Fred Krupp: Let's launch a satellite to track a threatening greenhouse gas
We've got a big problem on our hands with global warming. A lot of you, a lot of people have been watching the floods, the droughts, the storms, the fires. When I leave this stage today, I don't want you to have hope. I want you to have certainty, real certainty that we can make a dent in this problem and live to see it. I want to give you a vision of what that would look like. This is the first time we've shared this publicly. You're the first audience to hear it.
We are going to launch a rocket. And on that rocket will be a satellite. And that satellite will collect data about pollution that is warming the planet. We will put that data in the hands of people who can make simple fixes that will change the course of global warming in our lifetime.
That's a lot to take in, maybe I should back up. First, let me introduce myself, I'm Fred, I've been an environmentalist since I was a kid, when I watched the fish and the frogs in my neighborhood pond die from a chemical spill. That bothered me. Later, a professor inspired me to think about environmentalism differently. How the best solutions come from answering people's aspirations for prosperity, things like being safe and healthy and thriving in this world. So I joined the Environmental Defense Fund to build those kind of solutions. And I've worked my whole career for a moment like this -- the moment, when we can stop fighting headwinds and start to have the wind at our backs. Because of the power of information, information from technology that is coming down in price and going up in precision.
You see, there's something about climate change that we didn't grasp just a decade ago. The world was so focused on carbon dioxide that we overlooked another important gas. We didn't appreciate methane. Methane pollution causes one quarter of the global warming that we're experiencing right now. Pound for pound, its immediate impact is far greater than carbon dioxide. Eighty four times greater over a 20-year period. One of the largest sources of methane pollution is the oil and gas industry. But that's not obvious, because methane is invisible.
Let's take a look at this natural gas storage facility outside of Los Angeles. Can you see the methane? Neither can I. How about now? We shot this using an infrared camera, at the same spot, exposing one of the worst methane leaks in the history of the United States. That's a very different picture. It turns out that natural gas is displacing our dependence on coal, which emits far more carbon dioxide. But natural gas is mostly methane. So, as it's produced and processed and transported to homes and businesses across America, it escapes from wells and pipes and other equipment. It gets up into the sky and contributes to the disasters that we're now experiencing. That does not have to happen.
But nobody had paid much attention to it until we launched a nationwide study to understand the problem. We used drones, planes, helicopters, even Google Street View cars. It turns out there's far more of this methane pollution than what the government is reporting. It also turns out that when we find where the gas is being vented and leaked, most of those sources can be fixed easily and inexpensively, saving the gas that would have otherwise been wasted. And finally, we learn that when you put information like that into people's hands, they act. Leading companies replaced valves and tightened loose-fitting pipes. Colorado became the first state in the nation to limit methane pollution; California followed suit, and the public joined in. Tweets started flying -- #cutmethane. And everybody's paying more attention now.
We're doing this because we can't wait for Washington, especially not now. In fact, we have to take what we've done so far and go higher, to the sky. The United Stated represents about 10 percent of this pollution. To find the rest, we have to go global. Remember that rocket I mentioned? It will launch a compact satellite, called MethaneSAT, to do what no one has been able to do until now: measure methane pollution from oil and gas facilities worldwide, with exacting precision. Its data stream will allow us to map that pollution, so that everyone can see it. Then it's all about turning data into action, just as we did in the United States.
We've seen that when we present companies with data, many of them will cut the pollution. Citizens will be empowered to take action; governments will tighten the regulations. And because all of our data will be free and public, there will be transparency -- we'll all be able to see how much progress is being made and where. Which brings me to our goal: to cut this methane pollution by 45 percent by 2025.
That will have the same near-term impact as shutting down 1,300 coal-fired power plants. That's one third of all the coal-fired power plants in the world. Nothing else can have this sort of near-term impact at such a low cost. The fact that a single satellite can help us put the brakes on global warming is truly remarkable. This is our chance to create change in our lifetimes, and we can do it now.
Thanks to the generous giving of the Audacious Project, we are on a path toward liftoff. But my time is running short, and I promised you a vision of what a critical piece of the solution would look like. Can you see it? Can you see how this satellite leverages the best of science and data and technology? Can you see we're entering a whole new era of innovation that is supercharging progress? Can you see that it's in our hands?
We've set an aggressive goal of three years till liftoff, and when that satellite is ready, we'll have a launch party. A literal launch party. So imagine a blue-sky day, crowds of people, television cameras, kids staring up toward the sky at a thing that will change their future. What an amazing day that will be. What a big opportunity we have. I can't wait.