The Benefits of Cleaner Cookstoves for Climate and Human Health

by Natalie Knops

Widespread use of traditional wood and coal-burning cookstoves has resulted in a significant source of anthropogenic emissions. Reductions in these emissions could be deeply beneficial to impact climate change and public health. It is estimated that cleaner technology to replace traditional wood and coal-burning stoves could decrease the global temperature by nearly a tenth of a degree and save more than 10 million lives by 2050 (Pidcock, 2017). Exposure to household air pollution is responsible for an overwhelming number of preventable illnesses and deaths. It is estimated that exposure to cooking smoke in poorly ventilated homes is the cause of 370,000 to 500,000 premature adult deaths per year. Cooking smoke is a source of risk for burns, eye and respiratory diseases. Traditional cooking methods use solid fuels such as wood, animal dung, coal and biomass as fuel for an open fire. Methods like these release methane and carbon dioxide. Emissions from wood-fuels alone are approximated at 2% of global emissions (Robert Bailis, 2014).When wood and coal are burnt, aerosols are released along with greenhouse gases—the climate effect of these aerosols being strongly regional. Cooking fires are a primary source of black carbon soot. This black soot can be carried as far as the Arctic atmosphere, bringing about ice and permafrost melt (What is Black Carbon?, 2010). Continue reading

China’s Coal Mining Hypocrisy

by Vikramaditya Jhunjhunwala

In light of President Trump’s uncertain stance on climate change, China has assumed the leading role in battling it. In an attempt to mobilize global initiative, China has publically implored its powerhouse compatriots, such as the United States, to acknowledge the science behind the phenomenon, and reduce their dependence on harmful fuels like coal and oil.

However, Keith Bradsher (2016), tells us of a troubling and rather ironic narrative of China mining and burning increased quantities of coal.

Even though there was a dip in production by 3 percent last year in a governmental effort to mitigate pollution and rising sea levels, Chinese coal is still the planet’s greatest source of carbon emission from human activities and the reopening of mines spells all kinds of environment-related troubles. Continue reading

Reforming the US Coal Leasing Program

by Emil Morhardt

Almost half of the coal mined in the US comes from lands, mostly in Wyoming and Montana in the Powder River Basin (PRB), owned by the federal government and which have nearly 10% of the world’s known reserves. Gillingham et al. review the social costs of this coal extraction, and weigh them against the revenues flowing to the government from the leases and the resulting relatively low energy prices paid by consumers. According to their calculations, the monetized climate change damages caused by combustion of this coal are about six times the coal price of $0.51 per million British thermal units, which is only about a third of the price of coal from other major producing basins. Continue reading

Where the Unused Fossil Fuels Might Be

by Emil Morhardt

If by some miracle we as humanity collectively decide to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep the planet from heating up by more than 2 ºC, there are going to be lots of fossil fuels left in the ground. Where will they be? For sure, there will be a good deal left: a third of remaining oil reserves, half of natural gas reserves, and over 80% of known coal reserves will still be unused by 2050. These reserves are defined as the sources that could be economically recovered today and that can be assigned a probability of production. For starters, McGlade and Ekins (2015) think that all fossil fuels in the Arctic, and all oil that could obtained by unconventional methods (such as hydraulic fracturing) ought to be left in place. They then look at all known reserves and partition them by cost of production, reasoning that the least expensive will be mined first. And they point out that, given the amount of reserves, the chances of us not using them is stark. Still, they are able to model the probable trajectory of temperatures using a mix of the available fuel sources. As the bottom line, it is abundantly clear that if we were once in fear of running out of fossil fuels, a more pressing current concern is that we might not. Continue reading

Shale Gas Produces Half the GHG Emissions and Consumes Half the Freshwater of Coal

by Shannon Julius

The long term environmental concerns having to do with shale gas development are primarily greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and freshwater consumption, as other forms of environmental degradation can be remediated over time. Ian Laurenzi and Jersey Gilbert (2013) of the ExxonMobile Research and Engineering Company performed a life cycle assessment (LCA) of both GHG emissions and freshwater consumption of Marcellus shale gas. The life cycle begins with well drilling and ends with burning the fuel for power generation. Using their elaborated system boundaries, the researchers found that a Marcellus shale gas well releases 466 kg of carbon equivalent units per megawatt hour of power produced (kg CO2eq/MWh) and consumes 224 gallons of freshwater per megawatt hour of power produced (gal/MWh) over the course of its lifetime. The biggest contributor to both GHG emissions and freshwater consumption is power generation. The result of this study are highly dependent on the variables chosen to represent the shale gas well life cycle, especially the expected ultimate recovery of natural gas. Despite the potential for variability of results, the result of 466 CO2eq/MWh is consistent with other published life cycle assessments for conventional and shale gas, and almost all of the 14 other studies fall within the 10%–90% range of 450–567 CO2eq/MWh. Even considering factors that can increase total results, this study shows that average GHG emissions from shale gas are 53% lower and freshwater consumption is 50% lower than what is required for an average coal life cycle. Continue reading

Can “Stranded” Fossil Fuel Reserves Drive Carbon Dioxide Capture?

by Emil Morhardt

Last week The Guardian ran a nice piece about the Boundary Dam power plant in Canada, the world’s first carbon-capture coal-fired power plant. The plant is in something of a specialized situation particularly suitable for such an operation—it has a large nearby source of coal, and it has a use for the captured CO2—injecting it into local oil fields to increase oil recovery.

Victoria Clark and Howard Herzog at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, used the Boundary Dam project as an example in a just-published paper examining the possibility that, should the world decide to cut back on CO2 emissions, the unused “stranded” fossil fuels might still be burned safely. Continue reading

Factors Influencing CO2 Emissions in South Africa

by Monkgogi Bonolo Otlhogile

With an average growth rate of 4.3% between 2001 and 2007, South Africa joined Brazil, Russia, India and China as the fifth member of BRICS, an association for the five emerging economies of the world in 2010. However, South Africa also joined these countries as one of the major carbon dioxide emitters, producing 1% of the world’s emissions. The environmental Kuznets curve (EKC) hypothesis states that early economic development will result in an increase in environmental degradation. This includes pollutants such as carbon dioxide and sulfur, which are considered by-products of economic activity. Eighty-seven percent of the carbon dioxide emitted by South Africa is a by-product of coal-fueled Continue reading