The 1800 Histories project is an effort to understand the local circumstances of more than a thousand sites -- the ultra-emitters of methane gas -- that are of outsized importance in the causes of climate change.
Methane, or CH4, is a greenhouse gas that over a 100-year time period is more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide, or CO2, in trapping heat Over a 20-year period, CH4 is more than 80 times as potent as CO2. See IPCC 7.SM.7in the atmosphere. It is emitted in oil and gas production, in pipeline distribution, in coal mining and in waste disposal, as well as in agriculture and wetlands; methane emissions have increased rapidly in 2021 and 2022.
The map above, which is based on KAYRROS analysis of modified Copernicus satellite data, is a depiction of data about methane ultra-emitters presented by Thomas Lauvaux et al. in 2022, including data about very large sites of coal and "human" (mostly waste-related) methane emissions, in addition to sites related to oil and gas. It is a macro picture of a global problem. But each of the sites has a micro-history, and a distinctive future; or several possible futures. They are data points and also places, and the project is an attempt to bring together diverse social science and humanities perspectives with the inquiries of climate scientists.
Satellites see only a part of the world, some of the time. "Offshore emissions remain invisible to TROPOMI, and cloud cover almost entirely blocks [oil and gas] basins in tropical areas," as Lauvaux et al. write. The pins in the map denote circles of a radius of 15 km, rather than oil refineries or mines or towns.
But history takes place at different scales, and all of the sites have their own histories of capital and industry, of economic, ecological and environmental change. More than half of the oil and gas ultra-emitters are in the territories of the former Soviet Union. Some of the locations are close to sites of violent conflict, like the ultra-emitters in Myanmar and Iraq. Others are in places of multiple different kinds of pollution, like the sites in Bangladesh and the Navajo Nation. There are sixty-four ultra-emitter sites in Australia.
The satellite observations depicted here are from 2019 and 2020. In 2023, four of the ultra-emitter sites are also sites of war in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. One is to the south of Luhansk, associated with oil and gas, and another is east of Luhansk; one is near the old coal mines of Yenakiieve in Donetsk; one, associated with waste, is to the west of Kramatorsk.
The 1800 Histories project, to be depicted in the map below, will consist of local histories of the sites of methane emissions. It will explore changes over time in particular places, and how they collectively add up to a history of climate change. To reduce methane emissions to the environment, especially from large oil and gas facilities, is a "low-cost" way of slowing global warming. But the choices of whether to do so, and how it should be done, are always local. To see the methane sites as living places, with diverse, tumultuous histories, is also to see the possibility of change. The histories that will constitute the project are an effort to understand, site by site, why climate change is happening -- and also what can be done to avert it.