An OU faculty member is leading a study in partnership with NASA to investigate the impacts of greenhouse gas concentrations and ultimately aid in the reversal of “undebatable” climate change.
OU’s College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences Dean Berrien Moore was awarded the Geostationary Carbon Cycle Observatory mission in 2016 to measure carbon dioxide and methane concentrations in the atmosphere using a geostationary satellite. The satellite will measure every five kilometers of North and South America each day in partnership with NASA.
Moore said the observatory will enhance understanding of the carbon cycle, the process of carbon atoms continually traveling from the atmosphere to the Earth and then back into the atmosphere. He said this process causes climate change and vice versa.
The effects of human contributions to Earth’s climate to date are irreversible on the “timescale of human lifetimes,” but avoiding future temperature increases would result in less warming that would otherwise persist forever, according to NASA.
OU faculty said the potentially devastating effects of climate change can be prevented, but the window for action is “rapidly closing” before permanent damage is done by climate change.
“We are on a journey that is unsustainable,” OU Dean of the Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy Mike Stice said. “But, we’re also the type of people that will apply science and technology, and we’ll solve this problem. I believe in our abilities to solve this problem.”
By measuring carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and understanding its elements, Moore said managing carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere will be more attainable.
“We’re going to get some insights into this connection between the carbon cycle, the weather cycle and climate,” Moore said. “We’re going to begin to unravel that and figure out how we can influence that in ways that are beneficial (and) would slow a changing climate.”
Initially set for 2022 but postponed by the changing satellite business and COVID-19, Moore said he hopes the observatory will be ready to launch by 2024.
As humans consume large quantities of hydrocarbon fuel, fossil fuel and wood biomass, the combustion byproduct that carbon dioxide produces contributes to global warming, Stice said.
Nationally, market-based solutions like carbon taxes and cap-and-trade programs must be established and scaled up as quickly as is feasible, with an “eye towards equity and revenue neutrality,” OU assistant economics professor Jonathan McFadden wrote.
McFadden wrote the federal government must also increase funding for basic research into clean technologies and be prepared to provide technical or financial assistance to spur technological diffusion.
In 2018, the U.S. accounted for 20.5 percent of the world’s petroleum consumption, McFadden wrote. From 1997 to 2019, oil and natural gas extraction accounted for 6-21 percent of Oklahoma’s real gross domestic product.
Oklahoma was ranked at the 15th largest emitter of greenhouse gas in 2018, McFadden wrote. The five largest sources of Oklahoma’s 2018 emissions were transportation, electricity and heat, industrial agriculture and fugitive sources.
To reduce Oklahoma’s fossil fuel consumption, McFadden proposed the reduction of transportation-related emissions by incentivizing greater use of public transportation, ride-sharing, biking, walking, electric vehicles or vehicles with greater fuel economy.
McFadden wrote that public utilities could reduce electricity and heat emissions by increasing generation from sustainable sources, such as wind energy and the reduction of emissions from industry through federal incentives for firms to replace dirty production technologies with cleaner methods.
On an individual level, Stice said conservative and intentional energy consumption is an important step in the reversal of climate change.
Moore said he hopes the status of the carbon cycle will come up more consistently in conversations on climate change.
“I think it would be important to give a picture … about the status of the carbon cycle,” Moore said. “We’d begin to build this into how we think about things. Then, (we’d) begin to change how we actually act.”