How does Methane harm the earth? - Seeker's Thoughts

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How does Methane harm the earth?

Rapid rising of methane in the atmosphere are threatening to meet the Paris Agreement goal to keep the earth’s temperature less than 2 degree Celsius of global warming. The potential causes and consequences of our planet’s out-of-control methane.

According to the perspective published in the journal Science discusses methane levels in the atmosphere would theoretically be dropping. Instead, they have been rising since 2007 and shooting up even faster since 2014. 

Methane is produced by cattle’s poop, and also comes from decaying vegetation, fires, coal mines and natural gas plants. It is many times more potent as to cause of atmospheric warming than carbon dioxide (CO2). However, it breaks down much more quickly than CO2 and is found at much lower levels in the atmosphere.
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 Methane is the simplest hydrocarbon consisting of one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms. It’s a very powerful greenhouse gas.

Methane is flammable and is used as fuel worldwide. It is a principal component of natural gas. Burning methane in the presence of oxygen releases carbon dioxide and water vapor:

           CH4 + 2 O2 → CO2 + 2 H2O

Methane accounts for about 20% of the heating effects by all of the greenhouse gases combined. Both natural and human source supply methane to Earth’s atmosphere.

Major natural source of methane include emissions from wetlands and oceans, and from the digest processes of termites. Sources related to human activities include rice production, landfills, and energy generation.

During much of the 20th century, levels of methane mostly from fossil fuel source increased in the atmosphere.

According to the U.S. Environment Protection Agency, a molecule of methane will cause 28-36 times more warming than a molecule of carbon dioxide over a 100-year period. Recent data shows that methane concentration in the atmosphere has risen from about 1,775 parts per billion in 2006 to 1,850 parts per billion in 2017.

Researcher’s warning

Researchers believe the spread of intense farming may be involved, in particular, tropical regions where conditions are becoming warmer and wetter because of climate change. The rising number of cattle’s- as well as wetter and water swamps- are producing more and more methane.
However, other scientists warn that there could be a more sinister factor at work. Natural chemicals in the atmosphere- which help to break down methane – may be changing because of temperature rises, causing it to lose its ability to deal with the gas.

Our world could, therefore, be losing its power to cleanse pollutants because it is heating up, climate feedback in which warming allows more greenhouse gases to linger in the atmosphere and so trigger even more warming.

Reducing methane emissions can play a role in reducing ozone worldwide

Ozone has harmful effects on people, ecosystem and agriculture productivity. It is a so-called “short-lived climate forcer.” This term refers to pollutants that remain in the atmosphere for a much shorter period of time than CO2 but have a much greater potential to warm the atmosphere. 

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By targeting methane production sectors can bring a significant reduction in the overall methane emissions and ozone concentrations globally.

Important emissions reductions can be obtained by:

-       Pursuing efforts to lower energy consumption, substitute fossil fuels, upgrade old gas and oil production, and gas distribution infrastructure to reduce unintended leakage.

-       Enforcing maximum waste separation and treatment, and not using landfill for biodegradable waste. The global abatement potential in the solid waste landfill sector is estimated to be approximately 61% of the baseline emissions by 2030, of which 12% at relatively low or zero costs.

-       Improving the sanitary standards in developing countries and implementing western standards for wastewater sanitation.

-       Following FAO recommendations to improve animal health and efficiency of milk and meat production. Ruminant enteric fermentation -- an important source of CH4 -- can also be reduced for instance through adjustment of animal's diets and vaccination.

-       Changing dietary habits by reducing meat and dairy consumption, which would also bring additional health benefits.

Scientists also note that there are big differences in the methane emissions from the waste and fossil fuel production sectors between developed and developing countries. Investing in efforts to align developing regions with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can unlock a huge potential for emissions reduction.

What is Paris Climate Change Agreement 2015?

In 2016, in Paris, nations agreed to cooperate to hold global temperature rises to 2C above preindustrial levels and, if possible, to keep that rise to under 1.5C. It was recognized that achieving this goal – mainly by curbing emissions of CO2 from fossil fuels – would always be difficult to achieve. Accelerating increases in different greenhouse gas, methane, means that this task is going to be much, much harder.

Paris agreement was to unite all nations in a single agreement on tackling climate change for the first time in history. The Kyoto Protocol of 1997 set emission-cutting targets for a handful of developed countries, but the US pulled out and others failed to comply. However, the scientists point out the Paris accord must be followed to protect the earth from the impact of climate change.  

Risks from using feed additives or supplements to reduce methane emissions

There are several risks:

-       The amount of additive ingested by livestock in paddock grazing systems is hard to regulate. Feed additives are more effective in feedlots and dairies.

-       Toxicity leading to ill health or death of livestock can result if nitrate supplements are introduced suddenly or ingestion is too high.

-       Long-term and consistent positive production responses to the addition of feed additives have not been found. These responses are essential for the commercial application of feed additives.

-       Fluctuations in carbon price may result in reduced or lost profit margins in a carbon farming project.


Support Organic Farming Practices

Organic farmers keep livestock longer instead of replacing old cows with younger calves. Young calves produce no milk but still contribute to methane gases. Using a cow into its later years means the total number of cows is fewer leading to less methane in the atmosphere.

 Eat Less Red Meat

 If the amount of red meat consumed is limited, there will be fewer cows contributing to methane emissions.

 Support Farms who use "digesters"

 Anaerobic "digesters" utilize microorganisms to decompose cattle manure within a huge container. The resulting biogas can be harvested and used for "free” electricity production, rather than be expelled into the atmosphere.

 Become Active in Your Community:

Landfills actively produce methane. Many communities are organizing to help convert this greenhouse gas from a pollutant into energy.

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