You don’t know about the growing methane threat from coal mining. Dr. Ryan Driskell Tate reports China’s energy crisis, new coal mines, and emissions no one talks about. Alex wraps the big picture, with guarded better news about a possible future.
Show Image: “Screams from the Quarry” by Kingston NY artist Kevin Paulsen.
Wild heat and roaring rivers are breaking out around the world. Just yesterday, June 14, it was 103 degrees F in Detroit (in June!) and over 100 degrees in most of the United States, other than the cold wet Pacific Northwest. About 5,000 homeless people in Arizona went through 113 degree heat. It was over 40 degrees C in parts of Spain and Portugal. The Middle East was sizzling, reaching 50 C. But a hail storm put a foot of ice in Mexico City! And floods wiped out highways and bridges in Yellowstone Park, with flood alerts across the Northwest U.S. and Canada. That’s just one crazy day in a climate gone mad.
OUR GUIDE TO CHINA’S COAL AND METHANE EXPANSION
RYAN DRISKELL TATE
According to NOAA, the highly dangerous global warming gas methane just hit an all-time high of 1908 parts per billion. Methane grew faster last year than ever before. Now we get a new report saying: “China’s New Coal Mines Could Raise Global Methane Emissions by 10%”.
The news release for the report says:
“A boom in new coal mines and mine expansions commissioned in China since mid-2021 threatens to raise global methane emissions by 10%, according to a new report by Global Energy Monitor (GEM). The boom is at odds with pledges by China to phase down coal consumption by the mid-2020s.
GEM’s report finds that in response to an acute domestic “energy crisis” at the end of last year, China commissioned new mining capacity that unleashed an estimated 2.5 million tonnes (Mt) of new coal mine methane emissions within a matter of months, equivalent 74 Mt of CO2, and comparable to the emissions of 20 coal-fired power plants operating year-round…
…The surge in new coal production to meet electricity shortages boosted China’s mine capacity 464 Mt, with actual output up at least 270 million tonnes, more than the annual output of South Africa (246 Mt), the world’s seventh largest coal producer.
On top of the surge in new coal mine capacity last year, China has 559 Mtpa of new coal mine proposals under development, which is equivalent to the output of Indonesia (564 Mtpa), the world’s third largest coal producer.”
The story comes from Research Analyst Ryan Driskell Tate, for the tracking group Global Energy Monitor.
There is a lot of shocking new information in Tate’s latest report on coal mining in China.
1. The story-line reaching the West was that China was cutting back on coal. They needed to control deadly smog infesting cities and whole regions of the country. What happened to that?
2, There is a climate-significant amount of methane coming from coal mining operations around the world. We expect methane from fracking and leaky natural gas systems, but coal mining is a significant source not talked about.
3. Coal mines never stop emitting methane, even when they are closed or abandoned.
A 2019 study by Carbon Brief found coal mines emit more methane that the oil and gas sector, and comparable to the CO2 emissions from international aviation and shipping. Why isn’t this a subject of environmental campaigns, and why is it so little known by the public?
New science warns the United Nations and institutions operate on methane figures that are, quote “severely underestimated”. According to Carbon Brief, real methane from fossil fuels could be 20 to 40% higher than we have been told.
At climate conferences, as recently as Glasgow December 2021, China assured the world it would cut back massive emissions from it’s coal burning. But then the country experienced an apparent “energy crisis”. Some industry critics suggest this “energy crisis” was self-made by poor regulations, including an artificially low price for Chinese coal.
COAL BED GAS
Just to confuse the coal picture, there is a second category for methane emissions from coal that is not mined. They call is coal bed gas, which can be capture even without mining the coal.
Coal bed gas is not minor. According to the EPA, in 2019 coal bed gas contributed about 5% of all U.S. methane production. That is a huge amount of gas, but we never hear about the source. Coal bed gas, sometimes called coal seam gas, is big in Australia too.
After coal is mined, methane continues to seep out of the closed or abandoned coal mine for more than a century, possibly for centuries. It is strange to find coal mining is like carbon dioxide or radioactivity. The emissions continue far longer than the humans who produced the coal and used the energy. Obviously this warming legacy leaks out of coal mines all over the world, not just China. With tens or hundreds of thousands of coal mine pits and openings littering the planet, how can future generations control that?
Follow Ryan D. Tate on Twitter here. His web site is here.
Here is a handy EPA fact sheet about coal mine methane.
WRAPPING UP THIS SEASON
I take the second part of this show to wrap up this season. We won’t go over all the warnings and threats again from the great climate scientists and authors I’ve spoken with. I will be selecting the best of those interviews for our summer replay season.
In the time we have left, here is the agenda for this meeting:
1. There is a bit more you should know about the international coal scene.
2. It’s time to face reality: despite the trendy news about electric cars and cheap solar power, humanity is heading in the absolute wrong direction to avoid climate disaster. Fossil fuel energy production and emissions are increasing around the world. Everybody is cashing in. The staid U.S. Government funded science agency NOAA says we are, quote: “Racing at Top Speed Towards Global Catastrophe”.
3. A few top scientists suggest Earth may not keep getting hotter if and when we ever reach net zero carbon emissions. I have some notes below on developing news from Michael Mann and others.
4. Is it realistic to expect we will meet again in September?
BREAKING NEWS – QUESTIONS ABOUT U.S. GAS DELIVERY
On June 9, an explosion at Freeport Liquid Natural Gas export terminal on Quintana Island, Texas has shutdown at least a million tonnes of LNG exports. This compressed gas was meant to help the European gas crisis during the Ukraine war and global uncertainty in the energy market. Another LNG shipping facility in Louisiana suffered a fire this week.
After promises of support from U.S. President Joe Biden, U.S. energy firms are booming, with 19 new export deals for liquified natural gas. American gas exports are up over 20%, and high prices are driving an increase in gas fracking in several states. We have already seen reports finding the cumulative emissions, including methane, from fracked gas through the LNG process, make it as damaging as coal.
Even after methane venting by fracking operations, and leaking pipelines and storage facilities, American LGN terminals are permitted to emit over 28 million tons of greenhouse gases per year. Seven new terminals were built in the last ten years, with more coming.
Coincidentally, on June 7 Rio Grande Village in Texas set a new record of 117 degrees F, or 47.2 C – as part of a giant heat wave sweeping through the U.S. south, and southwest. The famous Death Valley, California was expected to top 120 degrees F, about 49 degrees C.
Other countries are leaping in. Argentina, like most countries went into heavy debt during the pandemic, and now suffers inflation. Argentina hopes to bail itself out of financial crisis by pushing hard on fossil fuel productions, particularly their new giant gas fracking fields in Patagonia. It’s the gold rush to Hell.
If you subscribe to the New York Times, Manuela Andreoni writes a column on “Quick and Dirty Cash” June 7. Venezuela has suddenly become OK, now that any oil other than Russian is good. Brazil and Guyana, have new deepwater oil and gas projects. Peru is ramping up exports of LNG to Europe, and is considering drilling in the Amazon rainforest.
Maybe the most depressing news of all: U.S. President Joe Biden, who spoke so many strong words about the climate threat, is heading to Saudi Arabia begging for MORE oil production. The charade is over. The world is shamelessly hitting the accelerator for even more killer heat and all that comes with it.
Even with all that, the head of International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol says Europe could experience an energy shortage next winter, especially if the coming winter is longer and harsher. Birol told Reuters: “If European consumers reduce the temperature in their homes by 2 degrees Celsius, 20 billion cubic meters of natural gas will be saved, equivalent to the volumes coming from Russia to Europe through Nord Stream 1.”
Sweaters to save the climate!
Wait… the Europeans could have avoided all the Russian Oil in the huge Nord Stream 1 pipeline, by lowering home temperatures by 2 degrees? Time to put on sweaters! Just two centuries ago, Europeans lived in homes much colder, along with all in the Northern latitudes. Sweaters to save the climate!
BACK TO COAL
Check this out from Ryan Driskell-Take’s May 22 briefing titled “Why China’s Coal Mine Boom Jeopardizes Short-Term Climate Targets”.
“What about China’s Mine Optimization Plans?
The new mining activity raises concerns about China’s optimization and reformation plans – a years-long attempt to reduce excess mine capacity at poorly performing operations. China’s authority has continued to promote energy self-sufficiency in 2022 owing to the emerging supply gap with Russia, an ongoing ban on Australian imports, and Indonesia’s self-imposed export limit.
President Xi Jinping reiterated in March this year the importance of coal at a National People’s Congress delegation, and several delegates called for new policies to shore up profits for coal enterprises.
That same month, China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) announced its plans to increase mining capacity by 300 Mtpa and already Beijing has approved three separate “billion-dollar” coal mines.
China’s rate of mine closure and abandonment – or decapacity – averaged just 3.13% per year in that time, according to GEM analysis (Figure 4). Yet China has plans to increase capacity by at least 14% on top of the ramp up at the end of 2021, and that’s not including projects the NDRC has signaled are forthcoming in 2022. The opening of these new mines, therefore, will require steeper cuts to operating capacity than previous years, or risk renewed concerns about oversupply, and the likelihood producers will overshoot the China Coal Association’s output cap of 4,100 Mt by 2025.”
That was a selection from the Briefing: “Why China’s Coal Mine Boom Jeopardizes Short-Term Climate Targets” – available free at globalenergymonitor.org.
As we learn from our interview this week, if you leave coal in the ground it may release some methane, but not a lot if you leave it alone. If you mine it, so much methane comes out, the mine risks a deadly explosion unless the gas is pumped out to the atmosphere. In fact, mining coal emits about half as many greenhouse gases as oil and gas drilling ventures, according to a study by Carbon Brief.
Just mining coal is deadly for our climate future, and that is before we burn it.
A new paper in the Journal of Cleaner Production finds coal mining may actually produce more greenhouse gases than oil and gas, and even higher emissions from coal mines are expected in coming years. Coal mine methane is not a problem solved or in decline. The public is unaware, and coal mine methane is not seriously discussed at climate summits.
The study by Nazar Kholoda et al. finds “Global methane emissions from coal mining to continue growing even with declining coal production”. The U.S. Environment Protection Agency says coal continues to emit methane even as it is stored in piles or transported by trains and ships. About 8% of U.S. methane emissions come from coal mining.
After you mine coal, methane continues to seep from closed or abandoned coal mines for more than a century, possibly centuries. With tens of thousands of mine pits, seams and openings littering the planet, how can future generations control that?
Part of the reason the Government of China announced they were cutting back on coal power was to reduce deadly air pollution poisoning skies over wide industrial and urban areas. Have those plants been retrofitted to reduce pollution? Are the new plants being built better fitted with pollution controls? Have any of the announced plans included carbon capture and storage tech? We will see, or maybe citizens will go through more bad air days or months next winter, especially if it is a cold one.
MORE COAL IS THE ANSWER TO ANY CRISIS
Is the economy slowing down, as in 2015 – then stimulate with investments in coal-intensive heavy industry in 2016. Is the economy rushing ahead, toward over-heating? Then more coal is needed to answer the new demand, to solve “the energy crisis”. Are there international tensions and war? We need “energy independence” by mining coal in-country. More coal is the answer to any crisis – except climate change and breathing.
The demand for so much more from China comes from around the world. American shoppers at Walmart and Target expect low prices long subsidized not just by cheap overseas labor, but by coal – coal for electricity, coal for heat, coal for industrial plants like steel and cement.
Scientists agreed decades ago that coal burning has to stop if we want a planet inhabitable by humans and the species we know. But as you heard from Ryan Driskell Tate, coal production is increasing.
That sounds strange, considering the percentage of coal in the total energy economy appears to have dropped in some countries, like the United States and Germany. Coal used to provide at least half the electricity in America. Now the share of coal is below 36% globally. But that is just a smaller share of a much bigger, rapidly growing pile of energy demand all over the world. The energy market share can drop even while production actually goes up.
THE TOP TEN COAL/METHANE PRODUCERS
Since coal production threatens you, your children, and all decedents, we should note who the top ten coal produces are in the 2020s. Here they are:
Top of the list, by far, is China, with about 3.7 billion tons of coal produced in 2020. That is five times larger than the next coal producer, India, at 760 million tons. The U.S. is still third with 728 million tons, with dear old Australia coming in as the world’s fourth largest coal producer with 554 million tons a year. Just below Australia is Indonesia, which just temporarily banned coal exports to deal with their own energy crisis. Russia is number 6 with 432 million tons a year, followed by South Africa, Germany, Poland and Kazakhstan.
Those are the ten countries who continue to produce the bulk of climate-killing coal for the money. These are the countries who need big political and social change to save the world from their nasty coal habits. These are the top ten coal drug dealers.
Not coincidentally, the top three coal producers, China, India and the U.S. are also the three biggest producers of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the IEA.
============ BREAKING NEWS ==========
This from Tweeter Professor Eliot Jacobson:
“BREAKING NEWS! Annualized methane growth hits a new all-time high at 159.6 ppb.
In other words, more methane was added to the atmosphere in the last 12 months than in any other 12 month period during which such records have been kept.
BREAKING NEWS! Annualized methane growth hits a new all-time high at 159.6 ppb.
In other words, more methane was added to the atmosphere in the last 12 months than in any other 12 month period during which such records have been kept. pic.twitter.com/pBw6IObuR0
— Prof. Eliot Jacobson (@EliotJacobson) June 6, 2022
The current methane amount is also near an all-time high, at 1908.5 ppb.”
Tweeter Jacobson describes himself as “Retired professor of mathematics and computer science, now a full time husband, volunteer and grandfather. Know-it-all doomer & planet walker, b. 316 ppm.”
He dates his birth according to the carbon dioxide levels for that year, which is 1958, which is also the year that Charles Keeling began the first systematic measuring of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – at Mauna Loa Hawaii.
But remember the message: the super-warming gas methane is growing faster than ever in the atmosphere. Most methane producers are not regulated or taxed for methane emissions. It is a often a bi-product of their famously profitable oil, coal, and gas operations, and fossil-powered agriculture. No intergovernmental panel of methane concern will gather this year, or maybe ever.
Methane is causing at least 20% of global warming and all the weather extremes associated with a climate shift. That is why Radio Ecoshock has covered methane so extensively in the last few months. New science insists without controlling all greenhouse gases, from methane through nitrous oxide and other exotic super-warming gases, global warming can never be contained within limits safe for human life.
You get the idea. Keep your eyes on the fossil boom, know that coal isn’t over, and don’t get fixated on carbon dioxide only.
A GLIMMER OF HOPE: WE COULD STABILIZE TEMPERATURES…?
But a few well-respected climate scientists now say there is a glimmer of hope, sort of. One of the proponents is Dr. Michael Mann from Penn State. Back in February he posted on “The Best Climate Science You’ve Never Heard Of”.
That was followed by this article by Mark Hertsgaard, Saleemul Hug, and Michael Mann, in the Washington Post:
“Scientists changed their minds about how much warming is locked in because additional research gave them a much better understanding of how the climate system works. Their initial 30-to-40-year estimates were based on relatively simple computer models that treated the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as a “control knob” that determines temperature levels.
The long lag in the warming impact is due to the oceans, which continue to warm long after the control knob is turned up. More-recent climate models account for the more dynamic nature of carbon emissions. Yes, CO2 pushes temperatures higher, but carbon “sinks,” including forests and in particular the oceans, absorb almost half of the CO2 that is emitted, causing atmospheric CO2 levels to drop, offsetting the delayed warming effect.”
Or read the article without a paywall in this retweet from Mann.
Alas, it seems necessary to re-up this one: https://t.co/puTEMyE71O
— Prof Michael E. Mann (@MichaelEMann) June 11, 2022
Science journalists like Sueellen Campbell at Yale Climate Connections and Bob Berwyn at InsideClimateNews have been following this story. Berwyn writes: “There is less warming in the pipeline than we thought, said Imperial College (London) climate scientist Joeri Rogelj, a lead author of the next major climate assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
’It is our best understanding that, if we bring down CO2 to net zero, the warming will level off. The climate will stabilize within a decade or two,’ he said. “There will be very little to no additional warming. Our best estimate is zero.’
The widespread idea that decades, or even centuries, of additional warming are already baked into the system, as suggested by previous IPCC reports, were based on an ’unfortunate misunderstanding of experiments done with climate models that never assumed zero emissions.’”
That was from Bob Berwyn’s reporting.
FANTASTIC NEWS IF TRUE
This could be fantastic news, if true. Suppose humans see-saw back and forth on fossil fuels, but after many disasters finally emerge with a civilization that only emits greenhouse gases equal to the amount natural systems can digest. According to this school of science, Earth would NOT keep on heating more and more. Heat, on land at least, would stabilize at whatever level we reach.
So if warming goes to 3 degrees C hotter than pre-industrial times, by 2060 – but we have reached net zero emissions by then – well, Earth would likely stay around 3 degrees hotter, but would not keep going to 4 degrees or more. According these scientists, if we take our foot off the gas, the car stops hurtling toward even hotter times. We could find a plateau.
Frankly, I do not yet believe this is true. So many scientists on this program and throughout decades of publishing explain nature has tipping points we are crossing. Once crossed, natural systems may continue to heat the planet for centuries, they said. For example, once great glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland go into long-term melt-down, the change in Earth’s reflection from white to dark seas will continue likely for thousands of years. Another case would be permafrost melt releasing carbon emissions, possibly much larger than anything humans created.
Michael Mann has appeared on Radio Ecoshock several times. He is a great communicator. I wrote Dr. Mann about my doubts. He pointed me to some dense science in the IPCC AR series of reports, and hoped that data is right. Michael told me he is working on a book about all this right now. Hopefully we can get the big picture from him next fall.
But already we have a preview of how this logic of the landing-point works. It is in a new paper scheduled for publication in July 2022, but available online now with free access. The title is “The ocean response to climate change guides both adaptation and mitigation efforts”. The five authors are luminaries in their fields, John Abraham, Lijing Cheng, Michael E.Mann, Kevin Trenberth, and Karina von Schuckmann.
They don’t argue that climate change will stop when if humans reach net zero emissions, say by 2060. The deeper ocean will continue to warm, and sea level keeps rising, for centuries, maybe thousands of years, they say. Further “high impact, low probability” risks – like an abrupt showdown of Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, may still develop.
But the key point for human survival may be this:
it looks like the vast oceans of the Earth could stabilize the TEMPERATURE on land after humans stop pushing more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Whatever the temperature is at that net zero landing place may continue, whether that is 2 degrees, 3 degrees or whatever. Citing IPCC reports from 2019 and 2021, these eminent scientists say surface warming may stop when global emissions reach net-zero (i.e. “carbon-neutrality”)” Any further heat would be absorbed into deeper and deeper levels of the ocean “for at least thousands of years”.
Here is a link to that new paper from John Abraham and colleagues.
As I say, that is a glimpse of a possible escape from Hell. IF humans can move out of the fossil burning economy, the world may not continue heating us into extinction. That does not promise we will make it. We could still be foolish enough, or so addicted to fossil power that we blow up the climate. But now there is added impetus to try, to try to save ourselves. We look forward to Michael Mann’s book explaining this for the rest of us, and perhaps Kevin Trenberth can join us again in September for more.
LOSING MORE TO COVID
Can we count on meeting again in September? Who knows? Recently we lost one of the most lively forest campaigners on the planet. He passed mysteriously and completely unexpectedly about a month after a serious bout of COVID-19, although he was not hospitalized by it. This past week, another dear friend of mine, also in his 60’s, died suddenly about a month after his Coronovirus illness, again suffered at home. Long after authorities and the media declared the pandemic over, take off your masks, people we love are still dying of COVID.
Here in British Columbia, a half dozen hospitals have closed suddenly, overnight or for the weekend. They can’t find enough staff. The ferry system which connects big coastal communities has massive cancellations. Flights are canceled at the airport. That is how many people are really sick in the new wave of COVID mutations. The media doesn’t cover it, and the government is actively hiding the true numbers of deaths. We finally found out there were over 900 “excess deaths” in January alone. The real death rate is at least double what the public health agency is reporting. It is scandalous.
Jennifer Lee of CBC News posted Jun 09, 2022:
“Alberta hit by far more COVID deaths this year than in the same period in previous years.
There have been 1,247 COVID-related deaths so far in 2022 compared to 1,038 in same period of 2021.”
My wife and I mask up EVERY TIME we go indoors with other people. At times, we are the only ones wearing masks. We get the occasional glares, like bearers of bad news. We are trying to avoid the disease because studies from all over the world show COVID keeps on killing people for months after the disease, even in mild cases. Then there are the disabilities from Long Covid.
Even some very careful and fully immunized people still got COVID, and now deal with depression, lack of energy, or a shopping list of organ damage, including less ability to think. Maybe Moderna or someone will come up with a lasting vaccine that works. In the meantime, please mask up, N-95 or better, and avoid crowds. Losing friends and neighbors is a hard blow. If you lost loved ones, you know that deep hurting. The new variants are so contagious, whether you get this disease is partly a matter of luck. Maybe it will get you or me before next September. Nothing is certain anymore.
Find my exploration “The Ugly Truth About Long Covid” in this blog.
We will meet again in September, if we are able, I will re-assess the direction for Radio Ecoshock, as I do each summer. I plan to offer you the best replays of our interviews, collected in the most urgent matters for our future. I hope you can learn more, get motivated, and pass real information on to others.
NEW KEVIN ANDERSON INTERVIEW NEXT WEEK
Next week I have a new interview with Kevin Anderson, done by Nick Breeze in the ClimateGenn podcast. UK scientist Anderson pulls no punches. He’s been on the show, and you should not miss his latest assessment of where we really are.
(One of my previous interviews with K. Anderson is here on Soundcloud)
During the summer, I will be watching environment news of course. We both know there will be plenty of climate-driven wreckage in the next couple of months. I may step in with a new show, if I can’t keep quiet. But my plan is to spend more time on the river in kayaks with friends, more hours with family, more time in the garden, helping tasty things grow.
Thank you for listening, and caring about our world. I close out this show with Pedro Fernandez singing “Laberinto De Pasion”, which could mean “The Labyrinth of Love”, but “Laberinto” in Spanish can also mean “trouble” and other things. English doesn’t have a word for it really. Here is a translation of the first couple of verses, before love of course saves him…
Life is always uncertain, it’s life
Like a game of truths, and lies
And how easy it is to get lost, with words and promises
In a black whirlwind our hearts are turned over
Like night without stars, like shadows
We walk around the world without reason
Until love one day
Makes the soul.
Our pains are great, labyrinths of passion.