A rotten odor, a dangerous gas.

Sometime referred to as “the other greenhouse gas”–compared here to carbon–methane (CH₄) is an underestimated an misunderstood driver of global warming (and yes there are more than two greenhouse gasses). To better understand the deleterious effects of methane on environment, it helps to start with some basic facts.

A noxious and foul smelling gas (you’re likely familiar), methane emissions are one of the greatest threats to life on earth! Compared to carbon dioxide, methane in the atmosphere exacts 86 times the total damage (ton for ton)! 86 times more damaging then CO2*, that isn’t a typo. 

Of all anthropomorphic greenhouse gas, methane accounts for roughly a quarter. It certainly doesn’t get 25% of the attention paid to carbon and that needs to change. Like carbon emissions, the volume released is steep ascent–no where more than in the developing world. The diverse array of methane sources–from the usual suspects (fossil fuels and animal agriculture) to leaks in the earth’s crust–is objectively fascinating; the solutions even more so. From new aquaculture techniques, to capping leaking wells. As you might have guessed by now, the quickest fix is simply: eating less meat and dairy. yxxxxxx

Ruminant livestock (like cows, sheep and goats) account for 79% of all methane production! Comparatively oil, gas, and coal just 33% (there is of course some overlap). A nearly four-fifths of all methane produced, these livestock account for (roughly) 30% of all man-made emissions. That’s really something to ruminate on.

You may have heard by now that bovine flatulence—of all things—is a significant driver of global warming. It sounds like joke at first but it’s no laughing matter (it is in factcow burps and manure that are most of the problem). If this claim at first seems hard to believe, consider the following. There are as many as 1.5 billion cows on earth, they each have four stomachs, they eat grass and roughage all day. It’s not a pretty picture.

Looking for a silver lining? For all of it’s relative toxicity, methane is dispensed of fairly quickly. The half-life of atmospheric methane is as little as then years, whereas carbon can linger up there for thousands! Whereas with other gases we’re shooting to merely mitigate, our aim with methane can be corrective. Reductions now will be reflected in the atmosphere in only a decade (in 2020 Europe became the first country to achieve said net-reduction). The advantage–beyond the obvious–of the shorter turn around is our ability to witness and measure our success in reducing CH₄. Signs of progress perpetuate hope and engagement success leads to more success. 

Methane reduction is a necessary and immediately achievable goal. The first step is awareness. 

* * *

* This figure represents damage (broadly speaking) measurable in the first 20 years in the atmosphere. Due to wildly disparate half lives of methane v. carbon a “full life” damage assessment would be an apples to oranges comparison.

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