If you want to tackle climate change, start with methane

If you want to tackle climate change, start with methane

Monday , The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has dropped a landmark report on the state of the planet, which — spoiler alert — doesn’t look good. The basis of the evaluation is carbon dioxide, but he also called carbon dioxide2Lesser known brother: methane. Concentrations of this greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, which is 80 times stronger than carbon dioxide2, is now higher than at any time in at least 800,000 years, the report notes. If humanity can get serious about reducing methane emissions, it will result in a significant and rapid curb on climate change.

“Methane is the next critical and fast-paced prize for climate stability,” Rick Duke, senior director and White House communications coordinator for the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Change, said at a news conference Monday after the report was released. “There is simply nothing that comes close to securing our climate future in the near term, giving us critical time to decarbonize energy and develop advanced options such as negative emissions technologies.”

Elisa Oko, chief climate scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, agreed that “reducing methane emissions is the fastest and most effective way to slow the rate of warming right now.”

Like carbon dioxide, methane contains carbon. Its chemical formula is CH .4. It is a major component of natural gas and many ecosystems. Rotting plants produce methane – wetlands are particularly high emissions. And when insects such as termites and ungulates such as cows digest the food, they also produce methane. (Most are cow burps, not burps, which contain gas.)

But while CH4 It is a completely natural component of the Earth’s atmosphere, and the amount that has now been added to the sky is far from normal. One of the main factors is livestock, including not only cows but also sheep and pigs – all this manure adds more methane. In the United States, this “enteric fermentation” is responsible for more than a quarter of domestic methane emissions. Production and transportation of natural gas, coal and oil make up another 30 percent, and landfills — full of decaying vegetation — add 17 percent.

When determining how powerful a greenhouse gas is, there are two main considerations: how efficiently the molecule traps heat, and how long it stays in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide2 and CH4 Both are very effective at containing heat; They are actually what help make Earth habitable by preventing warmth from escaping into space. But methane is better at that. “You have carbon attached to two oxygen atoms in carbon dioxide2 Molecule, but carbon attached to it four “Hydrogen atoms in a methane molecule,” says New York University ecologist Matthew Hayek, who studies methane. “So there are more ways in which the bonds between those atoms can vibrate when they receive or absorb infrared radiation, thus re-emitting infrared.”


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“A pound of methane emitted can trap 100 times more heat than carbon dioxide.”2 When it is first emitted, agrees Tian Yi Sun, a climate scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund who specializes in methane. But she notes that methane is fading away faster. “It only lasts in the atmosphere for a decade, and it’s gone.” By contrast Carbon dioxide can last for centuries.

Before humans began producing much of each, when these gases occur naturally, they float in the atmosphere, absorb radiation, and degrade through oxidation over various periods of time. Therefore, the volcano may emit carbon dioxide2In the atmosphere, wetlands will slowly absorb methane, but both will eventually dissipate. The atmosphere was able to exist in equilibrium, creating a kind of blanket that kept the planet warm but not too hot.

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