A couple of weeks ago in reference to our compost bin, I told you that 20% of human methane emissions come from waste decomposition. I know, I know, you have probably been thinking a lot about that, maybe even stayed awake at night, and wondered, what about the other 80%?
Wonder no more. Here’s the breakdown.
Why is methane an important greenhouse gas?
Methane (CH4) is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted from human activities. In 2014, it accounted for about 11 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Methane’s lifetime in the atmosphere is much shorter than carbon dioxide (CO2), but it is much more efficient at trapping radiation than CO2 is. Pound for pound, the comparative impact of methane on climate change is more than 25 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period.
The government has an important role to play in reducing our methane emissions, especially when it comes to the fossil fuel piece of the pie (42%). The majority of these emissions are leakages from fracking and processing of oil and natural gas. Fracking is a nasty technology, and no one has exact numbers on how much methane is released every year, as the fossil fuel companies conveniently hide that information from the authorities. Remember the Aliso Canyon leak in California last year? It spewed enough methane into the atmosphere to equal the greenhouse gases emitted by more than 440,000 cars in a year. Scary stuff.
Driving an electrical vehicle, reducing plastic consumption and installing solar panels are actions consumers can take to help reduce emissions from fossil fuel.
Speaking of consumers, I don’t think I need to tell you how to reduce the methane emissions (30%) from ruminants, do I?
Ruminants are the farm animals who eat and digest grass (called enteric fermentation), mainly cows raised for beef or dairy, but also buffalo, sheep and goats. So hey, just to be clear; CUT BACK your consumption. Choose chicken over beef if you insist on meat and replace dairy with plant-based options. (Cattle also contributes large amounts of CO2, through transports, processing and the clearing of forests to make room for more livestock.)
The easiest way to reduce methane emissions from landfill (20%), is to lower your total trash production! Yes, we humans produce trash like never before. Start a compost and stop using one time use items. Like what? Like plastic bags, straws, cutlery, paper plates, napkins, disposable diapers, Starbucks cups, wrapping paper. You know, all the things you only use ONCE but last in landfills forever.
In the “other” piece of the pie we find all the natural sources of methane (6%). Wetlands are the biggest emitter, but also volcanoes, wildfires and sediment play a part. Our wonderful planet is designed for handling the gases from these sources, and we don’t have to do anything about them. Phew!
I read somewhere that a reduction of global emissions by just 22 Million tons per year would result in stabilization of methane concentrations in the atmosphere. I don’t know if that’s still true (the article was several years old), however, such a reduction represents just about 5% of total methane emissions; a small reduction which should be more than doable. The problem is, with the world’s hunger for beef, corrupt governments who favor fossil fuel, and cheap coal becoming available to burn in areas of the developing world (hoping they won’t use it!), we could easily be moving the trend in the opposite (wrong) direction.
Finally, we should all be aware that this beef-loving, fracking-addicted nation, plays a HUGE part in the world’s total methane emissions. There are no exact numbers but it’s estimated that up to 60% of all methane emissions are because of the USA’s activities alone.
It’s HERE that change must take place.
At least we, you and I, can do our part. If we all take small measures to reduce our impact, a significant reduction will be in the bag.