The world typically focuses on the ill-effects of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere and its destructive nature, but two U.S. Senators say some other harmful gases are being emitted every day that need attention.
U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) was in Milford last week to talk about draft legislation backed by himself and Susan Collins (R-Maine) aimed at reducing emissions of these other gases, called “short-lived climate pollutants.”
“Carbon dioxide is usually the focus, but these are important too,” Murphy said.
Short-lived climate pollutants, also referred to as “super pollutants,” are non-CO2 greenhouse pollutants that cause 40% of global warming, according to a statement Murphy distributed at the meeting.
They range from methane emitted by landfills and oil and gas exploration, to refrigerants leaking from refrigerators and air conditioners, to sooty exhaust from diesel engines and smoke from millions of traditional cookstoves all over the developing world.
“Studies show that fast action to reduce [short-lived climate pollutants] in the atmosphere could cut the rate of sea level rise by 25%, almost halve the rate of temperature rise, prevent two million premature deaths each year, and avoid crop losses of over 30 million tons annually,” Murphy said.
Unlike CO2, short-lived climate pollutants can be tackled quickly and effectively, Murphy added, pointing out that the United States is already a leader in the technologies needed to drive reductions.
“The United States is well-positioned to employ alternatives to the chemicals used in refrigeration and air conditioning, do a better job of replacing older cookstoves and diesel engines that produce [soot], and harness fugitive methane seeping out of landfills, wastewater plants, and pipelines,” Murphy said.
The proposed legislation is expected to reduce short-lived climate pollutants in the atmosphere by taking a number of steps to help federal agencies work with the business and non-profit communities in speeding the adoption of pollutant-reducing technologies and policies, all while supporting American-led innovations to reduce these pollutants.
The legislation would: Foster interagency cooperation on super pollutants; prioritize commonsense emissions reduction strategies; recycle high-global warming potential refrigerants; mitigate methane leaks, and expand access to diesel-scrubbing technologies.
“Short-lived climate pollutants are the problem too few people are talking about, but are doing some of the worst damage to the atmosphere,” said Murphy. “As we work to combat threats to our climate, we can’t leave short-lived pollutants out of the equation. Our bill will take these dangerous pollutants head on by making smarter use of tools already at our disposal here in the U.S.”
Murphy said the fact that this legislation is a bipartisan effort will give it more credence. The bill will be fine-tuned and introduced later this summer. He admitted he isn’t overly optimistic it will be brought to a vote this year, but he thinks the bipartisan support will “give momentum to the administration to continue the work it’s doing.”
The roundtable discussion that took place last Wednesday at the Parsons Government Center in Milford included people from United Technologies, Yale University, the Sierra Club and Connecticut Audubon, as well as local representatives such as Milford’s health director and members of the Environmental Concerns Coalition, plus more.
Tom Ivers, Milford’s community block grant coordinator, raised a number of eyebrows when he explained the city is paying for natural gas it uses to heat municipal buildings, even if it never gets here.
Ivers said the city buys gas from one company and pays another company to deliver it. Summer interns were helping him review bills recently when they found a discrepancy between what was delivered and what was billed.
“They told us we are being charged for the gas that leaked out of the pipe,” Ivers said, adding, “It was not an insignificant amount.”
If industry were to reduce leakage, costs would be reduced for the consumer, he said.
The state is starting to address that, said Lauren Savidge, staff attorney with the Connecticut Fund for the Environment.
She cited legislation approved in Hartford last month, “An Act Concerning Lost and Unaccounted for Gas,” which will require the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to submit an annual report giving the reasons for each gas company’s lost and unaccounted for gas; recommendations for each gas company’s gas leak reduction strategy; a description of the company’s gas leak monitoring system, and the number of leaks and causes of the leaks in the state.
Murphy said some big-name industry representatives support the legislation he and Collins drafted, and are already making changes to reduce emissions from those shorter-lived pollutants.
“There are immediate actions the United States can take to meet its obligations under the Montreal Protocol to reduce ozone depletion and greenhouse gas emissions,” said John Mandyck, United Technologies Building and Industrial Systems chief sustainability officer. “By closing a loophole that permits the use of ozone-depleting residential air conditioning units, Senator Murphy’s legislation promotes both ozone protection and improved energy efficiency of newer systems.”
Mandyck, who was at the roundtable, said UTC has made the phase-out of older air conditioning systems a priority.
“Where there are good alternatives we should be moving in that direction,” Mandyck said. “This bill does that.”
There also has been support from Dupont, Murphy pointed out.
Don’t forget CO2
Mark Pagani of the Yale Climate and Engineering Institute was a bit concerned that focusing on the short-lived climate pollutants might take attention away from the real environmental bad guy — CO2.
Methane stays in the atmosphere about 10 years; black carbon one to two years, but CO2 can hang around “infinitely longer.” Pagani said that could be thousands to tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of years.
“You won’t be able to solve CO2 on the back of methane,” Pagani said.
Pagani offered an analogy: It’s like worrying about your flu symptoms when you have cancer. “These are the flu,” he said of the short-lived climate pollutants.
During the next 50 years, the world is expected to put the same amount of carbon dioxide into the air that it did during the two-and-a-half centuries from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to now.
If the world were to stop emitting CO2, it could hold the world temperature status quo, Pagani said.
Other environmentalists, however, had a more positive view of the proposed legislation. Some said they thought it would empower people to make change because their efforts could actually create change.
Milford Health Director Dr. A. Dennis McBride, who has served on a number of state and national bodies dealing with climate change, said there have been strides in global climate health, and he praised Murphy for pushing the environmental issue.
McBride didn’t point out that the draft legislation doesn’t specifically target the agricultural industry, but when McBride raised the issue of agriculture, Murphy said that industry was purposely avoided. “That’s one cost of getting bipartisan support,” Murphy said.
A large amount of methane released into the air comes from cow flatulence and manure piles.
“My recollection is that one quarter of the greenhouse gases can be attributed to agriculture,” McBride said, pointing out huge amounts of the gas emitted each year by the beef-raising industry in Brazil.
There are ways to address that, from adjusting the animals’ diet, to technical inventions, to simply reducing the amount of meat people consume. McBride said lower meat consumption would be a win-win because it would help the atmosphere and direct people toward healthier diets consisting of fruits and vegetables.
Even though Murphy said the agricultural industry isn’t specifically addressed in the draft legislation, McBride still praised the legislation as ultimately sending a message. McBride also said he doesn’t think the agricultural industry would oppose jumping on board to limit short-lived climate pollutants because he said the industry has been making strides in that area.
In the northeast, the impact of all these gases causing climate change has been seen not in terms of warming temperatures but in extreme weather conditions, McBride added.
“We’ve turned the temperature up, and stuff is going to start happening,” McBride said.
He said people and industry have made some progress, though little in recent years. McBride said efforts in the United States to bring more attention to global climate change and harmful gases are positive because they bring attention to conditions that will impact this generation and generations to come.