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Methane, Soot Are Targets Of New U.S. Climate Initiative

The United States and five other nations are embarking on a new program to limit pollutants connected to global warming. But they're not targeting carbon dioxide with this effort — instead, they're looking at methane gas, and soot.

NPR's Richard Harris filed this report for our Newscast desk:

"Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the U.S. is teaming up with Canada, Mexico, Sweden, Ghana and Bangladesh to get countries thinking about some potent contributors to climate change."

"For example, soot from diesel engines and wood-burning stoves contribute significantly to global warming. But if you can cut back on it, you can make a difference quickly. Methane is another gas in that category. So are refrigerants called HFCs."

"Most global warming is caused by carbon dioxide, so dealing with these other gases alone won't solve the problem. But a United Nations study last year identified inexpensive ways to cut these other gases. Now the State Department is pledging $12 million of seed money to get an international conversation started."

The new plan follows a strategy recommended by an increasing number of climate scientists, who are tired to banging their collective head against the wall of carbon dioxide.

For example, in a report last month by Christopher Joyce, he spoke to Durwood Zaelke, founder of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, who said that particularly in a weak global economy, placing limits on carbon dioxide — seen as a byproduct of economic activity — is too problematic.

Here's what Zaelke told Christopher: "I mean, it's like picking a fight with the biggest bully in the schoolyard. You know, you get your lunch money stolen, you get your pants pulled down, and you get sent home humiliated. We've made about that much progress with CO2."

So, the focus shifts to methane and soot. As NASA climate scientist Drew Shindell told Christopher in that same story, "these things really have an immediate and quite powerful, in many cases, effect on climate both at global and regional scales."

The Washington Post has more information about the new program, which will also benefit from a $3 million contribution from Canada. Or, you can visit the State Department's site.

Methane was in the news last week in Germany, where a new energy plant makes biogas from fruit and vegetable waste.

As a report in Gizmag notes, "while two thirds of the biogas produced at the Stuttgart plant is methane, around 30 percent is carbon dioxide, which is also used to cultivate the algae. Meanwhile, the remaining sludgy fermentation residue is delivered to the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, where it is also converted into methane."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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