The Worst Greenhouse Gasses You Haven’t Heard Of

Carbon dioxide has long drawn the ire of an environmentally-conscious humanity. Released from combustion of fossil fuels, levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are higher now than at any point in the past 400,000 years. With the warming effects this has on the global environment, bringing these numbers down is a primary goal of scientists and policy makers worldwide.

However, this only tells part of the story. Carbon dioxide is not alone in its role as a greenhouse gas, with many others contributing significantly to global temperature rises. As humanity struggles to keep warming below 2 degrees C over the century, strategies will be needed to tackle the problem on all fronts.

There’s A Bad Smell Around Methane

Ruminant animals are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, which is probably no surprise to some.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Methane is a remarkably potent greenhouse gas, having 28 times the warming potential of CO2 by weight over a 100-year period. Historically, it’s mostly been released from natural sources, like bacteria processing organic material in stagnant watercourses, or from thawing permafrost. However, scientists now consider around 60% of methane in the atmosphere to be a direct result of human activity.

Agriculture is a major contributor in this area. Ruminant animals raised for human consumption are major methane emitters, as the microbes in their digestive systems release the gas when breaking down plant material. With the demand for meat and dairy showing no signs of slowing down, this could prove difficult to tackle. There are a variety of other diffuse sources of the gas, too. Landfills and sewage plants have significant methane emissions of their own, and it’s also often released from oil and gas drilling operations, too.

Oil and gas operations release significant quantities of methane into the atmosphere, often due to leaks or plant malfunctions.

Levels of methane in the atmosphere have been low compared to carbon dioxide. Methane also tends to have a short life in the atmosphere, of around 9 years. These factors have meant that methane has historically been of lower concern to environmental organisations. However, after levels plateaued from the 1990s to the mid-2000s, they have once again begun to climb precipitously. Scientists have yet to identify the cause of this rise, and it has the potential to undo hard-fought gains in the fight against global warming on the CO2 front. Theories range from a reduced level of chemicals that break down methane in the atmosphere, to increased livestock production or the rise of the hydraulic fracturing industry.

Whatever the cause of the recent rise, stemming the increase will require significant work. The Environmental Defence Fund is launching MethaneSAT in an attempt to better locate and quantify releases to the atmosphere, aiming to stem easily-fixed leaks in fossil fuel operations. Other ideas include using antibiotics to reduce animal’s methane output, or to capture the emissions from landfills and use them as an energy source. It’s likely a rigorous approach to both monitoring and emissions reduction will be required to keep methane levels in check.

Nitrous Oxide

Fertilizer use is a major contributor to nitrous oxide emissions.

Nitrous oxide isn’t just the favorite gas of the Fast and the Furious. It’s also a potent greenhouse gas, with 300 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide, pound for pound. With plenty of staying power, it sticks around in the atmosphere for 114 years on average. With 40 percent of NOx emissions coming from human activity, it’s a significant player as far as greenhouse gases go.

Fertilizer use in agriculture is the major contributor to nitrous oxide releases into the atmosphere. As farms push for ever-greater yields, there has been a corresponding increase in the use of nitrogen-containing fertilizers. Other lesser sources include fossil fuel combustion and various chemical production processes.

Reducing nitrous oxide emissions to any major degree is a difficult problem. Reducing farm yields is impractical if we wish to continue feeding as many people as possible. Increasing the efficiency of fertiliizer application is instead a more viable way to go. By applying fertilizers in the right way, in the right quantities at the right time, has the benefit of both reducing nitrous oxide emissions as well as cutting costs for farming operations. Other gains in this space can be made by reducing fossil fuel use by switching to renewable energy production, or cleaner burning technologies. The famous catalytic converter, introduced to gasoline-powered vehicles in the 1970s, plays a major role in reducing these emissions, and urea injection does much the same for diesel engines, which we’ve talked about before.

Sulfur Hexa-what now?

Sulfur hexafluoride is used heavily in high-voltage switchgear, as seen here in this hydroelectric installation. This circuit breaker is rated to run at 115 kV, 1200 A.

Recently, sulfur hexafluoride has come under scrutiny. Also known by its chemical formula, SF6, it’s a highly potent greenhouse gas, with a warming potential of over 23,000 times that of CO2. Prized for its performance as a gaseous dielectric medium, it’s used heavily in high-voltage circuit breakers in modern electricity grids. It enables the construction of much more compact switchgear, while remaining safe and reliable in operation.

Concentrations of SFhave begun to tick up in recent times, raising alarm bells. Speculation is that this is down to leaks of the gas from electrical equipment. As the world’s energy mix changes, grids have come to rely on more distributed generation, from sources like wind farms and solar. This mode of generation necessitates many more connections to the grid, which means more switchgear, and thus more SF6 out in the wild.

This graph shows the lifetime equivalent emissions of AirPlus versus SF6 technology. There are major gains to be had, thanks to the low global warming potential of AirPlus.

Work is afoot to slow this trend before things get out of hand. A replacement has been developed in a collaboration between ABB and 3M, by the name of AirPlus. While the production process releases more CO2, over the lifecycle of an installation, AirPlus-based switchgear should have far lower impact on warming. This is due to the fact that when released into the atmosphere, AirPlus degrades under UV light exposure in just 15 days, versus 3200 years for SF6. Its global warming potential is less than 1, meaning it has less of a warming effect than even CO2, while delivering comparable dielectric performance to SF6. Variants are available for both medium and high voltage applications.

Over time, as goverments work to reduce the prevalance of SFin new installations, its likely that we’ll see AirPlus and other alternatives gain steam. The gas has already been banned in the EU for all non-electrical purposes, since 2014. Industry is typically slow to act unless there’s a strong business case, so government intervention is likely to be the game changer that pushes adoption of newer, cleaner technology in this space.

Other Fluorinated Gases

SF6 is just one of a series of fluorinated gases that have significant global warming potential. Many of these were introduced as replacements for chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which tend to eat a hole in the ozone layer. Thankfully, that problem was largely solved when production of CFCs was tailed off in 1996, but their replacements can still cause further troubles.

With lifetimes in the hundreds to thousands of years in the upper atmosphere, gases like hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons have an outsized effect on atmospheric warming, thousands of times that of CO2 on a per-molecule basis. They have applications as aerosol propellants, solvents, and fire retardants, but their primary use is as refrigerants in cooling systems. HFC-134a is the most well-known, used widely in air conditioning systems worldwide, and particularly in motor vehicles. This has led to its position as the most abundant HFC in the atmosphere.

Efforts are in place to limit the impact of these chemicals, through precautionary measures. This involves taking more care during the repair and disposal of HVAC systems, as well as designing systems to be more resilient of leaks in the first place. Recycling methods are also beneficial to ensure that where possible, these gases are captured rather then simply vented to the atmosphere. Enforcement on a broad scale remains a challenge.

Automakers are already planning to switch air conditioning systems to use gases that have less global warming potential.
Source: Mercedes Benz

Sometimes, it’s better to avoid the problem entirely. A transition away from using refrigerants like HFC-134a is in progress. The EPA has legislated that all light vehicles manufactured or sold in the USA by model year 2021 must no longer use HFC-134a. Instead, alternatives like HFO-1234yf, HFC-152a, and R-744 will be legal. The first two are mildly flammable, while the latter is simply another name for good old CO2. These refrigerants will require different technology to existing air conditioners. CO2-based systems in particular needing to operate at up to 10 times the pressure of traditional systems. However, progress in technology should allow these gases to take over, reducing the impact these refrigeration gases have on global warming.

The Fight Continues

CO2 is still the primary greenhouse gas, but it’s not the whole story. We’ve looked at a wide variety of chemicals, each with their own important roles and impact on the Earth’s atmosphere. This highlights the fact that there’s no single panacea to heading off global warming; instead, a broad spectrum approach across all aspects of human endeavour is required.

Halting the impacts of these chemicals is difficult, and will require decisive action by both government bodies, as well as cooperation from relevant industries. In some cases, there are additional gains to be had, while in others, the solution comes with high costs and painful changes. We engineered ourselves into this situation, so we can probably engineer ourselves out. Regardless, if humanity is to flourish in the next century, there remains much work to be done.

128 thoughts on “The Worst Greenhouse Gasses You Haven’t Heard Of

  1. Let’s talk about the anaesthetic vapours I use at work, which are halogenated ethers.

    The 3 in fairly current practice are isoflurane, sevoflurane and desflurane…

    All routinely vented into the atmosphere.

  2. Re nitrous oxides… we should bring back small farms. People doing farming on small plots don’t need huge yields…

    Besides. I grew up on a small farm. My mother had a quarter-acre market garden. She was doing free-range chicken eggs before that term existed, and organic produce before it was cool. (No, really, this was in the 1980s and 1990s.) Fun fact: one day she got a call from Senator Pat Leahy’s office… she wound up helping to co-write the part of the 1990 Farm Bill that (eventually) led to federal standards for organic certification. You know those “certified organic” stickers you see on produce? Yeah, that.

    Small farms are good for you.

      1. Small farms just serve the local area that way less vehicle miles. There’s a farm in Cornwall that just uses horses and the farmers love it.

        In terms of reducing the use of fertilisers, absolutely possible, the cannabis industry has helped pushes sustainable growing techniques including super soils and compost teas that repair and feed the soils

      2. It’s true that small farms have been more inefficient than larger farms in both these areas for the last century or so, but theres really no evidence to support that they need to be less efficient in the coming century.

        I live in a largely rural part of North Carolina, where the cash crop was tobacco. Theres an enormous focus on studying small scale farming, in the hope of preserving much of the economy in the eastern Carolinas. Long story made short, the future of small scale farming probably isn’t as bleak as many people think it is. What’s largely lacking is affordable access to capital equipment. Large commercial farming benefits from buying these items on scale. Hopefully some sort of open source solution comes to large scale farm equipment and swings the pendulum back towards smaller farms, because they , and their products are so much more efficient in several other respects.

        As to efficiency of manpower, it may not necessarily be the best metric to measure overall farming efficiency by.

      3. “But small farms are incredibly inefficient with vehicle miles”

        Serious question: Does that claim factor in the shipping costs/emissions from transporting product sometimes several thousand miles? Just wondering if the less efficient use of farming machinery is offset by the fact that the production is local to it’s consumption.

    1. Organic farming has 1/3 the yield of modern farming. Most will starve if modern farming is halted. Unless the warming is fast enough for farming closer to the arctic circle, which is where all the land is.

      1. When you say “most will starve”, think again, over 30% of food is wasted in developed countries
        Also, outside developed countries (which provide loans to farmers so that they can spend them on chemicals…) other parts of the world (with arguably the majority of people) do not use those expensive techniques

      2. Your information appears to be outdated.

        Yes, organic appears to be +/-20% of the yield of conventional farming (there are a few crops where organic is already superior). In general, about 10% lower productivity seems to be typical.

        On the other hand, organic has really only been a realistic option for about 30 years and the gap is narrowing. Using corn as an example, today’s 10% gap between organic and conventional agriculture is impressive when you consider that the conventional yield has gone from 89.1 bushels per acre in 1980 to 166.5 bushels per acre in 2015, a gain of 46%. In other words, for corn, today’s organic productivity is about 40% higher than conventional farming in 1980.

        Please have a look at these links if you’d like more information. Actual serious scientific studies from non-tree hugging organizations.

        (Can organic crops compete with industrial agriculture?) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/12/141210081015.htm
        (Organic Crops Impressively Productive When Compared With Conventionally Grown Crops) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080325101134.htm
        (Organic Farming Beats No-Till?) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/07/070722162434.htm
        (Organic agriculture key to feeding the world sustainably) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/02/160203085855.htm

        https://fieldtomarket.org/national-indicators-report-2016/corn-for-grain/

      3. I think a little less food is good for some developed countries. Nevertheless, I don’t think that going back to large quantities (not large scale) organic farming will help reduce the global warming.

      4. Not really true.
        There is not a lack of land, the problem is that most of what is produced goes to animal feed. In a study in Science from 2018, they found that if everyone converted to a plant based diet, we could remove 76% of all farmland. (10.1126/science.aaq0216)

        I.e. we could sustain an organic farming style. If that is better, is still unclear.

      5. Aquaponic gardening is organic and yields can be many times MORE that of conventional farming. It’s typical for 1 ft sq to yield 3 heads of lettuce/year with conventional farming but 3-4 heads per MONTH with Aquaponic farming. Conventional farming creates huge amounts of destruction. There’s also permaculture. Automation, consolidation, and economy of scale reduce the “need” for human workers in many activities. Small scale farming would create jobs, reduce transport/storage expense, and provide higher quality food AND rebuild/nourish soil AND help clean the air. “Most will starve if…” Uh, yeah, if the existing systems are instantly stopped, of course. Your comment is a strawman. So is this one, “..where are the land is.” On REAL Earth, most land mass is outside the Arctic Circle. Giving you the benefit of the doubt (which you, yourself, didn’t afford), you might have meant land usable for agriculture. Even then, you’re statement is wrong. “Greening the desert.”, Aquaponics, permaculture.

    2. I feel that you have it backwards. Small farms generally have poorer operating margins due to overhead like man power, equipment, etc. They generally need better yields to stay sustainable over a larger operation that is able to thin out their overhead with more land and larger equipment.

    3. I’m not anti small farm, but respectfully is it possible your mother was used by Pat Leahy? organic certification set in that bill was less stringent that the guidelines being met by organic producers voluntarily, and your mother and other other producers can’t say they go above the federal guidelines. Unfortunately a small number of small farms can never feed the number of people needing to eat. I’m not saying change is not need, but that change is somewhere in between the extremes being put forth.

  3. The sewage treatment plant in my hometown, even as far back as 1993, captures its own methane output and uses it as fuel to run engines that then power generators, pumps, etc. They did this not just to minimize air pollution but also so they can be sure the sewage treatment plant can continue to function during a blackout rather than letting untreated sewage back up or overflow into the nearby lake. It seems that this falls under the heading of a atrong business case — energy self sufficient operation during blackouts being a strong motivation and preventing avoidable methane emissions is an additional benefit.

    1. The city dump/landfill where I live has the same thing. The use a modified diesel V10 that runs off methane to run a generator that feeds back into the grid. I’m surprised to hear that this may not be a common situation. (Score one for the ‘flyover states’.)

      1. Gaston County NC has something similar from what I understand… triple redundant power, solar, methane diesel (with dual production facilities) , and grid tie. Basically… it could get really bad and the dump/water treatment would continue.

    2. Many mid to large size dairy farms are capturing methane in their milk-houses now too. The one next to my house generates more electricity than they need and after selling back to the grid, they had a 6ish year payback period. I think there were some subsidies involved, but I’m ok with that.

  4. We already have the solution for a viable and efficient refrigerant… it’s called Propane. It’s not a greenhouse gas, and with the placement of a few gas sensors it can be made as safe as the natural gas or propane people already have plumbed into their homes for cooking and heating. So why aren’t we already using it? The answer to that is “Follow the money.” Think of how much the industry would lose if we switched to something so simple. Scaremongering the public into wildly proprietary gas blends is cheap for them – and very expensive for us.

      1. I use propane to heat my house, grill my food at home and when camping, power my forklift, fog my mosquitoes and pew pew my paintballs. Adding cooling my car or home to that list wouldn’t bother me in the slightest.

        1. My propane consuming furnace just shut of. The only difference I see between myself, and others who say they use propane, I’m well aware of the hazard it poses. I have worked wit and used propane appliance for years, I don’t fear propane, I sure as hell respect it’s destructive potential. Respectfully the ignorant would champion it’s use as a refrigerant.

      2. Liquid Natural Gas is already common in Australia for use in commercial and non-commercial vehicles.
        Taxi’s in Japan use it quite a bit too.

        Better be careful about the few hundred grams of propane in the AC…… oh wait, there’s 60-80 liters in the tank in the back…..
        Or the 60-80 odd liters of flammable liquid in the tank under the car…..
        Or the slab of lithium batteries making up a good portion of the floor…..

        A few grams of propane in an engine bay isn’t going to cause much more trouble than what is already there.

      1. I’d not really have any concerns with home use of propane refrigerant, but my only hesitation with vehicles is in the event of a crash… A tank of gas is relatively hard to have explode, and a leaking gas line isn’t usually a huge deal, other than maybe causing an open flame. Now if there’s some sort of open flame or electrical fire in a crash, a pressurized propane line/coil leaking seems like it could go flame-thrower more easily… Seems could be particularly bad if you’re stuck in the cab and condenser coil cracks… Or maybe that isn’t very realistic. Can’t say I’m much bigger on CO2 operating over 1000psi though, or if I manage to crack one of those lines while DIY (related project or not).

      2. Well I’m kook then, I have been called worse. I guess I’m far enough into the rural sticks, not to know that consumers where allowed to fill their propane battle at public filling facilities. Although in the past I fulled bottles from my own 500 gallon tank that had a “wet leg”. Because things change I now longer have that tank, no matter I no longer use much propane from bottles In the end I’m a kook was yet to have blown himself in years of working with both natural gas and propane equipment.

    1. lol, that is a good point. In my house, the propane and the refrigerant enter the house like 2 feet apart, but my gut reaction to using propane as a refrigerant was “NO WAY!” One of those things that when you think about it for a minute, you realize it isn’t a bad idea!

      1. The average HVAC split-system has approximately 10 pounds of refrigerant. Propane is heavier than air, so it will settle in low spots, such as basements. Since it’s flammable, that’s a problem. A light switch being turned on could set it off. If there’s any question about what can happen when a flammable refrigerant is vented in a home, search the Richmond Hill Explosion. Granted, it was natural gas and it was intentional, but it’s an important fact to consider.

        1. Propane has a relatively narrow explosive range. You’d have to be extremely unlucky to a) get that much propane leaking in and not diffusing away, b) have it at exactly the right ratio to explode.

          Mind, the optimum mixture for an explosion is not the optimum mixture for ignition. It’s easier to ignite a rich mixture, but it won’t explode.

          1. “leak was discovered in a propane line buried under the paved parking lot. It entered the building in the basement.”

            How does that compare to a fridge that is using propane as the coolant?

            Oh, right, about a thousand times more propane.

          2. If it’s ignitable at all, it’s capable of overpressuring whichever container it’s in with a boom.

            Propane is not particularly sensitive to mixture. My spud gun goes off every time without any metering.

            It’s not as insensitive as hydrogen if that’s your point.

        2. – Doesn’t really seem relevant – how many houses have natural gas fired furnaces? NG is heavier than air also, and we have no problem controlling it for furnaces, and living with risks…. At least in the US, most homes have LP or NG plumbed already for heat, so it’s not like we’re be introducing a new dangerous gas to the home. Unless split systems have a tendency to leak way more than I’m under the impression they do, seems like pretty much a non-issue.

          1. Propane used as a coolant has to exist in a closed loop and in high purity, so things like moisture in the pipelines don’t have a chance to corrode the pipes. If there is any water in the coolant, it would freeze and block the evaporator.

            There is only couple pounds of the gas inside the coolant loop. If there is a leak, it would be equivalent to a leaking camping gas cylinder – the volume of the house, or a room, is too large for it to form an explosive mixture because it dilutes too much.

            You need at least 2% of the volume to reach the minimum explosive limits. Propane has a density of about 2 kilos per cubic meter, so for a regular size room of say 30 cubic meters, you need more than 5 pounds of propane to form an explosive mix – assuming the room is sealed and has no ventilation whatsoever. In a normal room, a small slow propane leak will just diffuse away, although it can present a fire hazard because the concentration of propane at the floor can reach levels that may ignite.

            The argument that it will seep into your basement and stay there are bunk. That requires a really big leak. If a small propane cylinder leaks, it will dilute with so much air on the way down that it just won’t do anything.

          2. Sorry, NASA error, that was 3 pounds of propane, not 5. In any case, a single small camping gas cylinder – or a fridge, or an air-to-air heat pump – doesn’t have enough gas for it.

    2. Exactly this, it is even a direct swapout for R12 and R134 systems if you don’t mind the efficiencies changing a bit. Plus its lower pressure, and a larger molecule so it is less likely to leak. Oh and 1234yf is also flammable.

      CO2 is another great choice but the high pressures are an issue in practice.

      1. For home use CO2 will probably take a while to become viable, but at the industrial / commercial chiller level high pressures aren’t an issue. So long as power consumption is comparable.

    3. 100% agree that’s the real story behind HFO-1234yf which is also flammable and when it burns gives of a gas which is related to phosgene
      But it’s ok becasue experts have ruled it’s safe to use.

      But propane (butane, iso butane and various mixes) doesn’t give off such a gas. It’s also called R600 and you’ll already find it being used in many household fridge freezers. In some countries like India it’s widely used in AC systems too.

      And it’s GWP is better than HFO-1234yf but exactly as stated the opportunity for profit is 0

      That is the tale of why business cannot be left to fix global warming because business is more interested in profit than doing the right thing.
      Always. Profit comes first. So sadly we need regulation but business controls (bought) the regulators.

      So in essence, we are all fucked, can expected to get blamed for the actions of business and certainly taxed to hell and back for it whilst they continue to make profits.

  5. The scariest hypothesis I have heard for the rise in atmospheric methane is that it is coming from melting permafrost, thus implying that we have already reached the point where positive feedback loops have taken control of the climate system. If this is true things will get worse fast.

  6. To all that is afraid of the flame hazards of propane, consider that the gasoline charged in your fuel lines has about 4 times the btu potential for energy, and a standard 12′ pine 2X4 stud has the same btu energy what you would charge your ac system with. Yes there is a chance for gas build up, but same goes for any house with natural gas.

  7. “Scaremongering the public” and “Follow the money” … That pretty much sums up the “man/cows caused” climate change movement as well…. Nice now they are calling it ‘climate change’ too rather than global cooling or warming as it fits whatever the current situation is that the cause is pushing… BTW, I just read the polar bears are doing quite well and thriving… Because of that, environmentalists have dropped the polar bear as one of their icons now.

    1. I think in a similar way. Grants are only given to scientists that give the results they want. It’s not even science anymore. Combine that with the constant name changing and the fact that I have yet to read a study that can:
      1) Predict what will happen with some amount of accuracy. This is required for a theory to be moved to a law.
      2) Correctly model the delta of human contribution vs no human contribution. They have no idea what the human contribution actually is.

      It’s also the only place in science where it’s acceptable to change the data to match the hypothesis rather than create a hypothesis that matches the data.
      None-believers are called deniers (ad hominems have to be used because their argument is too weak) like it’s some kind of religion.

      All of it just points out that it’s political and not about science.

      1. “Constant name changing”? The scientific community started using “climate change” consistently over a decade ago. It’s only denialists who keep bringing up the older terms, and only to use as a strawman to pollute the debate. The actual data is identical regardless.

  8. what about water vapor? it’s contributes between 36% to 72% of the total greenhouse effect. all these piddling amounts of other gasses seem small when compared to water vapor.

    1. Greenhouse gasses work like adding a drop of black ink to a bowl of water – even a tiny amount makes it opaque. These gasses do the same at infrared frequencies, which makes the atmosphere absorb the radiation that would otherwise bounce back up to space.

      However, when there’s already water vapor in the air to the point that the atmosphere is essentially black at a certain IR wavelength, adding more gasses that block the same piece of spectrum won’t make any real difference. Any additional absorption at that band will have diminishing effects.

      Water vapor already blocks most of the IR spectrum, and it overlaps the absorption spectra of these other gasses. What many (deliberately) forget is that the greenhouse potential of different gasses is estimated in isolation, not in combination, because the latter would depend on what other gasses there are. Then you couldn’t say some gas is 23,000 times worse than CO2, because the other gasses are already blocking its absorption bands.

        1. And, it also give the reason why the sky is blue.

          Because it is blue. Both water vapor and oxygen absorb visible red wavelengths, making air blue. You just don’t see it over relatively short distances.

    2. The climate models and those that program them are well aware of the role of water in weather. It’s accounted for in their models. Just like solar irradiance and albedo.

      The reason water is inconsequential in terms of global climate change is water vapor is a heat pump. It serves to transport heat around the planet. You get tropical storms forming and transferring petawatts of heat from the lower to the higher latitudes. Even a lowly thunderstorm has on the order of terawatts of heat energy in it.

      But all this heat gets released to the atmosphere when it rains. So unless you have some persistent greenhouse gas, it escapes to space as IR light.

        1. “But all this [water vapor] heat gets released to the atmosphere when it rains. So unless you have some persistent greenhouse gas, it escapes to space as IR light.”

          And again, climate models take water vapor into account.

          1. Water vapor is about 95% of all greenhouse gases. Climate models make simplifying assumptions as to how water vapor affects climate, and some of these assumptions are not backed up by data.

            Furthermore, rain comes from clouds, and the net effect of clouds is to cool the planet.

            I would encourage all to do some online research about the role of water vapor in climate change.

          2. “Water vapor is about 95% of all greenhouse gases.”

            You need to learn something about climate science, then you will realise your comment is completely nonsensical.

            The atmosphere works in layers, you could have a 100% perfect greenhouse gas at a lower layer, but that lower layer will still radiate (roughly) half its heat upwards. The killer property of CO2 is that it sits high up in the atmosphere as a further absorbing layer.

            “Climate models make simplifying assumptions as to how water vapor affects climate, and some of these assumptions are not backed up by data.”

            Now you are just writing your fantasies, if you really have an analysis showing such an error in current climate models you would be publishing it, not writing incorrect comments on websites.

            “Furthermore, rain comes from clouds” <- No s*** Einsten.

            "I would encourage all to do some online research about the role of water vapor in climate change."

            I would encourage you to learn the first tiniest little bit about climate science before you post more idiocy.

  9. It’s funny that the “CO2 levels are higher than they have been in 400,000 years” corresponds to the fewest amount of mature trees in that same time frame. The earth does carbon sequestration very efficiently – with plants. The bigger they are the more carbon they absorb. It isn’t coming from the root system, they’re extracting it out of the air ( remember photosynthesis? ). So get off the grid ( it’s overloaded anyway ), get off your computers, tablets and smartphones, plant some trees and get off my freshly fertilized yard!!!

    1. But – the article says fertilizers release nitrous oxide.
      So we need to ban all cars, kill all domestic animals, go back to letting crops grow naturally, and shut down high voltage circuits.
      Good luck with that.

      1. The all-or-nothing approach will certainly not work. Whichever side is chosen.

        The biggest problem is developing countries wanting to live our (the western) lifestyle, which is currently unsustainable. Since we have a lot of knowledge and money, we need to find ways to live sustainable (but still comfortably).

        Some sacrifices will be needed, so we have to convince people of the dire situation we are in, even though it might be completely obvious. The science backs it up, and science is one of the most unbiased tools we have in society, and therefore we should listen.

        Sadly, people seem to think it’s a hoax. I don’t know why anyone would want to construct this world wide conspiracy, or who would profit from it. I guess only the people with tin-foil hats have enough brain power to understand.

    1. How true. Water vapor is not only five times more potent that CO2, but is present in far greater amounts. Carbon dioxide is 424 ppm, but water vapor is over 10,000 ppm at 40% relative humidity, almost 25 times higher.

      Furthermore, water vapor forms clouds, which reflect radiation from the sun back out into space. Think about that during your next airplane ride.

      1. Substantial changes in the climate system is fine till you consider the human element. Most, if not all, human infrastructure was not designed during the last change. Due to this, any changes that come our way we will not be prepared for. Hell, imagine having to constantly rebuild after hurricanes keep hitting your area year after year. It won’t be pretty.

          1. I’ve lived in central Florida since 1986. My house was build in 1946. House is still standing, and only major hurricane damage, has been my privacy fence, which I keep fixing out of pocket. Insurance and FEMA money, are exactly why people rebuild, year after year. Rather than use the money rebuild a solid, storm resistant home, they go as cheap as possible on the building, and buy the biggest TV that will fit through the door. Main reason so many beach front homes are destroyed, is they are cheap rentals, summer homes, or timeshares. The TV news isn’t interested in all the buildings that survive just fine, year after year, they want devastation and destruction.

      2. There is one thing that I don’t believe the record will show. That’s a warming period to coincides with humans releasing prehistoric carbon into our environment. Regardless of the effect of the current warming period I doubt humans will ever again release prehistoric carbon. For that to happen humans would have to survive th forces that create carbon deposit. Hell where I live the first ancient carbon below my fett is 3400 feet away, between there and my feet there are 2 prehistoric oceans that have no carbon deposits associated with them.

  10. On a brighter note. You don’t need to feed ruminants classical antibiotics as such to reduce methane output. Research from down under indicates that all it takes is a small ration of a particular common seaweed mixed into the feed suplement to significantly reduce methane production with no negative impact on animal health or growth.

  11. We can’t blame the gas from animal wastes and produced by bacteria as they are part of natural process, as well as the nitrous oxide for growing plants but perhaps they should be regulated further or re-invented to somehow lessen the emissions.

    1. We certainly can blame gas from animal wastes when we’ve vastly increased the number of those animals over their ‘natural’ population. We’ve replaced forests which are carbon sinks with pasture for cattle worldwide, and cattle population has grown in a similar way to that of human population worldwide.

    1. That’s because water vapor isn’t a major component of the persistent state of the atmosphere; it does this thing where it has a very tight upper limit on concentration at a given temperature, and above that limit it self-sequesters (for a little while, and in the process introduces some other short-term effects.), and there are very large reservoirs of it to re-enter the atmosphere if the temperature rises. It certainly matters, but it’s all short-term dynamics (that _are_ in the models).

      If the earth were consistently above 100C so that the sequestering behavior didn’t happen, then it’d factor into the issue in much the same way that CO2 and the other persistent greenhouse gases do.

      1. I’ve been modeling water vapor for four decades. How can you write that “water vapor isn’t a major component” when it represents more than 90% of greenhouse gases? “Self-sequestering” and “short-term dynamics” sounds like magical thinking. I’d like to see a reference, please.

  12. What’s the negative global impact of global warming on humanity? The world has produced bumper crops of food with this current atmosphere composition. China is now facing obesity issued instead of starvation. Nations that used to hover over starvation are now food exporters. 387 ppm of C02 are on par with the low end of the concentration inside of an office building or house, 350-1000 ppm. For the past 150M years, we have been in a steady decline of CO2 ppm, down from ~2500ppm. For the past 25M years global avg temperatures have been in an almost freefall from 22C down to 14.9C today, rising just 0.9C in the past 40 years, using 1950-80 avg temp reading data with new collection techniques.

    1. obligatory XKCD link: https://xkcd.com/1732/

      yes earth has been warmer or colder, and will be warmer or colder in the future.
      The issue is not earth, or whenever earth will support life.
      It’s even not human extinction (that nearly happened and will happen eventually) or other species extinction (they also have happened past) but whether how long our ecosystem will handle our 10+ billion population trend without major fast human extinction (nuclear hunger war anyone?).

  13. Erm, sea level rise affecting fixed infrastructure, altered weather patterns affecting established local agricultural practices, enhanced pest species reproduction, range and plant/human disease carriage, as well as a rate of temperature change exceeding the ability of endemic species to adapt with migration, dysfunctional insurance markets and increasingly uninsurable risks due to increases in weather related events, and water scarcity affecting established populataion centres due to altered snow melt and glacier conditions, but apart from that, yeah, what are the downsides of accelerated climate change over and above changes that have normally occurred in geological timeframes?

    1. its only an issue because companies like “We dont have time” can make money out it and manipulated global markets.

      Why is it any company is required to adjust its practices as the market changes or they die – yet when it comes to farming – “this is how weve farmed in this location for the last 1000 years” is ok?

    2. SLR? Please, it’s practically a scientific constant it is so reliable. Nice list, except you have no proof that any of that is outside the bounds of natural variability, you spout off a list and hope to shut folks up with quantity. Maybe you need to be listening to someone besides Greta? The Holocene is only going to end one way, hopefully where you live will not eventually be under a mile of ice….again.

  14. “bringing these numbers down is a primary goal of scientists and policy makers worldwide.”
    why? where is the evidence that atmospheric CO2 levels of 50 years ago were the optimum? in fact, many say they were too low, dangerously close to the level where plants start to die. there is also evidence that plants growth is greatly improved since CO2 levels went up.
    earth had much higher atmospheric CO2 levels and did just fine.
    and earth is not a glass bell full of gas under a IR lamp. is a complex system where CO2 plays only a small role.
    and before someone says the planet is warming, have you looked at the data? no? well, look. its here. and its garbage
    https://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/station_data_v4_globe/

  15. It would lend at least some credibility to your article if you got the chemistry correct. Nitrogen oxides (NB: NOT nitrous oxides) are largely from combustion, and you can probably get away with blaming that on humans. There’s a very complex chemistry between nitrogen oxide (NO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and ozone (O3). NO2 is most widely recognized as the red-brown gas that comprises urban smog. Nitrous oxide (N2O) exists in much higher concentrations than NO or NO2, and is naturally occurring, not man-made. The chemistry is far more complex than for NO/NO2 and not particularly well understood. While NO2 may have “greenhouse” properties, it is also the major source of fixed nitrogen needed by plant life. (You know, those things that take CO2 out of the air.) Also, with respect to natural gas, there is far less vented than most of the “greens” report. (I served on the committee for the American Gas Association back when I was in that industry.) The vast majority of the losses reported by industry are meter losses. (I’m selling you gas and we each have a meter. Mine says I sent you X amount of gas and yours says I sent Y% of X. We negotiate the price for the loss – say 1/2 of Y% – and report the gas as lost. It didn’t go to the atmosphere, it’s just consolidating meter errors.) EPA’s AP-42 emissions factors also assume that all fugitive components (valves, flanges, etc.) have emissions even if monitoring shows they don’t. Emissions reports are therefor bogus and mostly nobody cares – except when someone misuses the data to justify vast programs to “save the planet”. Global Warming is the biggest scam foisted on the public since Piltdown Man.

  16. A) I suppose most of HAD readers are aware of methane being a greenhouse gas.
    B) You should have mentioned the methane found in the ocean (see: methane hydrate stability zone) and the possible effects of an increased global temperature to it.

  17. Nature has sequestered VAST quantities of naturally occurring Methane in frozen form both under the ocean and underground. If WARMED A SMALL AMOUNT or SIMPLY PHYSICALLY DISTURBED these Methane deposits suddenly return to gaseous form and are released into the atmosphere. These releases take place from both underground and seafloor deposits and reports of such releases being observed are not difficult to find.

    An increase in global temperatures increases the likelyhood of spontaneous methane releases. Once a frozen deposit begins returning to gas state the release continues till that entire deposit is depleted. That released methane contributes to further global warming which raises the global temperature and brings other methane deposits closer to release.

    The items to watch that the general public might understand are the volume of polar ice sheets and temperatures of the global oceans as these are the primary thermal reservoirs that assist regulating our global temperature, but these are already seen to be changing significantly even during the short span or our lifetimes.

    If we do not do something to mitigate global warming the last remaining hope will be that we enter a naturally occurring cooling or even ice age, but YOU won’t have to worry about that, your grandchildren will.

  18. The carbon dioxide issue has been over hyped and politicized, as has the whole debate. It’s a fact that if CO2 levels drop below 150 ppm, plant respiration ceases. They die. Increasing CO2 from 300 to 2,000 ppm doubles plant growth. This is why commercial greenhouse operations buy CO2 generators. As atmospheric levels rise, the normal result is an increase in biomass that absorbs it. Oxygen levels also rise as a result of accelerated plant growth. This mechanism has been disrupted in part by human activity, altering the Earth’s surface (roads, cities, etc.). CO2 levels have often been much higher in Earth’s history, as much as 7,000 ppm, and lower, around 185 ppm. We’re close to the low end right now. The global warming crowd’s simplistic approach to what is a very complex system could end up getting us all killed. Reminder, at 150 ppm, the plants die. Then, without them generating oxygen to replace what bacteria and chemical processes lock up in the soil and rocks, we die.

    1. What people tend to ignore about plants, and how critical they are to all life on the planet. Every living thing is based on carbon molecules. The only source of that carbon is from CO2 and photosynthesis. We’ve never seen what the plants and trees can do with their ideal levels of CO2, 700-1000 ppm, globally. We do know that plants grown in a controlled environment, are amazing. They grow faster, healthier, resistant to disease, and yield more.

      I do believe that reducing atmospheric CO2, is intentional genocide. Less CO2, less food, more people starve and die. I don’t believe CO2 will drop all that much, regardless of how much is spent though. There are enough natural sources to keep the plants from completely dying off, just not producing as much food as required. Oddly enough, the ‘green’ state of California, is on of our best contributors of CO2, from their frequent wildfires.

      Oxygen is important too, but we have plenty. It’s the dietary carbon, that all life depends on. And limiting CO2, reduces the amount of food. More people will starve to death, than not having oxygen to breath, or heat related issues. More people die during the winter months, than during the summer heat waves. Wonder how well those California blackouts are going to work out this winter, for folks living up in the mountains. Hopefully, they are smart enough not to depend on electricity for heating…

  19. Air dusters can contain fluorinated gasses. After finding this out I’ve been much more sparing with their use and saved them for HV experiments. So now, if there’s some corona – dust it and win.

    But when designing HV gear that’s to be gas insulated, I only ever use dry compressed air or preferably nitrogen. This allows venting to atmosphere when doing maintenance really very ok and eliminates concern about breathing it in. And the gas is really inexpensive. So yes, the gaps end up being twice the size and the pressure is a little higher – but it works and the risk assessment is easy too.

    1. I’d avoid using HFCs around anything that can cause them to decompose. You can make some very nasty gasses.

      BTW as far as I know, “Air dusters”, as people often call them never have “air” in the name, because they don’t contain any. Most of them are HFC-152 (Difluoroethane), which is mostly replacing the slightly harder to burn, but more greenhousy HFC-134a (Tetrafluoroethane).

      Yep, for those of you who love dusting with “Compressed air” you buy in little cans, It’s pretty much the same thing as venting refrigerant from a fairly modern AC or Refrigerator.

      A lot of newer fridges and freezers are already on HC refrigerants. I bought one recently that’s R600a, which is isobutane.

      The important thing is that they’re designed so that any leaks vent out of the enclosure, instead of into the box of the fridge/freezer, where they could go boom.

  20. I’m going I have to write a chrome extension to filter these opinion pieces out when I view Hackaday. It’ll be like Lewin never existed and Hackaday never stooped to political scare mongering

    1. Well, it seems that’s already happening on the publishing side. My comments on topic (and those of some others) have disappeared. I’m assuming that criticism, however well founded and on topic, is too much for some people.

      1. Deleting all opposing sense making is the only option when reason ruins the narrative. Follow the money and you will find the truth. As for me, it’s only fair that if they want to censor me, I will censor them back, only I don’t have any skin in the game, whereas they have ad revenue to loose with their virtue signalling.

      1. Let’s assume you don’t have cancer.
        Would it be bad for you to start chemo?
        The “bad” depends on the solution being forced on you. We do need to pollute less, but the solutions currently being pushed (in the US) have nothing to do with reducing pollution. Follow the money. There is much power and wealth to be gained by certain entities by creating new legislation under the guise of environmentalism.

        1. Please identity those entities poised to gain much power and wealth by creating new legislation under the guise of environmentalism. Where in US where regulation is written by those by those regulated, I agree with you in part.

      2. “Let’s assume there is no man made global warming.
        Would it be bad to act like there is?”

        Yes, because the faster you want something delivered, the more expensive. Pretty much nobody actually has the cash or resources, for a quick change over. The more resources we divert toward going ‘green’, takes away from more pressing concerns. Most, if not all the catastrophic effects of global warming, is purely speculation, over-hyped, to motivate the masses. There really is no way to know for sure, until we get there. This is the first time, our first inter-glacial, as a semi-civilized world. It be a lot more civilized if the fanatics would quit deleting comments, and discuss what’s bothering them. It took hundred of years to get us here, and fossil fuel played a key role. It’s not going to get all ripped up, and replaced in a few decades, even if everyone agreed to do so.

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