President Biden joins scientists’ call to cut methane emissions as fastest way to slow the climate crisis … “could be huge” says top Duke University expert
It’s very encouraging that President Biden and the European Union have pledged to tackle the climate crisis by pledging to cut emissions of methane, a climate super-pollutant. Along with the direct health benefits of reducing ground-level air pollution, this move should help offset the tragic, years-long polluter suppression of attention to methane’s key role in driving global heating.
Most important is speed. Methane is also called “natural” gas, and the lion’s share comes from fracking. Biden is emphasizing that curbing emissions can help in the short-term because methane affects the climate much more quickly than carbon dioxide. He’s heeding the scientists who have maintained for years that cutting methane emissions from the oil, gas and electric power industries is the fastest way to slow the rate of global heating.
This is one more nail in the coffin of Duke Energy’s “expand gas” business model. As the public belatedly learns that cutting methane is key to our survival – and that renewable power matched with electricity storage and energy-saving plans is a cheaper and more reliable approach for our electricity – the demand will build for a major shift off fossil fuels.
I’m most heartened by the response to Biden’s move from Duke University’s Drew Shindell, lead author of the May U.N. report on methane that preceded Biden’s move:
“When you think about [methane emissions] going down 30% in a decade when it’s been going up, that’s a huge reversal, it’s a U-turn,” Shindell told CNN in response to the Biden-EU pledge. “If they pull this off, this could be huge.”
Shindell and other scientists have urged NC Governor Roy Cooper to lead a national ban against new gas infrastructure such as Duke Energy’s plans for 50 gas-fired power units along with a liquid gas storage facility now under construction in Robeson County.
Methane is estimated to contribute 40 percent or more of all global warming, and it is 80-100 times more effective than CO2 at trapping atmospheric heat. A leading source of emissions is the gas leaked and vented – unburned – from the drill site to the power plant.
The US electric power industry has rapidly increased its use of gas over the past decade, a period coinciding with an upward surge in global temperatures and concentrations of methane in the atmosphere.
Duke Energy is planning to build more than twice as much new gas generation as any other US utility, according to a February analysis by the Sierra Club. That fact remains virtually unreported by the news media, which mostly haven’t even told their audiences that the largest US climate-polluting utility is expanding gas, or that the clean approach is cheaper.
Still, as the White House emphasizes, “Rapidly reducing methane emissions is … regarded as the single most effective strategy to reduce global warming in the near term and keep the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach.”
Even with all its greenwashing millions, it will be hard for Duke Energy leaders to keep suppressing public attention and pushback against its massive gas expansion. The Charlotte-based behemoth could be pivotal – for better or for worse – depending on whether its leaders wake up and get on the right side of human history.
Thanks again to Dr. Shindell and to Cornell University’s Bob Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea for persisting in pursuing and communicating the methane science and for helping press Duke Energy to stop expanding gas.