Methane Hydrate melting

Not good news, I am afraid, and these bad tidings may be simply a precursor of worse tidings to come. First I should explain the background. Methane is a pernicious greenhouse gas. There is no doubt that atom for atom methane is a more pernicious greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide or water vapour, but not as long lasting in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Continue reading

Using Myths and Not History

Every time I post an essay about climate change some kind soul posts a comment with a link to a contrary view to the one I have expressed. Often the link cites a myth, and there are many myths that can be chosen to argue against climate change science. It is using fairy tales, constructed for entertainment and teaching morality, instead of real history, to explain the past.  Continue reading

In The Long Term We Are All Dead

As many people have expected the process of fracking releases much more methane into the atmosphere than official figures credit. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows how researchers used an aircraft to collect information about atmospheric methane concentrations and measured them. Continue reading

Cheap and Nasty Food

Ireland probably has one of the most robust systems for inspecting food in the world. It has been investigating frozen beef burgers and has found that in one case the beef burgers contained 29% horsemeat. In many cases there were traces of horsemeat and traces of pork, although these traces have been found by examining DNA and are almost certainly “de minimus”.

This news will certainly cause a great deal of concern to many people, who think that it is fundamental that they should know what they eat. Knowing what you eat is theoretically entirely within your control. If you like beef burgers you can pop along to the butchers and buy some keep, mince it up yourself with the ingredients that you have bought or made, and then cook it. However what is theoretically possible is not always practical.

If you work you might not have enough time to make your own beef burgers and as such will buy frozen ones. If you have little money you will buy the cheapest ones you find, to fill your empty stomach. You will probably eat more of them than you need, because the comfort factor, and possibly the addiction factor that relates to very cheap food. Continue reading

Greenhouse Gases Reach a New Record

The World Meteorological Organization reports that 2011 saw greenhouse gases reach their highest ever. Carbon dioxide was at 391 parts per million and methane at 1,813 parts per billion. These are trace elements in the atmosphere but nevertheless play an important role in the radiative forcing that leads to global temperature rises.   Continue reading

A Short Guide to the Legal Position of Fracking

Extracting natural gas from shale – fracking – is an investment opportunity, an opportunity for a nation that has shale gas deposits to be more energy independent, and could bring environmental benefits if natural gas replaces coal for electricity generation. There are, however, many legal issues involved and what follows is a short guide to those issues as I understand them. Continue reading

Gas Flaring – Cheap and Nasty


In 2007 Shell and the Nigerian Government undertook that they would end gas flaring by 2008. They have not kept their promise. Gas flaring is the practice of burning off methane from oil wells, instead of dealing with the methane in an environmentally friendly fashion. Continue reading

Arctic Ice Diminishes

One measure of the warming of the planet is the extent of Arctic sea ice. Parts of the plant warm at varying rates while some parts of it cool. That is the complexity of global warming and within all the data and statistics you can bring almost every interpretation that you want, and every interpretation may at first sight seem justified or accurate. However subject tom all these qualifications, I like to keep a close watch on the extent of the Arctic sea ice in summer.

The extent of the arctic summer sea ice is important because the less ice that exists in the Arctic the more warming of the region must inevitably follow. This is because radiation, which when it strikes a surface excites the molecules of that surface to rub together creating friction, which is heat. When radiation strikes a white surface much of the radiation bounces back into space. This is called the albedo effect. When radiation strikes a dark surface it is absorbed as heat, which is why at Genersys we make our solar thermal panels black (or blue black) to absorb heat, and this is why all solar thermal panels are black or blue black and none are while.

It stands to reason that the more radiation the sea absorbs the warmer that sea becomes and the warmer that sea becomes the less ice can form on it.

When the extent of sea ice is measure it is taken by convention not to be the contiguous area of the ice bound Arctic but that part of the Arctic that has more than 15% ice. This year the extent of Arctic Sea ice, as measured by radar from satellites, look like breaking the 2007 record for the lowest extent, and then by some margin.

This is highly persuasive evidence that global warming is happening and that the warming is rapid. It is not conclusive evidence. Perhaps it might be conclusive when the Arctic is ice free in summer – defined by the same 15% definition.

The ice melt will be disastrous in the long term for the planet. It will hasten global warming for two reasons; the first I have already referred to is the loss of albedo. The second reason is that as the ice melts methane trapped in ice and in the soils of the surrounding tundra and taiga will melt as the knock on effect of an ice free Arctic is felt. There is already evidence of methane bubbling under the arctic and in the surrounding land and methane will hasten global warming.

In the short term many nations will prosper as a result of the ice melt; Canada, Russia, Denmark and Norway will all be able to exploit minerals and fuel found under the Arctic. The United States is trying to claim some of the Arctic through its ownership of Alaska but without ratifying the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea does not have a place at the negotiating table. At the moment the USA is too important to ratify this convention.  Expect ratification as more ice melts. China is cosy-ing up to Iceland who may have some Arctic territorial claim.

If the Arctic becomes ice free it opens up the North West passage to shipping. Canada claims that the sea route is wholly within Canadian waters and the rest of the world claim that the sea route is an international waterway. The distinction is important because if Canada’s claims are upheld expect the ruthless exploitation of the sea way at the expense of the environment. Such exploitation would be entirely consistent with Canada’s record of failing to protect the environment and its aboriginal people where such protection gets in the way of self-enrichment.

Norway has a reasonable record on environmental protection, as does Denmark. As far as Russia is concerned its own environmental record is as poor as that of Canada.

Whatever you may think of global warming, the nations that have Arctic claims believe in it, and are positioning themselves to pluck the first fruits of global warming, before those fruits turn to ashes in our mouths.

Methane and Worrying about the Future

Worrying about what might happen is a fairly useless pastime unless you have the means of preventing what might happen. If you worry about a massive asteroid suddenly breaking away from its orbit and colliding with earth you are indulging yourself.  If it happens we cannot prevent it. However there are some things about which you can worry because your concern may lead to solutions, for example, the amount of methane trapped under the ice in the Arctic and the northern tundra and taiga. Continue reading

Fracking earthquakes and fracking underground water supplies

In terms of emissions and particulates produced by actual burning natural gas is the least polluting of all fossil fuels by a good distance. However, when it comes to environmental protection we must consider the effects of everything that is done to extract the fossil fuel and use it, not just the last step in the energy chain. If we use oil taken from Canadian oil tar sands then the overall effect of its pollution is very high – probably higher than coal mined from open cast pits. When we look at using natural gas extracted from shale rock we must, before we decide on its environmental effect, look at the first steps in the production of the gas, not just the last step, when it burns in our condensing boiler. Continue reading