As concern about the climate crisis increases, we regularly hear about the urgency of reducing our carbon emissions. The term “carbon footprint” has even become mainstream as we attempt to measure our personal impact. Lately, some client scientists are giving information about the urgency of reducing methane emissions as well.
The Global Methane Assessment, a study backed by the United Nations, states that cutting methane emissions by 45% this decade would keep warming below the threshold agreed upon by world leaders. Such methane emission reductions would result in a quick decline in warming, which would help prevent some of the gravest climate tipping points. Also, such emission reductions would promote air quality, saving hundreds of thousands of lives. This news doesn’t negate the importance of reducing carbon emissions but is another strategy in curbing the worst impacts.
Because methane emissions haven’t been on many of our radars, let’s explore this topic in greater detail and how we can take actions in our own lives to reverse the climate crisis.
According to Inger Andersen, executive director of UN Environment Programme, “Cutting methane is the strongest lever we have to slow climate change over the next 25 years and complements necessary efforts to reduce carbon dioxide. The benefits to society, economies, and the environment are numerous and far outweigh the cost. We need international cooperation to urgently reduce methane emissions as much as possible this decade.”
What is methane?
Odorless and colorless, methane is a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere. Over the last 200 years, methane concentrations in the atmosphere have more than doubled primarily because of human activity.
Typically, methane remains in the atmosphere for about nine years. This is far less time than carbon emissions, which remain in the atmosphere for 300 to 1,000 years. Yet, methane is far more efficient at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
What are some sources of methane?
Globally, human activity causes 50% to 65% of total methane emissions directly or indirectly. Like carbon dioxide, there are numerous sources of methane emissions. Some of the leading sources include agriculture, energy, waste management, and land use.
How can we reduce methane emissions?
Corporations in specific industries must take many of the actions that would help reduce methane emissions. As individuals, we have many opportunities to help by reducing the amount of waste we send to landfills and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.
Various agricultural practices are responsible for approximately 40% of human-caused methane emissions. According to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), “Reduction strategies include preventing the burning of fields after harvests, adjusting feed for livestock so that they release less methane, and regularly draining rice paddies.”
As much as possible, support farms that are using greener practices, such as regenerative agriculture practices, to slow the climate crisis. Some farms are even using biodigesters that generate energy and reduce methane emissions.
The energy sector is responsible for 35% of human-caused methane emissions, thanks to our use of fossil fuels. This sector has the greatest potential to reduce its emissions significantly. According to the CFR, “Almost all measures could be implemented at low costs. These include improving the detection and repair of methane leaks at oil and gas facilities and flooding abandoned coal mines that leak the gas.”
The waste management industry is responsible for 20% of human-caused methane emissions, with landfills as a significant source. “Mitigation strategies include reducing waste that ends up in landfills, such as by recycling and composting; capturing methane gas; and burning methane gas, which is known as flaring,” according to the CFR.
Composting as much of our organic waste from the yard and kitchen as possible helps reduce our methane emissions. To get started with composting, read our guide and learn about three easy DIY compost bin designs. If you’ve been scared away from composting due to odor issues, learn about how to prevent this issue. Also, avoid putting recyclable materials in the garbage by recycling and upcycling. Purchasing used items and donating gently used items is another useful strategy to reducing waste in landfills.
Many of the strategies that reduce methane emissions require changes by corporations, but we vote with our dollars whenever we go shopping. And while it can be difficult to discern which companies are the greenest from reading a product’s package, buying from Certified B Corporations is an excellent way to support the best of the best. These companies meet rigorous environmental and social criteria and are leaders in the sustainable business field.
Although the recent emphasis on methane emissions may seem daunting, it actually presents a clear path to immediately reducing the climate crisis. If we use this information to create positive change, it can guide us in developing solutions.