What’s a Greenhouse Gas?

Post 54 in a series. When Green Turns Brown is an examination of a small town’s digester-energy project, in which Whitewater, Wisconsin would import other cities’ waste, claiming that the result would be both profitable and green.

There are two points to this post about Whitewater’s waste-importation proposal. First, one can state a simple fact about methane; second, one can easily deduce what this says about the seriousness of the full-time city officials in Whitewater, Wisconsin who have advanced a supposedly clean and green process of turning others’ unwanted filth into methane.

First, the simple fact is that – far from being environmentally friendly – methane is an environmentally destructive greenhouse gas:

A greenhouse gas (sometimes abbreviated GHG) is a gas in an atmosphere that absorbs and emits radiation within the thermal infrared range. This process is the fundamental cause of the greenhouse effect.[1] The primary greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Without greenhouse gases, the average temperature of Earth’s surface would be about 15 °C (27 °F) colder than the present average of 14 °C (57 °F).[2][3][4] In the Solar System, the atmospheres of Venus, Mars andTitan also contain gases that cause a greenhouse effect.

Human activities since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (taken as the year 1750) have produced a 40% increase in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, from 280 ppm in 1750 to 400 ppm in 2015.[5][6] This increase has occurred despite the uptake of a large portion of the emissions by various natural “sinks” involved in the carbon cycle.[7][8]Anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions (i.e. emissions produced by human activities) come fromcombustion of carbon-based fuels, principally coal, oil, and natural gas, along with deforestation.[9]

It has been estimated that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the present rate, Earth’s surface temperature could exceed historical values as early as 2047, with potentially harmful effects on ecosystems, biodiversity and the livelihoods of people worldwide.[10]

Second, although I’ll produce a far longer, peer-review-sourced assessment of methane’s dangers later in this series, even a cursory review of methane’s impact would have suggested to Whitewater’s City Manager Cameron Clapper and Wastewater Superintendent Tim Reel that methane production is destructive to the environment.

It’s hard to overstate how troubling this is, as a policy matter: either Messrs. Clapper and Reel are incapable of anything more than lightweight, erroneous, vendor-inspired work, or they could do better but feel that lightweight, erroneous, vendor-inspired work is all that Whitewater’s residents deserve.

Those who sat in rooms and listened to presentations from Clapper and Reel in which they touted methane as a good byproduct of waste importation heard junk science in the place of reasoning, a selling job over a sound job.

There’s much on which to focus, on the science side, later in this series.  I certainly don’t think a link to Wikipedia settles this matter – I think a link to Wikipedia shows that Clapper in particular hasn’t – after two years’ time – even begun to consider this matter properly.

Repeating vendors’ talking points, especially repeating the same discredited points over and over, is unworthy of a salary, particularly one derived from the taxes of so many struggling working people in a small rural town.


Originally published 12.28.15 @ FREE WHITEWATER.

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