You Know What Else They Call Methane?

That’s right: “Swamp Gas.”

The New York Times has an article about the emails between lobbyists and the new Trump administration, when it was first coming to power with its mandate to “drain the swamp.” By now, nobody ought to be believing any of that stuff – but the reality (as it usually is) is worse.


New Emails Show How Energy Industry Moved Fast to Undo Curbs

The messages, made public in a lawsuit, suggest the E.P.A. rescinded a requirement on methane at the behest of an executive just weeks after President Trump took office.

Remember methane? [stderr] Yeah, that stuff. The fact that there’s been a sudden surge of atmospheric methane probably is not a Trump administration-specific problem: it’s the fossil fuel industry gaming everybody – and I bet you a dollar to a pork bao that the Chinese fossil fuel industry is pulling the same shit.

Not long after President Trump’s inauguration, the head of a fossil fuels industry group requested a call with the president’s transition team. The subject: Barack Obama’s requirement that oil and gas companies begin collecting data on their releases of methane.

That outreach, by Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, appeared to quickly yield the desired results.

“Looks like this will be easier than we thought,” David Kreutzer, an economist who was helping to organize the new president’s Environmental Protection Agency, wrote of canceling the methane reporting requirement in an email to another member of the transition team on Feb. 10, 2017.

Three weeks after that email, the E.P.A. officially withdrew the reporting requirement – and effectively blocked the compilation of data that would allow for new regulations to control methane, a powerful climate-warming gas.

The Obama administration’s requirements were not that wells be shut down or abated – merely that methane releases be tracked. I guess that was too big an “ask” for the fossil fuel industry. Because it would have forced them to decide what were ‘active wells’ versus inactive and it probably would have measured: disaster coming.

Note how the Obama bill was worded:

The Environmental Protection Agency unveiled a new rule that will target emissions from new or modified oil and gas wells.

That looks to me a lot like, “if you turn your old oil well into fracking, you need to start tracking this stuff.” But if you’re already fracking, ah, fuckit. We’ll just worry about the new stuff, right? Basically, it’s: obscure, deny, delay, grab the cash with both hands in the meantime.

If you follow the links (the Obama era announcement is now gone) it drops to a page on EPA.GOV that is all about:

Which, presumably is related to: [epa]

Proposed Amendments to the Federal Implementation Plan for Managing Air Emissions from True Minor Sources in Indian Country in the Oil and Natural Gas Production and Natural Gas Processing Segments of the Oil and Natural Gas Sector

EPA is proposing to streamline the Clean Air Act permitting process for certain sources engaged in oil and natural gas production activities in Indian country. The proposed amendment to the Federal Implementation Plan (FIP) for True Minor Sources in Indian Country in the Oil and Natural Gas Production and Natural Gas Processing Segments of the Oil and Natural Gas Sector could reduce, by up to 30 days, the time between a source owner/operator’s submission of required Endangered Species Act (ESA)/ National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) screening documents and beginning construction.

Is that what I think it is? Basically: we’re making it easier for you to overrule native peoples’ sovereign rights, faster.

Meanwhile, it turns out that rich people (make sure you are sitting down) are a big piece of the problem: [guard]

The homes of wealthy Americans are major engines of the climate crisis, research has found, with the United States’ most affluent suburbs generating as much as 15 times the greenhouse gas emissions as nearby, poorer districts.

An analysis of 93m homes in the contiguous US found that the most energy intensive dwellings, per square foot, are found in Maine, Vermont and Wisconsin, while the least energy intensive are located in Florida, Arizona and California.

Mainly due to the larger size of homes owned by the wealthy, richer Americans are generating roughly 25% more greenhouse gasses through lighting, heating and cooling their residences than poorer people.

What, you mean a mansion with heated sidewalks (so you don’t have to shovel off snow) is an energy-waster? I’m shocked. Turn down the whole-building air conditioning of 15,000 square feet of living space, it’s getting hot in here!

All of the dire warnings about climate change, such as the IPCC report, lean toward trying to get humanity to stop releasing greenhouse gases now. But, universally, goverments’ reaction has been: later. You know, “practical” stuff like: “we anticipate growth of use of fossil fuels for the next 3 or 4 decades; i.e.: the regulation is all window-dressing for business as usual. The IPCC report (which I believe has been heavily sanitized for political reasons) puts “business as usual” on track for a 4C average temperature increase. That’s extinction temperature: all agriculture breaks down, a billion or two people die of starvation, and there are mass migrations – i.e.: Mad Max land. But, depending on who you talk to, we’re tracking a worse temperature rise – 6-8C – and instead of it happening in 2200, we’re blowing through the fossil fuels so fast that we’re running 80-120 years ahead of their predictions. I.e.: “we’ll have no snow in the arctic by 2200” well, it looks like that’s going to be happening in the next 20-30 years. Some of us will live to see it. You know who’s going to live to see it? The rich, who have been preparing private enclaves so they can comfortably live out the rest of their lives. What they don’t understand is that we’ve boosted forward a cycle that usually takes 120,000 years or so to cycle; so people who expect to ride this one out simply do not understand what ‘deep time’ is.

Meanwhile, air conditioning appears to be another runaway feedback loop. As the weather gets hot, we turn up the AC. Which takes more and more energy the hotter it gets. [fast]

Air conditioning uses a lot of energy: 87% of American households have AC, burning through 185 billion kilowatt hours annually. If developing countries adopt it at the same levels – and they’re catching up fast – that could mean a big rise in energy demand, with all the problems that go with it.

University of Michigan professor Michael Sivak crunches the numbers for the American Scientist. Eight countries could exceed the U.S.’ AC-related energy consumption, he says. India by 14 times, China by 5 times, and Indonesia by 3.1 times. Mumbai alone could use energy equivalent to a quarter of current American use.

If existing AC systems were replaced with newer ones, the efficiency gain would hold back the catastrophe for a couple weeks, at tremendous expense. None of this stuff is going to make any difference because the underlying assumptions are that fossil fuels will still be in use for decades, and the population is heading for ~13bn by 2060.

AC doesn’t actually remove heat, in fact it creates a great deal more, in order to create a relatively small spot that is abnormally cool. Meanwhile, some scientists are predicting that air conditioning failure could be a normal cause of death by 2050.

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Usually, when you mention population in the context of climate change, some Stephen Pinkeresque population pollyanna says “it’s people’s moral right to have kids!” and “We’ll engineer our way around it somehow.” But the situation is fairly clear: our energy use scales with our population. Humans are not rational, because – if we were – we’d stop breeding entirely and lose a generation or two off the top, meanwhile scaling back energy use as the aging population dies off. Whenever you talk about population control, it seems inevitable that someone jumps the conversation to “who decides who dies?” but it’s not necessary to kill anyone – let old age take care of it. This is a problem in deep time and short-term thinking isn’t going to work.


  1. komarov says

    “Meanwhile, some scientists are predicting that air conditioning failure could be a normal cause of death by 2050.”

    Normal cause of death whwere? Globally? The parts already “at risk” now? The US?
    For the latter, I’ve always had the feeling that people in the US make hugely excessive use of ACs virtually everywhere. Whenever I stayed in the US, it’d be warm or hot outside and absolutely freezing inside, or at least that’s what it felt like (I actually caught a nasty cold on one trip). This seemed to be true for virtually every single building. It’s zero tolerance for the slightest amount of heat-induced discomfort – if Americans manage to make that even worse it’d almost be an accomplishment.
    And then there is that – for me – unforgettable photo you posted some time ago, showing the US camp with individually climatised tents somewhere in the middle east, which amounts to a stellar (O-type) fuck you to the environment, someone’s energy bill and common sense all at once.

    At least with some of the developing countries mentioned in the quote as “catching up” the need is easily justified. When places like Mumbai heat up just a little more people will actually start dying in droves – they’re probably already taking above-average casualties from the heat. By contrast, keeping oversized malls frosty on a warm Florida day seems a bit frivolous. I won’t even go into the mansions, except that you can bet there are at least some blinkered rich assholes that run their weekend home AC 24/7 just in case of an unexpected road trip. Apropos of nothing, I think a modern 21st century guillotine should use a red hot blade. Hot knife through rich butter or something.

    The last link also mentions a “revolutionary” new AC techology using supposedly 1/5th of the energy. Curiously enough, the development seems to go back to 2012. There are also some “technolgy of the future” articles, the latest I saw dated to 2018. That makes me wonder what happened to that technology. ACs are many things, but they aren’t magic. Even a new concept shouldn’t take this long to flesh out and bring to market, unless a) there were some major flaws that rendered the technology unusuable or b) no one wants it, e.g. because of entrenched production values (c.f. electric cars) or because you can make more money with the classic AC.

    P.S.: Apparently the technology was patented in 2019, and by the sound of it the people who came up with it were still looking for investors.

  2. says

    Normal cause of death whwere? Globally? The parts already “at risk” now? The US?

    I assume it’s the US during heat wave season. Usually there is some talking head who’ll say something like “20 people died of heat-related health problems today.” Maybe it’ll be 200.

    Tuczon, AZ, was 129F for a few days last year; it was so bad that they had to discontinue flights in and out because there was fear of jet fuel vapors igniting. Sounds delightful. Imagine a scenario where the city’s power cuts out and it’s a temperature like that: people outdoors faint in 45 minutes. I suppose people get in their cars and run the motor/ac until the gas runs out.

    And then there is that – for me – unforgettable photo you posted some time ago, showing the US camp with individually climatised tents somewhere in the middle east, which amounts to a stellar (O-type) fuck you to the environment, someone’s energy bill and common sense all at once.

    That was what got me curious about how the US military’s contribution to global warming is counted. (it’s not) But, yeah, that was an important picture for me, too because it showed that AC just moves heat around – it doesn’t actually cool anything but a relatively small spot.

  3. says

    Oh here’s some more bad news:

    This is a methane plume coming from the bottom in antarctica – where the methane is supposed to be locked in ice. If it’s warm enough down there that it’s melting, that may indicate that we are about to experience massive releases of greenhouse gases just when we really did not need them the most: runaway feedback, here we come!

    That’s not an indicator that we are approaching a tipping point. It’s more like the car is upside down and the wheels are in the air time to sound the traction alarm.

  4. rrutis1 says

    komarov @1,
    I don’t see the link you are talking about but I wonder if the “revolutionary” new AC is the swamp coolers I have been seeing ads for lately. The math works out because the fan energy for a small AC unit is about 20% (give or take) of the total, the compressor driving the refrigeration cycle being the rest.

    And to MR’s point in the OP, AC does contribute greatly to global warming through inefficiencies in the AC equipment itself and the inefficiencies in electrical generation and transmission. Even worse, as the air temperature (the heat sink for the AC) goes up the efficiency of the refrigeration cycle/air conditioner gets worse because the compressor has to do more work to maintain the same output temperature. Talk about a self compounding problem.

  5. StevoR says

    @ 1. komarov :

    “Meanwhile, some scientists are predicting that air conditioning failure could be a normal cause of death by 2050.”

    Normal cause of death where? Globally? The parts already “at risk” now? The US?

    Globally I’d say given that heatwaves are perhaps the deadliest of all natural disasters :

    Heatwaves are our deadliest natural disaster, sadly killing thousands more people than bushfires or floods.

    Low income families and the elderly are often left vulnerable to this danger as their homes typically aren’t equipped with energy efficient air conditioners. With energy costs continually rising, cooling homes with outdated and inefficient appliances is a cost that these households can’t afford and they choose to go without and suffer the heat to save money. Unfortunately this can come at a more extreme cost.

    At home, people begin to endure heat-related symptoms including dehydration, cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Many pre-existing medical conditions are exacerbated in the extreme heat, making it difficult to diagnose exactly how the heat has impacted the death of an individual.

    This is the silent and deadly reality of the climate emergency.

    BTW. 41.9 Celsius = 107.42 Fahrenheit. its not the most spectacular, conveniently media dramatic way Global Overheating kills; no flames, no alarming rising water submerging landmarks and homes, no howling winds doing terrifying damage but its a horrible way to die.

    Certainly in Australia but also in much of the rest of the world – think India & South Asia, Southwest Asia, Africa & most of Europe though few if any places are immune. Even the Arctic now.

    Siberia’s record-breaking heatwave is reportedly forecast to continue during July, raising the likelihood of worsening what are already among the worst wildfires ever known in the region, and further thawing the region’s vital permafrost. Meteorologists said five Siberian regions, including one in the Arctic, will experience temperatures of 37 degrees Celsius over coming days, according to the Moscow Times. The devastating heat comes after the Siberian town of Verkhoyansk reported what is believed to be the highest temperature ever known inside the Arctic Circle, of 38C earlier in June. Meanwhile other parts of the Arctic have seen temperatures soar above 30C when the average for the time of year is still normally zero. Overall temperatures in Arctic Siberia hit their highest ever average for June, more than 5C above normal, European Union data revealed this week.

    Massive wildfires there have also apparently been burning since last year :

    The fires, shown on imagery collected by the European Union’s Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service (CAMS), are burning in areas where blazes broke out last northern summer. Scientists suspect they continued burning underground during winter and then re-erupted amid the persistent high temperatures of recent months, earning the name ‘zombie’ or ‘overwintering’ fires. Last summer, fires in Russia burnt through more than three million hectares of land. Dr Mark Parrington, a senior CAMS scientist, said the new fires above the Arctic Circle had been burning more intensely than the long-term average and increasing day by day over the past week.

    This has, of course, been thawing the permafrost releasing more Greenhouses gases esp methane and shifting the albedo from reflective sea ice to dark energy absorbing open water escalating the cycle. Its something that has huge implications for our future and the future of pretty much everything on our planet – but the media seem to be paying it scarcely any attention right now. At least here in Oz they’re not.

  6. StevoR says

    I bet you a dollar to a pork bao that the Chinese fossil fuel industry is pulling the same shit.

    I must admit Ihad to google pork bao :

    They look nice and reckon they’d cost more than a dollar at least here! Hungry now.. ;-)

  7. komarov says

    Re: rrutis1 (#4)

    I was referring to the “fast” link just before the final quote in Marcus’ post. That article in turn links to NREL, where the new AC type was developed. I haven’t heard the term “swamp cooler” but your’re close: NREL’s “DEVAP” AC appears to be a two-stage system, part dessicator, part evaporator. My understanding is that warm air that enters is first dried and then remoistened. The evaporation provides the cooling effect. presumably drying just helps to increase the moisture capacity of the air and thus increases the cooling effect.

    Re: Stevor (#5):

    That’s rather depressing – much like most things to do with climate, I suppose. The Siberian wildfires did feature in EU news (e.g. BBC) some time ago* but then disappeared. It’s the nature of news everywhere that these things slip out of the cycle if they go on for long enough, never to be heard from again. The Arctic could burn for another 50 years and at most it might get a mention in the odd science section, at least where the general news sites are concerned. Oh well, priorities: Corona, Trump, Corona, something something celebrity, Corona, Trump and that’s all we have time for today, good evening.

    *No idea when, thanks to treacle time, which has been in effect ever since that pandemic started 56 years ago.

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