Milk cow blues: dirty dairy costs NZ dear, but methane cuts might work

There’s good news and bad news for New Zealand’s dairy industry this week. On the one hand, research has found a number of compounds that can cut methane emissions from ruminants (cows and sheep) by up to 90% by reducing populations of the bacteria that produce the gas. On the other hand, research into the external costs of dairying — the costs not currently born by dairy companies — suggest that dairying’s value to the NZ economy may amount to a “zero sum” game. At the very least the national income generated by dairy sales is significantly offset by the costs of remediating the environmental impacts caused by that farming — costs that are born by the general tax payer, not agribusiness — according to a team from Massey University.

The good news on methane was announced this week at the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Conference 2015. Agresearch Principal Scientist Dr Peter Janssen told Radio NZ:

It’s a very exciting result but there’s still a lot of checking to be done before you actually get something that a farmer can use safely.

Interviewed by the NZ Herald, Dr Rick Pridmore, chairman of the NZ Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre, was upbeat:

The results are significant for two reasons. First, because they work on livestock consuming a grass-based diet and, second because the short-term trials showed such dramatic results,” he said.

However, it might take up to 5 years for these treatments to reach farmers, as the compounds are tested for the possibility of residues in meat and milk.

Cutting methane emissions might reduce diary farmers’ liability under an emissions trading scheme that included agriculture — they are at present excluded — but would have no impact on the other external costs calculated in a new paper, New Zealand Dairy Farming: Milking Our Environment for All Its Worth, which suggests that the costs of repairing the environmental damage done by intensive dairying approaches the value generated by the activity.

One of the authors, Dr Mike Joy told Stuff:

A strong message from the study is that avoiding pollution is far cheaper for everyone than trying to clean it up afterwards and there is now ample evidence that farmers can make more profit and pollute less when not myopically chasing increased production.

Unsurprisingly, the costs calculated in the paper are vigorously contested by farming organisations and some academics, but will chime with New Zealanders concerned that the rapid expansion of industrial dairying is significantly degrading important rural environments and chipping away at what’s left of NZ’s so-called clean green image.

[The Kinks]

TDB Today: Dragon breath and the age of consequences

In my column at The Daily Blog this week — Dragon breath and the Age Of Consequences — I take a look at the latest news on Arctic methane. It’s not good, as Jason Box demonstrated by not mincing his words about the seriousness of the threat. For an idea of the consequences, I strongly recommend finding half an hour to look at the video above. Max Wilbert interviews some of the top scientists in the field (including East Siberian Shelf methane expert Natalia Shakova), and the result is a good overview of the pace of change up North and the sheer scale of the permafrost carbon threat.

Arctic sea ice time bomb ticking: the bang’s gonna be huge

Arctic2013July14Reading this press release about a new paper in Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology spoiled my day. It might not be obvious to a casual reader just glancing through the morning news — but a couple of paragraphs leapt out at me:

Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations recently reached 400 parts per million for the first time since the Pliocene Epoch, three million years ago. During this era, Arctic surface temperatures were 15-20 degrees Celsius warmer than today’s surface temperatures.

Ballantyne’s findings suggest that much of the surface warming likely was due to ice-free conditions in the Arctic. That finding matches estimates of land temperatures in the Arctic during the same time. This suggests that atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations of 400 ppm may be sufficient to greatly reduce the spatial extent and seasonal persistence of Arctic sea ice.

In other words, losing Arctic sea ice brings huge warming to the lands around the Arctic Ocean. This is extremely bad news for a number of reasons:

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The Climate Show #29: if the sun don’t come, you get a tan from standing in the English rain

This week The Climate Show brings you an all news special. We have wet summers for Europe, permafrost warming delivering a methane kick, La Niña driving floods that make sea level fall, a glacier calving in Antarctica, mammoths and sabre tooth tigers — all delivered with Glenn and Gareth’s inimitable panache (!).

Watch The Climate Show on our Youtube channel, subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, listen to us via Stitcher on your smartphone or listen direct/download from the link below the fold.

Follow The Climate Show at The Climate Show web site, and on Facebook and Twitter.

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Why Arctic sea ice shouldn’t leave anyone cold

In this guest post Neven Acropolis, the man behind the excellent Arctic Sea Ice blog, looks at the reasons why we need to pay attention to the rapid loss of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean.

Arctic sea ice became a recurrent feature on planet Earth around 47 million years ago. Since the start of the current ice age, about 2.5 million years ago, the Arctic Ocean has been completely covered with sea ice. Only during interglacials, like the one we are in now, does some of the sea ice melt during summer, when the top of the planet is oriented a bit more towards the Sun and receives large amounts of sunlight for several summer months. Even then, when winter starts, the ice-free portion of the Arctic Ocean freezes over again with a new layer of sea ice.

Since the dawn of human civilisation, 5000 to 8000 years ago, this annual ebb and flow of melting and freezing Arctic sea ice has been more or less consistent. There were periods when more ice melted during summer, and periods when less melted. However, a radical shift has occurred in recent times.

1 kinnard2011

Ever since satellites allowed a detailed view of the Arctic and its ice, a pronounced decrease in summer sea ice cover has been observed (with this year setting a new record low). When the IPCC released its Fourth Assessment Report in 2007, it was generally thought that the Arctic could become ice-free somewhere near the end of this century. But changes in the Arctic have progressed at such speed that most experts now think 2030 might see an ice-free Arctic for the first time. Some say it could even happen this decade.

2 albedofeedbackWhat makes this event significant, is the role Arctic sea ice plays as a reflector of solar energy. Ice is white and therefore reflects a large part of incoming sunlight back out to space. But where there is no ice, dark ocean water absorbs most of the sunlight and thus heats up. The less ice there is, the more the water heats up, melting more ice. This feedback has all kinds of consequences for the Arctic region.

Continue reading “Why Arctic sea ice shouldn’t leave anyone cold”