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Methane or CH4 is responsible for a significant part of the greenhouse gases causing Global warming. Methane is a trace gas that only makes up a mere .00017% of the earths atmosphere. In contrast carbon dioxide or CO2 makes up .04% of our atmosphere, also appearing to be a small amount.

Yet these gases along with various others are being said to be the cause of a potentially world ecological catastrophe for future generations. Some people believe the problem could be so serious that it could grow exponentially and affect present generations.

Carbon is generally well understood by the masses. We frequently hear talk about our carbon footprint. Many people understand that carbon emissions come from cars and the amount of electricity we use. They understand that cutting down the rain forest takes away the trees that convert the CO2 back into oxygen. Very few people comprehend the dangers of methane and the serious effects it is having on climate change.

Where does methane come from?

So where does methane come from and just how bad is it? Methane is a principle component of natural gas. It also comes from coal, solid waste, manure, rice farms, waste water, biofuel combustion and most significantly – enteric fermentation. Enteric fermentation is fermentation that takes place in the digestive systems of ruminant animals such as cows, sheep and water buffalo. It represents 28%, the largest percentage of contribution to methane in our environment. The majority of methane emissions come from “large swine” and dairy farms. Makes you wonder how nature is trying to tell us something – swine flu and mad cow disease.

Methane store in permafrost & oceans

The main concern with Methane is the amounts that are stored in our permafrost and our oceans. Currently the world has an output of 6 Gigatons of greenhouse gases a year. The problem – there are large clathrates [or methane stores] frozen into sediment along the ocean margin. How much? – An estimated 2000 to 4000 gigatons. Wow!   Now add to this the fact that as the permafrost is melting in Alaska and Siberia, it is exposing stores of methane and carbon from bogs, although not as much as clathrates, creating a potentially serious cumulative effect.

Hope for the future

There is a bit of hope in all of this information. An equal amount of methane as compared to an equal amount of CO2 has an effect on global warming of 20 times greater than CO2. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) will stay in our atmosphere for around 100 years. With a half life of 7 years Methane last around 10 years in our atmosphere. It is estimated that 60% of global methane emissions are related to human activities.  Some scientists believe that these green house gases are as significant as or greater than CO2 emissions from cars.

What if we could significantly reverse methane emissions? Due to the short half life of methane, a significant impact could be made to slowing or reversing climate change by reducing methane combined with reducing CO2. It is simple to do this and it can be done virtually overnight if people understood. By reducing animal consumption, which in the US accounts for 70% of our diet, the need for large herds of livestock for human consumption would be dramatically reduced.

Additionally, the carbon footprint of growing vegetables, beans and grains is a fraction of that generated by animal farming. An additional benefit is that reducing animal consumption would improve the general health of people.

In conclusion by combining a change in lifestyle with ingenuity of containing emissions and burning them for energy, improved energy efficiency and conscious use of renewable energy we may just be able to maintain our existing coastal cities for future generations to enjoy.