficult to understand as climate change, we should not expect everyone to wake up overnight and be all-in on fixing the problem. But almost every trend shows that people are waking up, changing their habits, and shifting their priorities in the right direction.

We still subsidies fossil fuel extraction! When we stop doing that I'll think the ship is really turning. Other than that I think the bubble of people who care about this in increasing, but not having a huge impact on the direction we are actually moving.


panic is not an idea worth spreading, nothing constructive and plenty destructive comes from it


Sadly, I believe nothing will be done about climate change until something catastrophic begins to happen (e.g. millions of people start dying due directly to the effects of climate change). Climate change is way too abstract of a problem for humans to deal with given its large delayed time frames.


By the time that happens, we will likely all be dead and it will also be too late


What actions would a panicked person take and how might those actions help?


Spread fear and despair to everyone you're connected to.

Yes, we need to move rationally and carefully, but we're only going to do that when a tipping point of people start believing this is an existential threat akin to an incoming asteroid that they or their children will be destroyed by.

This is what's driving increasing movements like the Green New Deal. The closer we get to the impact, the more people notice, start freaking out, and demand action. The faster we can make the majority panic and demand change, the more likely we'll have time to do something effective.

Realistically though, it's probably already too late to save our civilization.


No, just stop eating meat and spread that message to everyone. You don’t need big acts of legislation.

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02409-7


To that I raise this: https://www.reddit.com/r/zerocarb/comments/am5fo3/environmen...

Vegetarianism could be fine if it's only with crops grown locally with not a whole lot of transportation involved, but that's not likely to happen anytime soon. Not to mention individuals have very little impact on the actual problem.

https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/jul/10...


Even if we grant that this is all we need to do (I don't believe it is), you can't honestly be suggesting that 8 billion people are going to wake up this year and decide to voluntarily sacrifice such a primal desire.

Without big acts of legislation, this will only become reality when lab grown meat becomes significantly cheaper and available. That could be decades away, which is too late.


No, please keep your doomsday cult to yourself.

invest heavily in solutions.

panic isn't always bad and i'm unsure where that idea came from.


Panic is a state suited to making decisions in an instant when seconds count based on very incomplete information and not much analysis.

Climate change may be happening quickly in geological time, but it's plenty slow enough to take the time to think rationally.


> Methane emissions have a much shorter residency time in the atmosphere than carbon. I

Except...methane has a shorter residency time is due to it turning into CO2 at a 7 year half-life, right? I keep hearing this from people who seemingly know a lot more than me about this stuff, and yet prima facie, it seems entirely wrong. It sounds equivalent to "we cause 7X the amount of short-term greenhouse effect, but eventually it drops down to 1X, and that's better than 1X from the get-go".

Does it turn into significantly less amount of CO2? How much less? If you can clear it up for me, I'd honestly really appreciate it.


Methane concentration: 2_000 ppb

CO2 concentration: 400_000 ppb

To elaborate a bit, an atom of carbon in CH4 is around 100x as bad as an atom of carbon in CO2; CH4 is primarily and quickly removed by breaking down into CO2. But the number of carbon atoms we release into the atmosphere as CH4 is much, much less than the number of carbon atoms we release into the atmosphere of CO2. We only care about CH4 because it's 100x as powerful a greenhouse gas as CO2. If we released the methane carbon directly as CO2 carbon, it'd be a measurable amount but dwarfed by other sources.


> But the number of carbon atoms we release into the atmosphere as CH4 is much, much less than the number of carbon atoms we release into the atmosphere of CO2

Parent's point is that we don't actually know how much methane is released into the atmosphere due to natural gas fracking.


> Methane emissions have a much shorter residency time in the atmosphere than carbon.

But even with a shorter residency time (I believe it is on the order of 5-7 years) the data that we have shows that methane concentration in the atmosphere [1] is still increasing at a similar rate as that of C02 [2]. Based on this it doesn't seem appropriate to ignore methane. Without better measures to track and prevent methane escaping in to the atmosphere we might not see that trend level off or start to decrease for a significant period of time.

[1] https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends_ch4/

[2] https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/


> over the course of a century carbon dioxide is far worse.

Note that the methane molecule isn't removed from the atmosphere after it's "residency time", it oxidises into CO2 and water vapour.

i.e. a Methane molecule causes much more warming over a short timescale, but measured over millenia it's about the same as CO2.

Also - over 100 years the global warming potential (GWP) of methane is 28-36x that of CO2.

https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/understanding-global-warmin...


While it's true that methane only lasts for a decade in the atmosphere, it decays in to co2 and water vapor so it's not as though it is better in the long run. It's very bad short term and as bad long term.


> Methane emissions have a much shorter residency time in the atmosphere than carbon. It's literally an order of magnitude difference: methane is significantly worse for a short period, but over the course of a century carbon dioxide is far worse. That lopsidedness gets even worse when you go out to a millenium. Thinking out to a century from now, it's appropriate to more or less ignore methane and focus on carbon dioxide.

1. Methane emissions capture heat energy in the atmosphere, and that heat energy doesn't just disappear after the methane is gone. Methane is also a long-term problem.

2. Methane's residency time ends when it decomposes into carbon dioxide.

Both of these are sort of irrelevant, because we can calculate the long-term effects of methane and see that it does make a significant difference.

> > Actually, we're pretty much screwed no matter what we do, which is why the marginal improvement you're trying to say is acceptable, isn't acceptable.

> "It's unacceptable for ten million people to die, so we shouldn't have a preference between ten and twenty million people dying!"

That's a straw man argument.

If we're parodying each others arguments, how's this for a parody of yours? "It's unacceptable for ten million people to die. Saving ten million people sounds hard though. There's something easy we can do, not sure if it will save any lives, but at least I'm doing something!"

> > Is "fighting for even better solutions" what you think you're doing here?

> As someone who has actually worked full-time on climate solutions and whose carbon emissions are in the bottom 1% of Americans, it's presumptuous of you to assume that you're doing more for the climate because you're regurgitating an article you saw on the Facebook newsfeed.

Good on you for what you're doing on here, but I'm not assuming anything or disagreeing with what you do in your personal life. I'm disagreeing with what you're doing here, on Hacker News, where you're promoting a half-assed non-solution to a catastrophic problem.


> 1. Methane emissions capture heat energy in the atmosphere, and that heat energy doesn't just disappear after the methane is gone.

No, that's completely wrong. Methane does not "capture" the heat. Earth is constantly radiating energy out to the rest of the universe. What methane, CO2 and other greenhouse gases do is to change the radiation properties of the atmosphere, resulting in reflecting some of the energy back to earth. This energy ultimately gets radiated out, but more greenhouse gases means more time before it does, which, assuming constant external irradiation from sun, results in higher steady state temperature. When the methane is gone, its effect on warming is gone.


> This is simply false. ...we don't actually know...

Impressive self contradiction in a single line!


> This is simply false. Given methane emissions, we don't actually know that it's better at all, let alone half as bad.

And we don’t know if it’s “bad” either.


> The perfect is the enemy of the good.

In this case, high-carbon (coal and gas) is the enemy of low-carbon (wind/solar/tidal/hydro/nuclear/geo).

I said this in another thread, but switching from terrible to awful is not something we should take as what we can get. The starting point and the end point are unacceptable in a coal to gas transition. No point celebrating that.

For example, fracked gas is so cheap that it's starting to cause near zero-carbon nuclear plants to close early. Unlike gas, nuclear plants are actually low carbon (12 gCO2-eq/kWe vs. 490 for gas). Thus, fracked gas being cheap and not considered the high-carbon fuel it is is preventing us from reaching our climate goals.

This is really serious stuff.


> This is really serious stuff.

Yes, we're in agreement on that. And "celebrating" gas is a million miles away from my perspective. Every reduction in CO2 emissions today saves lives not just today but a century from now.

Suppose we could instantaneously replace coal with natural gas, today. And we also have a choice of replacing all coal with low-carbon sources, but at some point in N years in the future. How long does it take to break even? 2N years in the future. So even assuming we could fully decarbonize the world economy in 25 years, it'd be a half century before we even get to the break even point in terms of accummulated emissions.

And that doesn't even account for a significant part of the carbon emissions from the first 25 years being absorbed by various processes, or the ability to simultaneously push for low carbon and natural gas energy. Even if natural gas pushes the timeline for full decarbonization from 25 to 35 years out, it's still a clear win.

That scenario I acknowledge is bleak, but bleak is better than... really fucking bleak, which is what we're headed for with coal.


What you say makes perfect sense but when you transpose to the real world the story changes. See how the most vocal and powerful climate activists work day and night to stifle nuclear energy as a perfectly good solution to fight climate change, by far the best solution out there to reduce emissions. Maybe gas is the second best solution to reduce emissions while we develop other solutions in the meantime.


> See how the most vocal and powerful climate activists work day and night to stifle nuclear energy as a perfectly good solution to fight climate change

I don't think that conforms with reality. Off the top of my head, I looked up McKibben and Greta, and both see a role for nuclear power in decarbonization.

The bigger issue is that it's not prioritized because it'd split the environmental movement, but that's a far cry from "work day and night to stifle nuclear energy."


They don't have to work that hard to stifle nuclear because that battle was largely fought and won 3 decades ago. By and large it has remained 'won.' Without splitting hairs the point remains that nuclear was scapegoated sufficiently that even if environmentalist could agree on nuclear and worked day and night to fight FOR it, we're at least a generation away from any new installations much less meaningful adoption within the grid. In the meantime, I think an objective person might say that natural gas -- on balance -- is a preferred alternative to coal (excepting any other viable substitutes).


> we're at least a generation away from any new installations much less meaningful adoption within the grid.

That's just not the case, if sanity prevails at all. We could have much safer Gen IV plants online within 10 years easily. It just takes the will to do it.


And how long before the regulations change to allow it? And how much longer before local zoning allows it? And how much before a utility clears all the build and commissioning hurdles and plant trials? And how long before sufficient quantities are in place to supplant natural gas? I hardly think one should say “if sanity prevails” and “easily” when talking about reviving nuclear. We’ll be on mars before we see meaningful levels of nuclear power.


Until there is a nuclear process that does not produce waste (both spent fuel and the reactor components) that must be stored for tens of thousands of years it is irresponsible to build them.

AFAICT Gen IV is basically the same technology in a brighter wrapper.

There is some hope thorium energy amplifiers (? correct term?) might fit the bill, but I do not know of one that has been built.

Also as the English are finding it is a very expensive way to generate electricity.

We can do better.


Thorium may be a solution. There are also molten salt reactors that are very promising. Unfortunately, when you look at nuclear energy policy, the two people most likely to be willing/capable to create positive policies supporting these new technologies also seem to be against any nuclear development at all [1]. They are talking in terms of 2030 timelines for elimination of nuclear - thus, my comment that we can't expect any new substantial contributions in a 'generation.' If US policy makers are already making plans that go out into the 2030s that do not include nuclear, it will take at least as long to bring it back to the table. How would one even build a test reactor in the US if the energy policies disallow it at commercial scale?

1. https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2019-09-10/elizab...


Greta is irrelevant in the US, which is what we are talking about. In the US you need to look at people like AOC and other GND advocates. You’ll find a stark lack of support for nuclear.


The US nuclear industry had a chance at coming back from the dead but blew it. Both Bush and Obama signed subsidies and loan guarantees and plants were ordered by two utilities in the South. One project was abandoned after spending $9B the other is 2x over budget in money and time. The manufacturer, Westinghouse, was forced into bankruptcy over it.

How did AOC cause that?

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_in_the_United_...


Check out this tool created by MIT to see how big of an impact nuclear power has on CO2 emissions. https://en-roads.climateinteractive.org/scenario.html?v=2.7.... (hint, it ain't much).

The enthusiasm behind nuclear as a climate solution seems pretty misplaced. With heavy subsidies, it can play a tiny tiny tiny role in solving the problem.


That seems to assume that it's physically impossible to make cost effective, widely popular nuclear power plant that can be built quickly.

In the USA, more than half of the carbon-free electricity comes from 100 GW if nuclear. Globally it has prevented more than 70 GT of carbon emissions. Is there any other low carbon energy source that has approached this yet? I don't think so. Maybe hydro, but it's somewhat hard to wholesale expand.


> That seems to assume that it's physically impossible to make cost effective, widely popular nuclear power plant that can be built quickly.

That is the experience so far. As well as waste that must be stored for generations. Not a lot of waste but even a little bit of some thing that must be stored for more than 10,000 years is a impossible prospect


The problem is how much this is a zero sum game. The $2B invested in the "second best solution" isn't invested in the "third best solution". The arguments above include:

A) What metric are we ordering "second best" by. If it's Carbon and/or Methane (and it should be in discussion of climate impact), natural gas is never our "second best solution" and absolutely a red herring or distraction.

B) This is especially true on the longer time horizon in both cases in both directions as being a worryingly zero-sum game, because 1) today's billion dollar investment is tomorrow's entrenched sunk costs, and 2) without some huge advances in carbon and/or methane capture we can't "take back" emissions and in long term climate control every molecule of carbon/methane we don't produce matters (not even just ASAP, but starting four decades ago when scientists first started warning everyone about this stuff).


The problem is not a zero sum game.

There is no reason to believe that private capital used to convert coal to gas would be spent instead on renewables.

Additionally, 100% renewables is not viable today outside of specific locations with concentrated hydroelectric power.


I didn't say it was exactly a zero sum game, I said it resembles one, especially in the long term planning horizon.

There are many problems with using Game Theory terms in real world/pragmatic discussion, but yes, clearly among them is that I anticipated this pedantic a response. You are right, it is not exactly a textbook example of a zero sum game and we can't prove it is one. I use the terminology metaphorically and not mathematically.

The question I pointed out is "how much does it resemble one?"

I think that it is much closer to one than not, and I do think there is plenty of reason to suggest that many actors in private capital would prefer money be spent on natural gas over renewables due to vested interests. Vested interests by themselves are something that I have seen modeled as a zero sum game, in theory and divorced from greater context. As just one part of the whole mess of motivations, politics, and sociology in trying to address climate change and energy industry spending, does it mean the entire thing is reducible to zero sum? Of course it doesn't. Does it add evidence that are enough zero sum games and zero sum-equivalent games in play that we can worry metaphorically that the entire thing is one giant zero sum game? Yes, it does, and that's all I was saying.


Given the state of world and history of war in the 20th and 21st centuries, I’m honestly surprised anyone would suggest a centralized energy system that requires the maintenance of a stable state formation for 1-10,000 years. You think the US (or any country) is going to exist at that level for a thousand more years? We’re better off leaving around a bunch of abandoned solar panels than nuclear materials.


If it's really serious then the USA should be emphasizing expanding fracking operations further since that's been their most effective emissions reducer. Most of the country's emissions progress has been due to a mix of increased efficiency across particular consumption mediums (like cars) and natural gas replacing dirtier energy generation methods.


The problem with that is, when you build a gas plant, that's infrastructure that you now have an economic incentive to run for decades. So while switching to these plants might make a small improvement now, it will cause greater pain in the future.


It's not a small improvement though, it's the primary source of the USA's emissions gains. And it comes with the side bonus of promoting energy independence while also creating exportable products.


It's undercutting and killing what makes over 50% of our carbon free energy: our 100 GWe nuclear fleet. Gas is not an ok end point. Nuclear is. Killing an ok endpoint to make small gains while approaching a not-ok endpoint is unwise.


I mean, the reason natural gas makes a difference is because the USA isn't actually trying the cheapest and most effective way: just reducing emissions.


Natural Gas is also load following and plants are efficient at a much smaller scale, which means it is easier on the grid and makes more renewables possible. Moving from coal to gas enables solar and wind.

I personally think the US or Canada should build massive LNG plants in the PNW, and export gas to China. It would help the nasty particulate problems in the cities, and also make their infrastructure more amenable to renewables.


Why would we invest in and build more very-high carbon systems like fracked natural gas when we have so many incredible low-carbon resources around like solar, geothermal, tidal, hydro, nuclear, and wind!? This seems really backwards to me considering the gravity of the climate situation.


Your parent already said why. The ability of gas plants to quickly adjust to changing loads is one of the things enabling those solar, tidal, and wind plants to be on the grid. Nuclear, hydro, and geothermal are great for baseline load, but adjust very slowly to changing load requirements.

Gas is filling a legitimate technical gap right now within the power grid, bridging between slow baseline plants and unpredictable renewable sources.


Even ignoring that we have a well known, much more renewable option on the table (nuclear), it is a technical gap that is also rapidly shrinking from advancements in storage tech (batteries and hydrogen fuel cells).


> Nuclear, hydro, and geothermal are great for baseline load, but adjust very slowly to changing load requirements.

Hydro adjusts very fast, it's literally just letting more water through. Nuclear is slower, but since its fuel costs are so low, you can typically just run it at full power all the time. Of course, with this approach you'll be overproducing, but with efficient spot market for electricity, you'll have businesses taking advantage of this cheap energy during overproduction to generate the necessary load.


Does pumped-storage hydroelectricity meet a similar need?

Or does it take longer to come online than natural gas?


It depends, pumped storage can be designed to react very fast. In particular pumped storage plants which were conceived specifically to alleviate surge demand can spend a little bit of energy now to stand ready, no longer storing further energy but with their turbines now "spinning in air" the generator is rotating with no load and then when you actually need that power you drop water through to spin it instead, 16 seconds from zero to 6 x 300MW turbines = 1.8GW at Dinorwig station in Wales.

Gas likewise needs to consider this at design time. The most efficient possible closed-cycle gas turbine setup may take hours to be prepared and spin back up from zero, but obviously you would not choose this configuration if your intent was to use this station to handle surges. Britain's fleet of closed-cycle gas turbine power stations (in the same network as Dinorwig) frequently ramp up and down a dozen GW in an hour across the country.

BTW Dinorwig's fast start isn't really there to manage surges, that's a convenient happenstance, nobody was worried about a duck curve from solar power when it was built. It's there because it's a Black Start facility. Most power stations need outside power to start, it's just easier and they're connected anyway, Dinorwig was chosen to be able to start from nothing if the grid fails, so in that sense it's like the box of matches by the furnace, just in case.


You need some generation source that can quickly be brought online when needed, e.g. to meet peak demand for a few hours a day during extremely hot (or cold) weather, or when it's not windy/sunny.

Natural gas power plants are cheap to build and significantly cleaner than coal plants currently in operation. Nuclear is a fantastic option that I strongly support, but building reactors is a very expensive and multi-year process (if you can even get approval for it).

NG is not the endgame solution, but it is an immediately available solution to fill that gap until grid scale battery technology and sufficient renewable or nuclear capacity comes online.


Sounds like we should help make nuclear cheaper and more popular. No high carbon gas needed.


That would be great. Episode 3 of Netflix's documentary on Bill Gates [0] that gets into his efforts to develop and deploy new reactor tech. While it only presents a small piece of the picture, it at least touches on the political climate surrounding nuclear energy. Worth a watch.

[0] https://www.netflix.com/title/80184771


But the climate activists strongly oppose nuclear every chance they get.


The problem is not climate activists, the problem is NIMBY.

I'm a "climate activist" and know plenty of others and they are by far the staunchest supporters of nuclear that I know.


Nuclear is only expensive due to NIMBY regulation and lack of economies of scale. Look to South Korea to see how perfecting a plant design can dramatically lower cost.

The first thing we need to do is reverse the devolution of local control in the United States. If any random neighborhood council can block nuclear development then we aren't going to get anywhere.


hydro is not low carbon, generally.


Part of the problem is the life of a power plant is on the order of decades. Every new natural gas plant is a plant that will exist for 50+ years. Because investors need to make their money back.


Investors want to get their money back.

They frequently don't, when conditions change.


But they also frequently lobby the government in order to ensure that they do.

Nothing good comes from having a large class of investors with significant amounts of money tied up in high-carbon power plants for the next half century.


> The perfect is the enemy of the good.

As often said when trying to push a bad solution instead of a good one. Replacing coal plants with gas plants is a bad solution. Rapid deployment of nuclear+renewables is merely good. Perfect would be overhauling the economy to be less dependent on growth and much less carbon intensive.


> As often said when trying to push a bad solution instead of a good one.

Natural gas isn't meant to be a solution, so it doesn't make any sense of complain about it. The US is switching to it because it's better than coal in almost every way (safer extraction, cost, air population, carbon). We're essentially getting the benefits of natural gas for free.


As I keep saying, fracked gas is killing our low carbon nuclear fleet. This is a tragedy, not some benign effect.


[flagged]


The thing is, everyone _could_ get a pony, if we decided that doing so was a priority. Ponies cost about $1000.

If it mattered enough, the US government could ABSOLUTELY afford $330 billion to get everyone a pony.

It's not that tremendous things aren't possible, it's that we aren't doing them.


Not to take away from your main point, but the capitalized total cost of ownership for a pony is _much_ larger than $1000 (which, by the way, is the price for a not-very-good-natured pony; breeds with nice temperaments cost a lot more according to https://pets.costhelper.com/pony.html ).

Doing some quick checking, food for a pony is ~$1-2k per year. Lodging is $2-3k per year. Basic preventative veterinary care is $1k per year; if the pony gets old this could get a lot more.

That's $4-6k a year for upkeep, and ponies live for 20+ years. So the actual cost of a pony, even with discounting and whatnot for future dollars, is probably at least $50k, not $1k.


If you really think through the implications of every individual in America owning a pony, it gets a lot more interesting than that! It means that everyone in every city would own a pony -- would that mean that perhaps a proxy ownership situation would occur, where you had a certificate of pony ownership, but the pony would be housed and maintained anywhere in the country that could do so cheapest? It would cost a lot more than 2-3k/year to house a pony in NYC! Let alone the sudden demand for housing about 5 million of them...

My guess is that these ponies would be kept in horrible conditions similar to the way domesticated cattle are raised for milk and meat. I would hazard that all of our assumptions about the actual price of ponies and maintenance would come down if we all needed to have a pony, and would come down by a LOT.


Well, yes, the "there aren't 330 million ponies in the US, and if there were, where would we keep them?" problem is definitely a problem too!


Not to mention the costs to offset the carbon impact of the pony's feed.

tharne 14 days ago [flagged]

Don't worry, it's in the works: https://berniesanders.com/

bockafer 14 days ago [flagged]

Gingivitis has been eroding the gum line of this great nation long enough and must be stopped. For too long this country has been suffering a great moral and oral decay, in spirit and incisors. A countries future depends on its ability to bite back. We can no longer be a nation indentured. Our very salivation is at stake.


Natural gas seems like tech dept to me. Take short term gain over long term. Hope that you'll address the tech dept sooner rather then later.

Sometimes that's the right call, and sometime the wrong call. I'm not qualified to tell, but I don't think this is a case of perfect being the enemy of the good, since all the other alternatives aren't perfect either, and seem equally viable, as opposed to a perfect over engineered solution that would never ever be able to actually materialize and ship, which is generally when the phrase perfect is the enemy of the good applies.


Considering that we really need to reduce emissions every year by about 15% by now it is not enough at all https://mobile.twitter.com/CarbonBrief/status/12132723324640...


> Natural gas is roughly half as bad as coal

Not if you enter a feedback cycle of greenhouse gas emissions. That is DEFINITELY the enemy of good.


And particulates are far more dangerous than CO2. People don’t get asthma or cancer from CO2.


That's the first concession of my comment at the top of this thread. Coal and oil kills today (~6 million/yr). Gas kills tomorrow via climate change.


> If you build a bunch of $2B shiny new gas facilities, as we are doing today, utilities will want to run them for decades.

Utilities will want to run anything for decades, but gas plants are crazy cheap. A $2B natural gas power plant is inconceivable. A 500MW plant costs more like $500M (probably less), but AFAIU they're typically built smaller. And construction is very fast, on the order of 1-2 years. We've been building many, relatively small plants, which means phasing them out can likewise be done incrementally.

All of which means that even if we need to ditch natural gas, it won't be that painful, ignoring the comparative costs of natural gas itself.

Sources: https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/assumptions/pdf/table_8.2.p..., https://www.eia.gov/electricity/generatorcosts/, via https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=487&t=3


We are at the tipping point of price curves where building new natural gas plant will likely be a stranded asset before its end of life:

https://rmi.org/a-bridge-backward-the-risky-economics-of-new...

Given the nature of many utility executives of expecting static costs of renewables from old estimates (a problem that also plagued the EIA and IEA), couples with regulations on what sort of profits utilities are allowed to collect, I expect that we will invest in far more natural gas than is economically rational.

And that's excluding the economic externalities of carbon emission; if we properly priced things we'd probably only build natural gas in some very extreme cases, and we'd be retiring far more natural gas.

It's frustrating to have such fast technology change, but have it go unacknowledged by key decision makers and decision influencers in both industry and government.


I'm not disputing that there'll be pain, or that we shouldn't be building them so quickly. I'm disputing how much pain and structural lock-in there'd be.

The article says that "planned investment in new gas power plants and pipelines totals over $100 billion", but that "by 2035, over 90 percent of proposed combined-cycle gas plants, if built, would be uneconomic to run compared to the cost of building a new clean energy portfolio."

Considering how quickly plants can built and how clean they are, at least in the sense of environmental regulations requiring long lead times (and therefore sunk costs) in preparing sites, if the predictions are true then energy executives should be able to pivot rather quickly. Most of the risk in a roadmap for building a bunch of gas plants isn't in being locked into building the gas plant, it's in the opportunity cost of not preparing for whatever the alternative will be. So long as wind and PV have similar initial costs, then pivoting should be easy. "Planning" to build $100 billion in gas plants is alot different than planning to build $100 billion in nuclear or hydro.

FWIW, I'm not disagreeing that maybe we should be incentivizing renewables more, but I can't get too worked up about it, either. The factors that make natural gas easy to switch to also make it easy to walk away from, particularly if you're walking away from planned construction.


If you build a bunch of $2B shiny new gas facilities, as we are doing today, utilities will want to run them for decades.

They'll want to run them for decades if they remain the cheapest options. Any combination of these developments could retire them well short of their technically achievable lifetimes:

- States and municipalities implement more ambitious decarbonization laws.

- Storage-backed clean energy costs fall.

- Natural gas prices rise as unprofitable producers exit the market.

Additionally, gas plant load factors can decline even without shuttering the facility if renewables bid below their pricing much of the time. Burning half as much gas in a year is a big emissions improvement even if the plant remains in business.

Natural gas plants are less "sticky" than coal plants for a number of reasons.

They employ small numbers of people compared to coal plants, so there is less political incentive to subsidize them just to prevent job losses.

There are few, if any, new natural gas plants co-located with gas production facilities. "Mine mouth" coal power plants had an additional element of stickiness because the mining jobs and plant jobs are eliminated together when the power plant closes, amplifying the local incentives to keep coal plants running for jobs.

Natural gas plants are much cheaper to construct than coal plants, so their costs are recouped faster.

See Table 1 in this 2016 report:

https://www.eia.gov/analysis/studies/powerplants/capitalcost...

Natural gas combined cycle plants have overnight capital costs of $978/kW, while the cheapest new coal option is $3636/kW.

This report from 2017 indicates that NGCC plants might be even cheaper than that:

https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=31912

It says that the actual cost of NGCC plants built in 2015 was $614/kW, nearly 6 times cheaper than the estimated cost of a coal plant.


Out of curiousity, are the emissions numbers you're quoting for solar, geothermal, hydro, etc accounting for the carbon costs associated with their construction? Additionally, don't those all require at least large-capacity battery systems, if not full nuclear/gas/coal plant backups in case the power can't be generated by those low-emissions systems?

I'm not trying to imply anything, just sincerely curious.


Yes, they are the result of full lifecycle anaysis from mining raw construction materials to final decommissioning.

Yes, for intermittent sources to lead to a low carbon system, vast energy storage or other low-carbon dispatchable load following is required.

Nuclear is the one low-carbon dispatchable source with very low life cycle land & material requirements and high energy return on investment.

For this reason, I like all low-carbon sources, but I love nuclear. Disclaimer: I'm professionally dedicated to solving the cost and public acceptance issues with nuclear.


How come wind is 4x better than solar? I'd image a solar panel would last on average 30+ years with almost no maintenance. Does wind calculation include maintenance, decommission and recycling? Does wind have to work 24/7 to meet this number? Is production the major contributor for solar?


These calculations are full lifecycle including everything listed. I belive the big difference here is related to energy used during fabrication of the solar panels and the mining of raw materials.

These are all per kWh so capacity factor of wind or solar is not relevant for this metric


Let me clarify: Does solar have 41CO2-eq/KWh on average or in optimal conditions? Just wonder if solar panel could possible be worse than gas (Alaska, north facing roof, heavy snow)


Ah yes, you're right. Capacity factor does matter. They give ranges to cover the point you're making. I'm using the medians. This is from Table A.III.2 from [1]. Solar PV utility ranges from 18 to 180. Hydro peaks out at a terrifying 2200 (due to biogenic methane emissions, still being researched).

[1] https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/ipcc_wg3_ar5...

You can get a solar panel to be worse than gas for sure in Alaska in winter. But we have to assume some intelligence in what people choose to do with their money.


The good thing about atmospheric methane though is that at its half life is only about 30 years.


The thing is that while coal plants are tied to coal and can't reasonably be adapted to other fuel sources, gas plants can be adapted to anything that burns - which includes CO2-neutral gas such as methane from biowaste, or methane made from electrolysis H2.

Therefore it is very viable to build gas plants now, especially for peak demand.


There is nothing which stops you converting from coal to natural gas. Plenty of coal plants have it or are in the process. Coal power plants pulverise coal until it is so small that it can be picked up in hot air and blown into the furnace. The already usually use oil or gas to initially warm the furnace.


Burning natural gas is definitely better than burning coal. But unburned natural gas is a much worse GHG than CO2, so if they leak too much when extracting, it could cancel the “climate savings”. (Would still probably mean less noxious air though.)


Unburned methane oxidizes into CO2 in about 10 years, where as excess C02 persists pretty much indefinitely. Calling natural gas "much worse" is misleading. Over a longer horizon, it is about the same as C02.


Methane doesn't entirely oxidize to CO2 in ten years. It has a half-life, so it gradually tails off. The net warming impact of methane over 100 years is 34 times higher than the warming impact of CO2: https://unfccc.int/news/new-methane-signs-underline-urgency-...

Over just twenty years, the impact of methane is substantially higher than that: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-bad-of-a-gree...

This matters, because the big concern with climate is exceeding a tipping point, where natural feedbacks like ice melt, emissions from melting permafrost, and forest fires cause the planet to warm several degrees further with no more help from us. We see that happening several times in geological history, where small amounts of warming kick off a positive feedback cycle that adds several more degrees.

Warming over the next few decades will pretty much determine whether that happens to us. After fifty years, hopefully we'll have a zero-carbon economy, but if we've already tipped into a warming cycle by then, it won't matter.


> Natural gas isn't the ultimate solution, of course, but it's a mistake to treat it the same as coal.

OTOH considering we need to reach negative emissions asap it's a mistake to invest (or have invested) in fracking.


Specifying that the choice is between zero emissions and bust, and then rejecting intermediate solutions, is a sure way to get bust.


Progressively moving investments and subsidies to renewables is the intermediate solution, not fracking.


That can and must happen in parallel with replacement of coal with cleaner sources of energy, even if they involve emissions.

Full decarbonization can't in any sense be considered an intermediate solution, because there's not even a small working example of it anywhere in the world or any plausible proposal to get from here to there on the timescale we need to avoid disaster.


> Full decarbonization can't in any sense be considered an intermediate solution

I agree, but progressively moving to renewables is not full decarbonization either.

Energy production is not the only source of emissions:

https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/global-greenhouse-gas-emiss...

And even if it was, best case scenario it will take a couple of decades to switch away from fossil fuels.

> there's not even a small working example of it anywhere in the world or any plausible proposal to get from here to there on the timescale we need to avoid disaster

Yes but we are in uncharted territory. We don't know how to do it but humanity has to find a way and fracking is certainly not part of where we need to go.

The sensible decision would have been to invest in renewables instead of fracking. Fracking has been a total waste of money even ignoring all the environmental problems it is causing.

James Hansen talked to congress about climate change in the 80s, it's not like this is a new issue.


France is basically decarbonized for electricity. It is very attainable with nuclear.


We have run out of time for intermediate solutions. A reduction of 2% (globally!) would have maybe been sufficient pre-2000. Today we need a reduction of 15% PER YEAR if we have any hope of keeping temperature increase within 1.5 degrees Celsius -- which is already a Very Bad Thing to happen as is.

https://twitter.com/CarbonBrief/status/1209025851343413248

We need extreme radical measures now. This tiny effect that happens to have occurred despite not changing anything about the fundamental logic of our economy and our relationship to energy is nothing to pat ourselves on the back about.


> if we have any hope of keeping temperature increase within 1.5 degrees Celsius

We're already past 2ºC if you consider climate lag, aerosols cooling, and feedbacks.

See this comment of mine from a couple of months ago with links and such:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20544252


Methane could be MUCH WORSE than coal considering the potency of the greenhouse gas and unknown and undetected leaks, such this one recently happening in Ohio: https://arstechnica.com/science/2019/12/ohio-gas-well-accide...

The leak damage is reported to be as bad as many countries do in a year.


I didn't even need to control-F it as I was preparing to do, it was in the subheadline.

> If too much methane leaks during production, though, the benefits will be lost


...assuming we have any skill at maintaining infrastructure, and looking around this country we really don’t. Look at the oil pipeline leaks just in the last year.


I've gotta say, people linking articles they clearly didn't read is one of my least favorite things about HN.


Completely agree. But I find that it happens not just on HN, but on other high-quality boards as well. (It would be improper of me to make the remark without confessing that I've done this a few times myself.)


> If too much methane leaks during production, though, the benefits will be lost

Right in the sub title. Are you willing to bet that methane leaks are poorly tracked or an "honor system"? I am.


Having lived in coal mining country, and visited a coal mine, I'm not. Methane and other gasses that leak during coal mining are carefully monitored and tracked because they're a hazard not only to the safety of the miners, but to the entire operation.

An explosion can kill dozens, destroy the mine, and leave it burning for decades.

But I will state that I'm an outsider in this field, and I suspect you are, too. Perhaps someone with direct knowledge can comment more authoritatively.


It's closely tracked when it's something that could seriously impact the ability of the operation to continue producing revenue.

But what about when it's simply an environmental externality? Some contaminated water supplies can be conveniently swept under the rug, who's going to know and if they do how are they going to prove that you did it? Much better not to keep records on that type of thing and look the other way.


This quote applies to fracking operations.


Having a noxious gas sensor in a coal mine is not at all the same as tracking methane emissions from a fracking operation, which can occur over many square miles of the surrounding countryside (the whole point is to fracture underground rocks containing hydrocarbons, which then seep to the surface).

Trump administration is currently getting rid of all rules about methane emissions, so producers will have zero legal requirement in the USA to track, identify, report on, or prevent any methane leaks.


Are you seriously comparing a noxious gas in a closed mine to methane leaks from fracking?


Note that the Environmental Defense Fund is planning to launch MethaneSAT in 2022 to monitor methane emissions. Data will be open. https://www.edf.org/climate/space-technology-can-cut-climate...


Unlike CO2 Methane has a half life of ~7 years in the atmosphere, thus front loading warming before breaking down into CO2 and water. So, in terms of climate impact in 2040+, natural gas burned today is significantly better than coal.


In 2040 methane emitted today will still be 86x more potent than co2. Co2 emissions from natural gas are 50% that of coal. So todays natural gas with a 1% leakage rate will still have 135% of the warming impact of coal in 2040.

By 2120 the methane emitted today will be 34x as potent as co2. So todays natural gas with a 1% leak rate will have 84% of the impact on warming that you would get from coal.

So if you can keep leakage to 1% (it hasn't been that low and efforts to regulate it to those levels have been attacked by republicans.) Then by sometime around 2100 it should be coming down to the same impact as coal.

This bridge fuel/front loading of the warming strategy would have been great in 1970 and 1980. Today it really doesn't make any sense.


You’re vastly off. Averaged over 20 years methane is (GWP) 104x as potent as CO2, averaged over 100 years it’s (GWP) 28x. But, to get that average you can calculate ((28 * 100) - (104 * 20)) / 80 = 9. So, from year 20 to year 100 it’s 9x as potent on average. You get this because 1 - (1/(2^(20/7)) = 86% of methane released today has broken down in 20 years.

Further, methane goes from CH4 atomic weight 18 to CO2 atomic weight 44. Thus, after breakdown you get (44/18) = 2.75x as much CO2 by weight. So, in 2120 methane produced today will be 99.995% CO2 and provide ~2.75x as much warming vs CO2 emitted today.

Edit: Updated with numbers from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atmospheric_methane


That makes sense. Do you know if there is a graph that illustrates this so it cements in my mind better?

I wonder how much feedbacks are considered with this. The early pulse of warming can cause changes to alebedo, co2 and methane emissions from melting permafrost, etc that carry on after the initial methane has broken down.


The graph is just a log decay like all chemical degradation curves.

https://skepticalscience.com/toward-improved-discussions-met...


But this potency will be in the past, as all the methane broke down in 2100. The effect of a warmer day now will surely be negligible a 100 years in a future and climate instead find a new equilibrium?


The world is not going to end due to climate change in 2100 or 2200. Humans are capable of adapting to developing climates. The Earth is not going to burn to ashes, the most likely scenario are a few degrees higher which will absolutely have an impact but I don't buy the doomsday scenario. Deaths due to catastrophic events have been going down each decade. Population displacement due to flooding is overstated as we are capable of adapting to incremental flooding due to climate change. My point is, let's take gas now as an improvement and work on solutions over time. We can reasonably expect that by 2100 most cars will be electric or some other clean energy fuel. Climate change will not be solved due to international cooperation, this is an intractable cooperation problem. We are beating climate change with human ingenuity but it takes time...


"Humans" can adapt as a general abstraction, but we're all too happy to let individual humans die, particularly if they're poor or in developing countries.

Even if you write off those deaths as irrelevant, it still costs money to adapt, as infrastructure has to be built or abandoned and rebuilt, and human capital has to be moved along with it.


It is not clear to me that poor countries are to experience human loss due to climate change since there is a trade off in place here. If developed and developing countries curb emissions to near net zero levels the world economy will suffer. For instance, people in developing countries are still dying from malnutrition. Preventing enhanced economic global prosperity may affect human lives more than the counterfactual scenario of current emission levels. I am not saying this is true, but I think this question is valid. Of course, it would be ideal if we could stop CO2 emissions without foregoing economic growth but such scenario is not possible as of today. That's why I think the solution will come via technological advances instead of global cooperation to reduce CO2 emissions. Even though I do live in a developed country, I came from a developing country and many of you with the same background as me knows that climate change is the least of their worries when some don't even know what they are going to eat for dinner. My point is, in the absence of a global governance structure that makes prohibitively costly to implement a drastic reduction in CO2 emissions worldwide, there is no way that people in the developing world will choose less economic development. I know climate change is dear and near to many people's hearts here but as far as the consequences are not dramatic and sudden, people in the developing world will not really care except for the rich and upper middle class in developing countries which includes some of the biggest emitters such as China.


My argument would be that some kind of coordinated global price on carbon would be an economically cheaper way to prevent and mitigate climate change than arbitrary and unbounded externalization of the costs of it on individuals.

I agree with you that there's a deep and fundamental coordination problem, which is why de facto I think technological solutions will be what have to save us. Which is basically putting many millions of lives at stake with a hope and a prayer, but that's the best we have.


These same countries never installed land line telephone networks and yet most people in the developing world have phones now because cell phone technology came down in cost enough to outcompete any attempt at building out landline infrastructure.

As solar and wind and storage prices are are coming down fast there is good reason to expect the developing world to be able to largely be able to leapfrog fossil fuels and electrify without the expensive cost of building centralized power plants with sprawling networks of transmission lines, substations and local power lines stretching for thousands and thousands of miles zigzagging through the country side.

Same with electric cars. We are getting close to a day when electric cars will be on sale with 200+ miles of range for 22,000 that has 1/10th the cost to operate as a equivalent internal combustion engine.

The idea that fossil fuel consumption is neccessary for economic growth and standard of living is outdated. Many nations economies have already decoupled growth from fossil fuel consumption. Reducing co2 emissions while simultaneously growing their economies. Including the US.


If you have a bunch of gas infrastructure leaking constantly, the powerful methane is actually far worse for climate, molecule for molecule, because the methane level will equilibriate high and cause constant high warming as long as the infrastructure is operating and leaking.


If it breaks down into CO2 after the 7 years doesn’t that mean it continues to be a climate changing element?


It breaks down by half over 7 years. 7 years is the half life not the lifespan. Also yes it continues being a greenhouse gas even after it breaks down. So the "Global warming potential" of a ton of methane leaked to atmosphere starts out extremely high.

(Edit: I misunderstood this next part. It's potencies here are averaged over that period of time. Most of the impact comes at the begining.)

After 20 years it is 86x more potent than co2 and after 100 years it is 34x more potent. It never becomes less potent than co2 because it eventually becomes co2.


Yes, I understand half-lives. my point was that even after breaking down it continues to contribute to the changing of the climate.


It’s a question of scale. Methane is useful fuel, so leaks are an exception rather than the most common result. Spilled gasoline when fueling your car also results in atmospheric CO2, but you produce vastly more CO2 from what ends up in your tank.


There is plenty of evidence that leakyness is a common feature of natural gas infrastructure.

The Methane being leaked is 86x more potent than co2 over 20 years and 34x more potent over 100 years.

At 1% leakage todays natural gas emissions don't gain a climate advantage over coal until around 2100. At 2% leakage todays natural gas emissions are still significantly worse than coal in 2100.

https://www.technologynetworks.com/applied-sciences/news/glo...

http://theconversation.com/the-us-natural-gas-industry-is-le...

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming_potential


Interesting. Oil companies frack to get petroleum, and are OK with burning the natural gas at the well head. I get the impression that a big reason they choose to capture the natural gas instead is criticism of just burning it by environmentalists, but maybe it is more environmentally friendly to just burn it in the absence of the political will to ban fracking. (I am assuming that burning at the well head is an effective way to reduce the amount of unburnt gas released.)


They flare it where there is no infrastructure or insufficient infrastructure to get the gas to market. There are limits on what can be flared and this is what drives some of the decision making. However, if sufficient infrastructure exists they are literally burning money by flaring the gas or just letting it evaporate into the atmosphere.


Apparently I misunderstood how it works. Averaged over 100 years its 34x more potent, but the vast majority of the impact is early on.


Yep, in 2017 the US became the largest exporter of crude oil, surpassing Saudi Arabia because of fracking.

American natural gas production, which had been essentially flat since the mid-1970s, jumped by nearly 43 percent between 2007 and 2017.


You can't lock in gas plants because they are less capital intensive, require less staff, they can throttle based on demand and finally the fuel costs are higher than renewables so it always makes sense to throttle them down when renewables are available instead of clogging the grid like coal plants. They are one key part of the needed energy storage mix.


> But when you consider the methane leaks from wellheads and pipelines and facilities it is roughly as bad as coal for climate.

This makes intuitive sense. But do you have a source for how that calculation was determined. My understanding is that the impact of methane viz-a-viz carbon is highly sensitive to the time frame that you're considering. Methane is highly potent in terms of warning but quickly breaks down in the atmosphere.


Quickly is a relative term. Methane won't exist for millennia like CO2, but it will contribute to positive feedback loops in the coming decades in the climate that lead to further warming. Ideally, gas should be deployed as a transitional and backup energy source; let's use it to kill coal, then let's use it as flexible generation once renewables are much higher %. This is assuming batteries and other storage don't ramp quickly enough.


> a little better from a direct carbon emission point of view.

Usually I'm on your side about these things, but I was surprised by your comment. Here's the IPCC numbers [0]. Natural gas has about half the emissions that coal does. With CCS it almost gets to the levels of renewables and nuclear. I'm not saying this should be a long term solution or even endorsing this solution. But natural gas is definitely more than a little better than coal in terms of climate.

> This is overall not a good story for climate as we lock in gas plants for decades.

I do agree with this point, mostly. We can still push for CCS additions to already operating plants. I know you know better than most that renewables don't work as effectively everywhere and batteries are there for long term solutions (though clearly we're building gas where we don't have to and that IS a big problem). I also know you're an expert when it comes to understanding nuclear.

As for energy, we need more of it. If we can't build new renewables or nuclear, I'll take a new gas plant over a new coal plant any day. I do think everyone here is in agreement that we'd rather have renewables though (and several also want nuclear).

[0] https://i.imgur.com/wkvjleP.png


I’m not sure I believe this. My state over the last 20 years went from 70% coal 30% natgas to 25% coal, 25% wind, 50% natgas. We’re fricking killing it when it comes to fighting air pollution.

Only reason other states don’t follow suit is they politically can’t embrace natgas like we can, and without gas turbines, you can’t expand wind as easily.


Renewables are definitely a factor at this point, and a growing one. Nuclear is not... new nuclear production is basically at a standstill, because it's far too expensive. Cost is what's killing coal, and it's killing traditional nuclear as well.


Operating nuclear plants are shutting down early in some places because electricity revenue has gone down because cheap fracked natural gas has brought prices down.

Trading perfectly-fine NPPs for fracked gas plants at this time in our climate history for 1 cent/kWh is a travesty.


And how would you prevent this? The flip side of nuclear's stability at high loads over long term is that the economics are all built around running at high load. If they lose major customers to cheaper competition, they can no longer operate profitably.


Institute carbon pricing and nuclear will be competitive. Solar can only deliver 40-50% of overall demand because the rest of the energy consumption happens at night. If the carbon costs are high enough, solar + gas will be more expensive than nuclear.


Give nuclear plants subsidies in the form of zero-emission credits like New York and Illinois did:

https://statepowerproject.org/illinois/

https://statepowerproject.org/new-york/

That way low-cost natural gas generation can still replace coal fired generators but won't drive premature nuclear retirements.


By internalizing the cost of pollution, specifically, a carbon tax (though also a methane tax and a mercury tax).

I don't know if nuclear plants are covering the costs of storing spent fuel, but they should, and coal and natural gas plants should have to pay for the crap they release into the air.

Markets will only allocate resources appropriately if you internalize externalities. I can't think of a case where doing so is the wrong decision.


Methane decomposes in the atmosphere [1]. CO2 is forever.

  Mechanism                 Methane removal (Mt)
  Tropospheric oxidation    506
  Stratospheric oxidation    40
  Soil uptake                30
  Total                     576
  Emissions                 598
[1] https://www.eci.ox.ac.uk/research/energy/downloads/methaneuk...


Methane decomposes in the atmosphere... into CO2.


Yes but the point is converting coal plants to burn methane - even if fracking results in some leaked methane - is still a significant net gain.


> But when you consider the methane leaks from wellheads and pipelines and facilities it is roughly as bad as coal for climate.

This is a solvable problem which can and should be addressed by appropriate regulation.

The real problem is that the current administration seems intent on not doing so: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/29/climate/epa-methane-green...


A few years ago NASA launched the Aqua satellite which has the capability to measure and visualize methane hotspots[1]. Hopefully this will allow us to mitigate the well head methane leaks. But I agree that this is a bridge technology at best and we need to transition to renewables ASAP.

1 - https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/87681/a-global-view...


Methane has a much shorter half-life in the atmosphere than CO2. Also unlike CO2 emissions there is an economic incentive to fix methane leaks: you're leaking product!


It's not just a "little better" on CO2 emissions, it emits half the amount of CO2 that coal does per unit energy. That's pretty significant.


You have to account for methane leakage too though.


The upside of methane is that it's short lived in the atmosphere with a half life in the atmosphere of ~7 years. At the end of the day we do need more nuclear it's the best solution and the newest generation of reactors can consume the 'waste' from our older generation plants, it's a win/win.


Nuclear guy here. Burning old plant's waste is extraordinarily expensive and we need to reduce nuclear costs overall, so I don't think waste burning is a good option at the moment. There is scientific consensus that deep geologic repositories like the one under construction at Onkalo in Finland are the solution for nuclear waste. Let's establish long-term disposal like this to put the concern to bed and then worry about breeding and reprocessing if and when it becomes necessary in 60+ years. There is no shortage of nuclear fuel in sight.


How does one quantify the methane leaks from well heads, pipelines, and facilities? Are we speaking of known loss of primary containment? LOPC is EPA reportable. Or are we saying there are other leaks which are not being reported but we somehow know those figures?


Would you say that it's also important to have infrastructure in place for renewable natural gas? Most natural gas companies have set goals for moving to percentages of renewable natural gas in the near future. The same cannot be said of coal plants.


A really good review of methane and climate change: https://www.darrinqualman.com/methane/


Building lots of gas plants is not as bad as it sounds. Power-to-gas is a decent way of storing renewable energy and you need those gas plants to turn that back into power.


Be interesting to see water quality (or water emissions if you like) for the same period. Mindful that fracking has been associated with water quality in some areas.


Are those methane leaks factored into the determination that US Emissions have fallen 2.1%?


What if we fixed the leaks though? The leaks aren’t a problem inherent to natural gas.


> Fracked gas is way better from an air pollution point of view

And worse for water quality


worse than coal? I doubt it.


I suspect that these estimates don't include methane leaks.


How did I know the first comment was going to be some variation of "Ignore the data because the US is doing bad things and making the problem worse." Not everything is bad data or a conspiracy, sometimes it actually is progress, so stop whinging and take the fucking win for once.


I'm just pointing out that we're switching from a crazy-high carbon source to a super-high carbon source. This isn't a climate solution. It's not a win. It's a distraction. We need to switch to low-carbon sources like solar, geothermal, tidal, hydro, nuclear, and wind. Not fracked gas. Fracked gas is a high-carbon climate-change-causing fuel and needs to be treated as one.


Agree like 80% here. I'd add that:

Hydro: when, especially when used on rivers near coasts with migrating fish--isn't the panacea it was historically thought to be--it ruins the flow of nutrient-rich silt that feeds carbon-capturing flora and cuts off nutrients to small fish which hurts big fish and apex predators.

Tidal: though great in theory--can do a lot of harm when installed naively on the coast in the middle of sensitive ecosystems--though I think some of the experimental deeper, further-offshore installations might mitigate that.

Nuclear: I think we biffed this one for decades--and though the technology is there to make it work. There sadly just isn't enough political and public support anymore. Not to mention to scale up 100s of billions or trillions of dollars of nuclear plants could easily take 20-30 years--time that I don't think we have.

Geo: Works great but only in specific regions.

That leaves solar and wind as the biggest options that we can scale up quickly and can likely get political and public support for. N. Europe is killing it with its MASSIVE offshore wind installations and thank goodness solar continues to fall in price. In the US, anyway, I think the right liberal leadership could budget big for this and tackle a big chunk of the problem in 10 years. But, King Cheeto Fucktard is going to have to be out before that will happen meaningfully with Federal mondy. C'est la vie...


Solar and wind needs to be coupled with a miraculous improvement in energy storage to be feasible. Currently, solar energy would be better called "natural gas supplemented by solar".


But there isn't any win. The US is switching from coal - which emissions are known and reported - to fracked natural gas, where the emissions from directly burning the gas are better but the overall emissions from producing it are much worse. It's just that the fracking process has no tracking of emissions. All that has happened is that emissions have shifted from reported to not reported. There's no climate win here.


I remember when my sports team finally turned things around and instead of losing by double-digit score differentials we were losing by single-digit score differentials. These were celebrated like wins, but yes it was still losing.


When there's a massive profit motive for someone to lie to you about something, you approach it as if it were a lie.

If it's a win I'll take it as a win, but I'm going to scrutinize it in the extreme before I go about taking anything that amounts to good PR for a corporate entity's political aims for granted.


The actual data comes from an independent research group which is also publishing articles like this[0] and this[1], so I think it's safe to say the true researchers aren't just acting as corporate mouthpieces.

[0] https://rhg.com/research/an-eu-green-new-deal-requires-a-far...

[1]https://rhg.com/research/hotter-poorer-and-more-unequal/


> as bad as coal for climate

This statement incorrectly implies that increasing Earth temperature is bad for climate.

A warmer climate has both advantages and disadvantages for humans. The advantages of a warmer climate are more significant: 1) Easier to grow crops. 2) More comfortable to live closer to the poles (Canada, Siberia, Iceland, Greenland).


It is true that we have been in a cold period. What's hazardous is the rate of change our carbon emissions are causing. When environment changes fast, there are extinctions. We are changing it faster than ever.


This article is very short but (some) early commenters appear not to have read it, and most subthreads at this moment started from them. Here are some of the important points from the article:

> This was due to a decrease in coal plants

> Further, renewables were up 6% in 2019

> Emissions rose from buildings [2.2%], industry [0.6%], and other parts of the economy

I'm supposed to take delivery of solar panels at my house today. It shouldn't be long before they're operational. I'm so excited!

To people in general, what improvements are you making (not your country, but you personally)? Not something you've always done - what's your latest new eco-project, big or small?


- I work remotely and live in a city where I can walk.

- I try to avoid buying new things for as long as possible. When I can, I repair what I own or buy used. Living in a small apartment provides some natural incentives to avoid buying too much stuff.

- I avoid eating meat, and when I do, try to eat Chicken or fish.

- I try to take short showers and don't flush the toilet if I only urinate (it took my wife a while to get used to this, but she came around after a bit).

- I avoid using paper towels and reuse aluminum foil and bags as often as possible (often, you can wipe off the aluminum foil and use it a second or third time).

Some of these may not make much of a difference.

I have not spent too much time thinking about this, so my reasoning may be faulty, but I will share it anyway:

I am more worried about deforestation and the rainforests and poaching than climate change.

I want to keep a healthy planet so that conscious beings, and especially humans, can continue enjoying it. Thus, there is a balance between enjoying life (e.g., traveling) and reducing emissions. It seems, as is often the case with difficult ethical questions, that finding balance is key.


> I want to keep a healthy planet so that conscious beings, and especially humans, can continue enjoying it

I think this is the key point that needs to get marketed. The 'save the planet' works well for people with holistic view of things but we need to get the other 50% (or whatever as I made that ratio up) on board. And I think pushing a message like 'dont let polluters ruin your lifestyle' message would be more effective for the unconvinced portion of the world. Turn the message back to something personal and micro rather than 'the planet is doomed' type messaging.


Is really not flushing the toilet any helpful? I’ve never heard of it and can’t imagine that 2 litres or so of water per day are that important compared to the other points.

Small difference is better than nothing, but the inconvenience to eco friendliness ration seems very bad with this one


> the inconvenience

What is inconvenient about not flushing the toilet if you only urinate? I may have a weak nose, but I have never smelled anything. If you are skeptical that this is the case, I would try for a couple days and see what you think.

I think the amount of water saved is higher than you expect. I work from home and drink a lot of coffee, so maybe my usage is higher than yours.

According to https://www.home-water-works.org/indoor-use/toilets:

> Toilet flushing is the single highest use of water in the average home, so it also presents a prime opportunity for water conservation. With the average person flushing five times a day, toilets make up about 31% of overall household water consumption.


> To people in general, what improvements are you making (not your country, but you personally)?

2019 was a great year for limiting my spent resources:

- I went fully plant-based in January, quit meat, eggs, dairy etc

- I joined a local gym that I can ride my bicycle to (or run in the warmer weather)

- I started working from home 4/5 days of the week

- I walk up the block and take a bus to work on that extra day

I also turn off my heat during the day when I'm home, and use a little space heater rather than burn natural gas keeping the whole house warm, since I'm in my office 99% of the time anyway.

Things I'd like to change in 2020 or beyond:

- My "daily driver" is still a large Dodge Ram - though I rarely ever drive it and certainly not daily, but occasionally I need it. It's an '09 so I've had it for quite a while. I want to replace it with something less ridiculous, but our lease on the Honda HRV is up so that'll take priority. Something electric if possible though our house is old and there's nowhere to install a charger.


> - My "daily driver" is still a large Dodge Ram - though I rarely ever drive it and certainly not daily, but occasionally I need it. It's an '09 so I've had it for quite a while. I want to replace it with something less ridiculous, but our lease on the Honda HRV is up so that'll take priority. Something electric if possible though our house is old and there's nowhere to install a charger.

I've heard that replacing your gas guzzler with an electric car can actually generate more carbon by virtue of the carbon emissions associated with the manufacture of electric vehicles, and consequently you're better off driving your gas guzzler til it dies before going electric. I'd be very curious to hear from people who know more about this. Intuiting about emissions is really hard, unfortunately (which is why I'm curious about carbon offsets as a solution).


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RhtiPefVzM There are other videos on the subject in this channel (battery recycling, EV vs ICE efficiency).

According to the video, average electric car is in the green after 4.8 years. If you already own a Prius that could be true, but a Dodge Ram is unlikely.


In 2019 I bought an electric cargo bike. I've been able to replace a number of car trips, even while toting kids (record so far: taking a 3-year-old to a birthday party 17 miles away, without using the car).

We've also started bringing more things into our local area, walking more, and using public transit. We've cut our gas usage by 75%, saving roughly $2,500/year.

We consume less, buying secondhand where possible, aiming for quality, or just evaluating whether you really need something.

We're eating less meat and more beans. I was vegan once for a two-year period, I won't go back there - I don't believe a 100% vegan diet is a good idea. However, it is important to reduce meat consumption (majority vegetarian diet is the goal), and we make sure 100% of our meat is purchased from a small local farm using sustainable and humane practices. I'm really interested in entomophagy and will take any chance to eat insects I can find.

I live in Seattle so my electricity is nearly 100% emission free, and I pay for the green option to offset another home's electricity somewhere in Washington.

Lastly, we've stopped flying for vacations. There's plenty to enjoy in the local area.

Things still to be improved: my car, a Jeep Liberty, is an awful gas-guzzler. The next car will be electric (or better yet, no car).

I'm keen to start an urban farm with aquaponics and insect farming.

I will keep advocating for safer streets so that it's a viable option for more people to move around cities without a car.

I'm saving money to buy some degraded agricultural land someday and restore it.

Climate change will bring increased intensity to weather events going forward (hurricanes, fires). It's too late to avoid some of that (e.g. Australia). I think our globalized society is actually very fragile and susceptible to disruption, so focusing on local resiliency will matter more into the future. I'll be looking at food security, water storage for extended droughts, and building in resistance to weather events like high winds and fires.


More power to you!.You can do this and more because Seattle is the most biker friendly city in the US. I miss that big aspect when I moved down to the valley. Keep it up!


I'd definitely subscribe if you blogged about your efforts.


I love this subject because it is so full of marketing and green washing by companies that want to profit of the green hype.

Nowadays everyone pretends to be green or to be saving the planet by buying a Tesla or taking shorter showers. Here is the thing though, those things statistically don't matter. They are a good way for most people to signal that they are doing something while not really doing anything.

The things that matter the most are [0]: Having less kids, not OWNING a car (owning an EV doesn't really count), not taking flights. Almost nobody does that though because those changes are really difficult

I believe that we should stop making people believe that they save the world by buying a Tesla and push it a bit more as a real environmental crisis.

[0]: https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2017/07/12/how-to-reduce-y...


> The things that matter the most are [0]: Having less kids, not OWNING a car (owning an EV doesn't really count), not taking flights. Almost nobody does that though because those changes are really difficult

And what's the point, where do you draw the line? If we have to reduce our standard of living, we've failed to come up with smart solutions. If I take your line of thought further, we'd better stop fighting famine and developing vaccination.


For those interested in exploring solar, Google has a tool which provides some specific metrics around your home's roof based on satellite photos:

https://www.google.com/get/sunroof


Thanks for this link. I didn't know. After putting in my address, I was afraid to click "See providers". Thankfully, Google just redirects you to a local search instead of feeding my address to some list of shady partners. Thank you Google, for being sensible.


Very cool. Despite all the sun I get (we live on a corner) it still seems like it would take literal decades to see any savings, and very little at that ($3K after 20 years? No thanks!) The issue seems to be how slanted my roof is.


Genuine question: why should we put solar panels on our roofs versus investing in a solar coop or buying solar power directly? I would think the latter options would be more cost-effective/efficient (it's more efficient to service one solar farm than the equivalent number of panels on roofs scattered across a community, etc).


At least in California, PG&E charges a disproportionate amount as "delivery cost" even if the energy comes from a cheaper and greener alternative coop. For me more than half my total cost is PG&E fees and I am subscribed to a CC Coop.

With your own solar (I don't have yet), the idea is that you can transition more of your usage to electric (say change water heater from gas to electric) without paying a cut to someone else.


>To people in general, what improvements are you making (not your country, but you personally)? Not something you've always done - what's your latest new eco-project, big or small?

Voting for candidates with a good environmental record, because that's really the only way to solve the problem.


I've been looking into Carbon offsets. The chief criticism against them seems to be "they're just paying for your sins; they don't actually reduce the carbon", but as far as I can tell, that's not a valid criticism since the offsets directly fund projects that reduce carbon. As far as I've been able to discern, the most legitimate criticism is around governance and quality assurance--how to make sure the funded programs are actually achieving the results you're paying for, and specifically how to make sure those results wouldn't have been achieved without those programs. I would really like to hear from people who are more knowledgeable than me.

Beyond that, I'm also considering buying solar power.


I live inside an apartment in a bigger city and don't plan on leaving later on in life.

I don't commute to work. I use carsharing if I have to use a car (every month or 2).

I spend 8h a day working for my current client, whose success directly lowers CO2 emissions.

I am slowly optimizing my buying habits for groceries etc., one item at a time to reduce waste. I try to buy the most expensive, high-quality stuff (for everything) and stick to it as long as I possibly can.

I don't know how I could improve my lifestyle further, without totally boycotting modern society. Maybe I am missing something, but I think from my position you can only marginally improve. From here on it's on politicians.


Just curious, but how does renting in a big city lower your CO2 footprint? If you're this far into things, what's holding you back from boycotting modern society?

Living in denslier populated areas makes you use less energy, because your commute is shorter, you need less energy to heat, you are sharing all the infrastructure with more people, so footprint/person decreases.

I don't think I am very far along. If you have a lifestyle like I do, you get most of the benefits almost for free. Improving upon that is very hard.

On the other hand, I think someone living in a (first world) village, could be way more conscious about these things than I am and would still have a hard time to come close, just because he or she is sharing his house/car/roads/infrastructure with less people.


On the waitlist for rooftop solar panel install, currently installing electric heat pump water heater (we use radiant heat, so this covers space heating as well) and induction stove and will buy electric car as soon as solar panels are in to go all-electric at home!

Currently putting together a doc to later publish on what we should all be doing on this front: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1-67lMjm7C1b9PpbKfFn39ucI...


I like flying but hate the pollution burning leaded gas in crappy inefficient engines produces and have a really hard time justifying it.

As a result, I'm building my own plane to run 91 octane E10 from the corner pump. With redundant electronic ignition and fuel injection I'm expecting in excess of 30mpg equivalent at around 150mph, about two to three times the efficiency of your average Cessna. Being under an experimental type certificate, conversion to electric once battery density is reasonable should be feasible.


last year we got solar installed (8kW system + 10kWh battery): https://twitter.com/ecoffey/status/1212399375986487296

replaced a minivan with a leaf: https://twitter.com/ecoffey/status/1036815557008318465

I bike to work: https://twitter.com/ecoffey/status/1208223257695940611

We've been talking about converting a chunk of lawn into a bigger garden as well.


> To people in general, what improvements are you making (not your country, but you personally)? Not something you've always done - what's your latest new eco-project, big or small?

I had solar panels for five years; we're generating ~90% of our electricity. Planning to buy a used Nissan Leaf (maybe later this year) to replace one of our vehicles.

On the CO2 sequestration front, I've been offsetting 10x my family's generated CO2 for the last ~5 years. More here: https://automicrofarm.com/blog/2019/03/solving-climate-chang...


I don’t have a lot of trust in some of the non-profits that plant trees for the purpose of carbon offset.

It seems like a “debt” you take on. Today I will produce N carbon and plant enough trees to consume N carbon over 10 years. However, you aren’t actually watching the carbon repayment over 10 years. You’re trusting someone to do it for you. It seems like an easy swindle with how little regulations there are in this space.


True, that could happen. But if these people are planting gardens and food forests to literally provide food for their families, the interests align to keep those trees growing (and replanting any that die off for any reason). That, along with the longevity of the non-profit, makes it a reasonable-enough risk for me.

It would be cool if there were an organization (non- or for-profit) that would get you annual (or quarterly) reports on how their carbon capture is going. Perhaps through drone fly-overs, with software to capture the 3D image changes and then calculate/estimate the carbon mass storage increase/decrease.


I recently bought an electric skateboard (kaly board for those so inclined). Commuting on one of these to work costs me about 20 cents in electricity. I can only do it when the weather is nice though, right now the cold just cuts through to my bone.


Electric skateboards are insanely fun and after purchasing one I became convinced these things and (mostly) scooters are going to become ubiquitous in cities where the climate allows it.


I know, it really feels like the future. One day I hope we're all traveling around on electric scooters, skateboard and bikes.

> Not something you've always done

I recently donated to TeamTrees. I'm looking for other places to donate that will have significant impact. This is a guess, but I think that charities are likely able to make a bigger impact per-dollar than I can by trying to decarbonize my own lifestyle. I found this[0] Vox article recently and the first two organizations look compelling. I need to do more research, but I'm hoping that they're making significant differences and that I can help just by donating regularly.

That said, I'm still considering buying an electric car this year. I at least want to contribute to having fewer ICE cars on the road. I know there's a difference of opinion on whether buying a new EV actually helps...short-term, it may not, but if nothing else I'm supporting the industry's growth, and long-term hopefully it does reduce my own personal emissions. And, locally, I'm just tired of inhaling exhaust...

[0] https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2019/12/2/20976180/climat...


I heat with heat pumps instead of natural gas.

(BTW: Not sure if you did the numbers, but with my solar system, electricity is so darn cheap that running a heat pump (air) is cheaper than running a natural gas furnace. If my house was smaller.)

I also put in a wood stove and light the fire when it's extremely cold and I'm home for awhile. Wood is carbon neutral. (The carbon released is carbon that the tree captured while it was alive.) (Although some people like to point out that burning wood releases particulates and other nasty pollutants.)


I'm not sure how burning wood is carbon neutral. Trees, other plants, etc. will sequester carbon from the atmosphere at the same rate regardless of the source. All that matters is how much gets into the atmosphere.


Because the trees sucked the carbon out of the air to make their wood as they grew, and if the trees are left to decay naturally, the carbon returns to the air.

It's just the basic carbon cycle: plants remove carbon from the air as they grow, and return it as they decay, (or burn in a natural fire.)


I've been thinking about how best to get people the information they need to deal with the climate crisis.

I'm thinking about a community run portal to try and match person to the correct advice. E.g. someone with investments should find advice about how to invest to help. People interested in acting locally should find environmental groups to join. Activist people .

Google is fine if you know what you are looking for, but I have come across a few different times where I didn't know the correct terminology. E.g. I wanted to find something like a community energy group in my local area, but I didn't know what it was called.

I'm not currently sure how to do this. Some form of search engine where people put in information about themselves is a possibility. Or an advanced directory.


>> Not something you've always done - what's your latest new eco-project, big or small?

Nothing. There's no action I can take on an individual scale that matters one whit. The best I could hope for would be to gain some mythical moral high ground for lecturing others on their consumption.

If I had to guess, it would be voting for Sanders in the primary, whenever that comes around to my state. Even then, I'm not hopeful it will meaningfully change the politics in the United States. The structure of the senate, electoral college, and judiciary enshrined in the constitution, combined with the almost unimaginable difficulty of amending that system, and the prevalent first-past-the-post voting system means my country will remain at the mercy of the coal-burning red-meat eating minority currently in charge.


This is a bit of a sorites paradox, though. You posted publicly on something with a large readership. Imagine the marginal difference between what you posted, and if you posted other individual efforts you had taken. Maybe the collective impact of the thread would have been greater to the point that it would have pushed a couple of other people over the edge into taking action they otherwise wouldn't have. I don't know either way but it's worth considering.

I went through data recently that convinced me that US Citizens should plant 20 trees a year (or pay a service). I'm hunting for a good service that does that, that isn't just planting trees that would already be planted anyway.


I'm glad other people responded with this counter position. Bernie is getting people excited and engaged but on his own he will not be enough. I recommend getting organized with socialists, as collective, democratic planning of the economy is the only way out of the quagmire of environmental death by competition: https://www.socialistalternative.org/2019/08/08/climate-cata...


I'm upcycling an old motorcycle to be electric and then ditching my car. I'm expecting to use it for trips where public transit cannot take me, like my current workplace. Otherwise I just bought a townhouse near a transit hub and have dramatically reduced my car use. I use my utility's 'wind source' product to help subsidize renewables investment. I've changed roles so that I am no longer required to fly. I also have gone vegan after several years as a vegetarian. The AC in my new unit is quite old- I plan on trying to go without it this summer and just have it removed if it turns out I don't (I live in Colorado though so it's easier for me than others).


The EIA has a great chart of energy consumption and sources.

The "historical primary energy consumption from 1950 through 2018" chart shows you how the US energy sources has grown over the years.

https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/us-energy-facts/


- Moved closer to work so I bike every day unless it rains - Stopped buying clothes and many things in general. Buy/sell used as needed - Eating less meat - Reuse everything until they fail


Thank you for starting this thread. Although I personally don't sacrifice nearly as much as the other commenters, all of you are inspiring the rest of us to do better!


#1 - I don't eat meat.

#2 - I don't drink milk.

#3 - I don't drink alcohol.

#4 - I bike to work.

via negativa!


Do alcoholic beverages have high carbon footprint in general? Maybe beer, since you have to heat it, but I wouldn't expect homemade wine to have significant footprint.

Not sure what actual impact it has but I have switched electricity to 'green' energy provider bulb in the UK


No real benefit, but it's essentially free and simple so you needn't feel bad about doing this.

Energy producers (e.g. a wind farm, or a huge converted coal power station which burns "waste" forests) get credits for producing renewable energy which they can sell. A company like bulb buys those credits, and so long as they buy credits which add up to the amount of power their residential customers use they can say they're 100% green.

If most UK residential customers used a green provider there wouldn't be enough credits and that could in theory drive change but in practice most UK residential customers pay their "incumbent" even though that's usually the most expensive and has no benefit whatsoever.

The actual supply of electricity to homes is by a boring but necessary natural monopoly supply company. They're the people who come out if a storm smashes the power lines.


> I'm supposed to take delivery of solar panels at my house today. It shouldn't be long before they're operational. I'm so excited!

They'd better be operational soon, because their production and delivery generated a bunch of emissions upfront - in China, presumably - that'll take years to compensate.

It's something to consider anyway.


I'm continuing to walk to work


I am spreading the knowledge that individualized improvements are not nearly enough and we have to change the structure of our entire economy to save the environment. I am optimizing my life to organize around that.

I also think it can only be done through an international planned economy, seeing as capitalist nation states keep going to war against each other and prioritize short term gains in their competition with one another.


you are being downvoted because you speak the inconvenient truth.

People in this thread want to feel like they save the world by buying an EV but that change is statistically insignificant (even if everyone on the planet bought an EV).

I fully agree with you that real change is going beyond our actual economy. The "micro-step" changes that we are taking right now with solar and EVs are almost useless.


Thank you. These changes are nice in the right context but are even worse than useless if they distract from systemic changes. Especially useless is the kind of personal change like buying solar panels or an EV that take being middle or upper middle class as the economy continues to get worse for most people. Almost every major source of carbon pollution is socially interdependent(eg transportation) or controlled by a few near-monopolies (eg general purpose energy production). And lots basically exist due to how capitalism controls the state (as it always has) for its own purposes, eg in the massive subsidization of industrial meat production. We need social solutions that correspond to how the economy is socially specialized and interconnected.


The distraction here is exactly the issue. It actually removes the urgency of climate change. Companies greenwashed us into thinking that all it take is buy a upper-class Tesla to save the planet (Yes I'm reusing this example because I see it every single day in the bay area). This is not the solution, you are marginally polluting less with a Tesla but you are not solving the issue at all. you are only making yourself feel good.

Even worse, as you say it creates two class of people based on money: The ones that can afford the green-washed toys and the ones that cannot and are now blamed for "polluting".

Real change is going beyond single occupancy car for example, or reducing over population on the planet. But those are mainly economical changes that nobody wants to conveniently talk about because those are actually hard. Buying solar panels, walking to work or taking shorter showers are conveniently nitpicked easy metrics for feel-good effect.


Yes. And then to add insult to injury the luxury teslas have fancy air filters in them while everyone else is choking on wildfire smoke.

I already linked this somewhere else but the only thing that makes me feel sane about the environment is socialist organizing. we have some people in the bay area, check it out: https://www.socialistalternative.org/2019/08/08/climate-cata...


The most underrated comment in this thread. In 2016 I started walking to work and since then have been impressed with the improvement in my overall well-being.


> To people in general, what improvements are you making

I moved out of the State of California to a jurisdiction without insane environmental laws, and now pay 0.08c/kwh, which more or less makes solar irrelevant. I bought a really nice, big house that was extremely affordable and enjoy a great quality of life. I use the extra money I make that isn't spent on electric bills and taxes to enrich the local economy, which helps lift people out of poverty and promotes innovation.


You could use some of that money and buy RECs to offset your emissions, which would not just enrich your local economy but do so in a way that encourages low-externality-energy production.


>To people in general, what improvements are you making (not your country, but you personally)? Not something you've always done - what's your latest new eco-project, big or small?

I'm installing air filters to remove the smoke particles from the fires and I'm building a hydrogen cooled suit for 50+ degree days, once I have the prototype working I can completely isolate myself from the environment to the point I could take a stroll in the middle of a forest fire.

At this point it's being comfortable for the next 50 years until industrial society collapses.


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