Updated: Feb 10, 2021
First of all, what is it? Methane is a gas. It's the primary component of natural gas, a common fuel source. We're concerned about methane levels for many reasons. If it leaks into the air before being used- say, from a broken pipe- it absorbs the sun's heat, warming the atmosphere. This causes the greenhouse effect- a natural process that warm's the Earth's surface, but is being unnaturally exacerbated by increased use of fossil fuels. Because methane can worsen this issue, which is leading to global warming, it's considered a greenhouse gas, like carbon dioxide (CO2).
Is it as bad as CO2?
In short- yes. In the first twenty years after its release, methane is 84 times more potent that CO2. At least 25% of today's global warming is caused by manmade methane emissions. While it doesn't linger for as long in the atmosphere, it's more detrimental to our climate initially because of its effectiveness at absorbing heat. To reduce the impact on the climate, we need to address the issues both of these gases cause.
Where does it come from?
The methane emissions in our atmosphere come from many places. It's emitted from the energy sector, during the production and transport of coal, natural gas and oil, as well as from different agricultural practices and livestock, and in waste management. Agriculture as an industry contributes the most methane emissions of any manmade sector, an estimated 10-12% of total global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the IPPC.
How do we fix our methane issues?
What can you do? There are several ways you can help reduce the levels of methane in our atmosphere:
Support organic farming practices- organic farmers keep livestock longer instead of replacing older cows with younger calves. Young calves produce no milk but still contribute methane gases. Using a cow into its later years means the total number of cows is fewer and there's less methane being contributed to the atmosphere, as well as being kinder and more animal-friendly
Eat less red meat- If the amount of red meat reduces, less cows with be needed , meaning less contributors to our methane emissions
Support farms that use 'digesters'- These anaerobic 'digesters' use microorganisms to decompose cattle manure within a large container. The resulting biogas can be used for 'free' electricity production, rather than being expelled into the atmosphere
Produce less waste- Landfills actively produce methane. In 2017 in the UK alone, 8.7 million tonnes of municipal waste was sent to landfill. By producing less waste, we contribute less to our landfills, which then means lower methane emissions from them. By reducing our waste it also means we help other areas too- such as air pollution from things like incinerators and ocean pollution- which really shows how being more environmentally friendly is a cycle, and if we're contributing positive things into the cycle, positive things come back around.
I hope you found this article helpful and that it inspires you to research more into how you can enact these ideas in your local community.
As always, do let me know if you try any, or have any other tips worth sharing! We should always try to LEARN MORE from each other :)