Science magazine has two very interesting papers in Friday’s issue related to climate and energy. One looks at a potentially significant climate change problem, and the second looks at a potentially significant energy system solution.
The first, by Natalia Shakova and colleagues, looks at the possibility that methane is venting faster than expected from the Arctic seafloor, which could be a big deal with regard to global climate change. How big? From Martin Heimann’s accompanying Perspectives piece:
How important are these fluxes in the global methane cycle? Considering the global emissions of ~440 Tg C as methane per year (1), the Siberian Arctic Ocean emissions and the changes in northern wetland emissions are negligible. This is good news, implying that current climate change does not affect the natural methane cycle in a globally important way. But will this persist into the future under sustained warming trends? We do not know.
The second paper, by Hunt Allcott and Sendhil Mullainathan, discusses the importance of the application of behavioral science, rather than simply technology, to the problem of energy efficiency:
Just as we use R&D to develop “hard science” into useful technological solutions, a similar process can be used to develop basic behavioral science into large-scale business and policy innovations. Cost-effectiveness can be rigorously measured using scientific field-testing. Recent examples of scaling behaviorally informed R&D into large energy conservation programs suggest that this could have very high returns.
The methane story got a ton of media coverage. I could find no coverage of the energy efficiency paper.
The problem space gets more attention than the solution space.