Typical global warming discussions focus primarily on how to deal with carbon dioxide (CO2), which remains in the atmosphere for many decades. However, more immediate results arise when reducing methane (a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2) and black carbon. Recent research shows how current techniques used to impact methane and black carbon emissions also bring economic and health benefits that easily offset the economic costs of implementing them. Such results affirm Reason To Believe’s contention that the best solutions for global problems bring benefits to both creation and humanity.
I remember the first house I purchased in southern California. All kinds of weeds filled the front yard—some three feet tall, others short with vines that spread over large patches, and many in between. At the time, I could not afford the major expense it would require to put in a lawn. So I started work on the simplest thing I could do to improve the yard: I pulled the weeds, first the tall ones, then the shorter ones. Each week I made more progress until I saved enough money for Roundup, a few bags of grass seed, and some compost. Eventually, my weed-infested yard grew into a pleasant, grassy lawn without breaking my bank. A similar scenario applies to global warming.
The main driver of global warming is water vapor, but humans have little to no control over the water vapor concentration. Usually, global warming discussions focus primarily on the next largest contributor, namely carbon dioxide (CO2). Human activities measurably increase the atmospheric concentration of CO2. However, all the current ideas for mitigating CO2 emissions or reducing atmospheric quantities carry a heavy economic burden.
Two other human-influenced greenhouse gases also play important roles and warrant a place in our climate change discussions. Methane packs more greenhouse punch than CO2, but is less abundant in the atmosphere. Black carbon, or soot, directly absorbs incoming sunlight and heats the Earth. Black carbon and methane exhibit smaller, but comparable effects, as CO2.
However, methane and black carbon differ from CO2 in two important ways. First, where CO2 remains in the atmosphere for centuries, methane and black carbon remain airborne for a few decades and weeks, respectively. Thus, efforts to reduce them produce more immediate temperature effects. Second, methane and black soot are pollutants (unlike CO2) so they reduce crop yields and increase health problems. Specifically, methane in the atmosphere acts like a catalyst to generate ozone, which damages crops and people’s lungs. People who inhale black carbon suffer from respiratory and other ailments that kill or debilitate.
An international team of scientists used computer models to study roughly 400 currently utilized techniques to reduce methane and black carbon production. Specifically, they were interested in how wide-scale implementation of the techniques would impact increased global temperatures over the next 30–50 years, economic costs, and health issues.
The models showed that we would see some reduction in global warming if we implemented all 400 techniques. However, the researchers also found that 90 percent of that potential reduction was achieved by just 14 of the techniques. Further analysis of this subset showed reduced average global temperatures by 0.5oC by 2050. These measures would avoid between 1–5 million pollutant-related deaths and increase crop production between 30–135 million metric tons. The techniques require about $250 per metric ton to implement, but estimates of the methane-reduction benefits range between $700–5,000 per metric ton. In other words, the economic and health benefits far outweigh the costs.
These results support an important aspect of RTB’s creation model. The first chapters of Genesis reveal both God’s command for humanity to rule over and care for creation and how much value God places on humanity. Thus, RTB’s model expects that the best solutions for creation stewardship also provide benefit to humanity. By pursuing methane and black carbon reductions, we can mitigate a significant portion of the expected global warming in the next century, increase crop production, and reduce pollutant-related deaths—all without breaking the bank.