New York Times

Picking Lesser of Two Climate Evils


Last month, the Obama Administration and the EPA released a new plan to reduce carbon emissions from U.S. power plants in the hopes of ameliorating the effects of climate change. But the plan's call for increased use of natural gas stirred controversy in some environmental circles, given concerns about the consequences of fracking and the release of methane gas into the atmosphere from burning natural gas. In his By Degrees blog for the New York Times, reporter Justin Gillis talked to two climate science experts -- CI Senior Fellow and RDCEP scientist Raymond Pierrehumbert and Drew Shindell of NASA/Duke University -- about the debate, and whether methane gas should be regulated as much as carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fueled power plants and other sources. 

“The methane is like a hangover that you can get over if you stop drinking,” said Raymond T. Pierrehumbert, a climate scientist at the University of Chicago and the author of a textbook on planetary atmospheres. “CO2 is more like lead poisoning — it sticks around, you don’t get rid of it, and it causes irreversible harm.”

Despite that difference, billions of dollars are being spent to control methane leaks, and some people argue for spending more. Dr. Pierrehumbert is a leading voice challenging that approach. He argues, essentially, that the world has yet to mount a serious effort to control carbon dioxide, which will be vastly more harmful in the long run, and that methane and other short-term pollutants should largely be ignored until that bigger problem is fixed.

He summarizes his position by adapting St. Augustine’s plea for chastity: “Lord, give me methane control, but not yet.”

You can read the rest of the article at the New York Times, and read more about Pierrehumbert's research here.

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