There’s some news on the “settled science” of climate change. A March 16 study published in Nature Geoscience finds that methane absorbs a good deal of atmospheric solar radiation, which cuts previous estimates of the gas’s warming effect by 30 percent. If you had said on March 15 that people were making too big a deal about the warming effects of methane, you’d have been branded a “climate denier.” Now, you’re just following the science.
And if you’ve been following the science, you’re probably quite dizzy. Just a month before the Nature Geoscience study was published, Inside Climate News reported that “scientists at Stanford…concluded that the EPA has radically undervalued the climate impact of methane.”
Not so congressional Democrats and the Biden Administration. The climate interventions in the so-called Inflation Reduction Act were heralded by the Environmental Defense Fund as “a game-changer on methane.”
The Inflation Reduction Act adopts the Methane Emissions Reduction Program (MERP). Beginning in 2024, MERP will charge American oil and gas producers for excess methane emissions—at first, $900 per ton but reaching $1,500 by 2026. Funds allocated for MERP will also go toward monitoring methane emissions, pushing supposed technical innovations for reducing harm, and plugging up wells. The price tag for American taxpayers? Congress allocated for MERP alone—forget the rest of the Inflation Reduction Act—$1.55 billion. Add to that the costs passed on to consumers by oil and gas producers that will have to pay new penalties on emissions.
That’s a lot of money to crack down on a gas that may not be so dangerous after all. But the policy will stand regardless of this or that new study. Climate policy actually based on science would be perpetually revised and never implemented. So lawmakers instead base their policies on the advice of interest groups, warnings issued by politicized science organizations, and hunches about public sentiment. And that’s how MERP and its costs end up in our lives.
Many Americans are rightly furious about the lack of scientific rigor behind public health policies enacted during the Covid pandemic. But the truth is, the growing consensus on the origins of the virus, and the inefficacy of masks, lockdowns, and school closures is a surprising victory for public skepticism. It only took three years for these suspected truths to seep out. When it comes to climate change, we’re going on three decades of expert fear-mongering, and the fog of official opinion just keeps getting thicker. So, too, does the climate-mitigation industry. Just two days ago, Benzinga noted that Bill Gates recently invested heavily in Windfall Bio, “a startup that is taking dead aim at methane emissions from large cattle farms, which is one of the main sources of methane in the atmosphere.”
The difference between the science of climate change and the science of Covid-19 is that the latter forced us immediately to curtail our lives dramatically. This prompted resentment, doubt, and a demand for clear answers. When it comes to climate change, we’re subjected to some relatively minor inconveniences and a few easily ignored but costly acronyms (who’s ever heard of MERP?). So the policies and investments just accrue, even as the science seems to change here and there. Which is why the science never changes too much for too long and is always steered back on course. Studies are funded to combat studies. Methane will soon be found to be more deadly than we ever thought.