The Key Sources of Methane Emissions and Their Impact

One thing that the latest climate report made crystal clear is that methane emissions are a huge problem. In fact, they’re responsible for about 30-50% of the temperature rise since the industrial era.

However, most of the time you only hear about carbon emissions, which make up the rest. This is because carbon emissions are the most abundant and can last for hundreds of years. But the truth is, methane is just as dangerous.

While methane emissions don’t last as long, they are 80 times more potent than carbon in regards to planet-warming power.

Let’s look at the major sources.

1. Agriculture

Cows

Now, if you checked the EPA page on methane emissions, you would notice two things about this entry. The first is that agriculture does not appear on their pie chart. Instead, it is under the name of enteric fermentation.

This is the more scientific way of saying the burping and farting of livestock, like cows. The second is that it is in second place. While this is true for the US, most other nations have agriculture in the number one spot.

While this is technically a natural source of emissions, the amount of livestock we keep is not natural. The cow population has actually surpassed one billion and continues to increase to meet demand.

2. Oil & Gas

While you typically hear about carbon emissions from these countries, they are one of the largest contributors to methane emissions. And the worst part is that some of the emissions are preventable.

Natural gas has taken the throne in the energy sector. Not only replacing coal but retiring it. However, one of the main components of natural gas is methane. And during the excavation and transportation process, methane is released.

So, how are these preventable? You’ve probably heard of gas leaks before in major gas fields. With better management, these leaks can be prevented.

3. Landfills

This one is hard for people to understand, but landfills are actually the third biggest source of methane emissions. Now I know what you’re thinking, how is that possible, you’re digging a hole and burying trash, where are the emissions?

Well, that trash then goes through a decomposition stage. You see, at first, the trash undergoes aerobic decomposition. During this process, some methane gas is emitted as a result. However, after a year or so, the decomposition is anaerobic, or without oxygen.

The bacteria that breaks down the trash during this stage, release large amounts of methane emissions. And this stage can take years.

Cutting Methane Emissions Is More Important Than Carbon

While carbon emissions will have a bigger impact over their full lifespan in the atmosphere, methane emissions will have an impact today.

Achieving net-zero emissions is going to take time. In fact, it’s going to take far longer than is recommended. In the meantime, the world is going to get hotter and hotter, and methane is the driving factor.

However, the problem with methane emissions is that they are hard to prevent.

Unlike carbon, most of the methane emissions come from natural sources, at least to a certain degree. As you can see from the sources listed above, livestock and bacteria are what actually generate them.

Trapping these emissions needs to be a priority.

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Robert Giaquinto

Robert has been following and writing about environmental stories for years at GreenGeeks. He believes that highlighting environmentally friendly practices can help promote change in every household.

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