- Methane is a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
- It’s produced by livestock, natural gas, oil and other sources.
- While carbon dioxide decreased during the coronavirus pandemic, methane likely did not.
Emissions of methane, a potent ingredient in global warming, have hit an all-time record high equivalent to putting 350 million more cars on the world’s roads, according to new research.
Left unabated, that level of methane emissions could help heat the earth to dangerous temperatures before the end of the century. It would also undermine any chance of sticking to the international goal of limiting global temperature rise to no more than 2.7 degrees per year, according to a news release from Stanford University that details the research.
The results of the study, conducted by scientists from several institutions including NASA, Yale and Stanford, were published Tuesday.
The researchers found that levels of methane emissions reached their highest point ever between 2000 and 2017, the most recent year for which data is available. Methane emissions are largely driven by coal mining, oil production, natural gas production, landfills and cattle and sheep ranching.
“Natural gas use is rising quickly here in the U.S. and globally. It’s offsetting coal in the electricity sector and reducing carbon dioxide emissions, but increasing methane emissions in that sector,” Rob Jackson a study author from Stanford said in the news release.
“As a result, we’re emitting more methane from oil and gas wells and leaky pipelines.”
He also pointed out that while people may laugh about it, livestock is a major source.
“Emissions from cattle and other ruminants are almost as large as those from the fossil fuel industry for methane,” Jackson said. “People joke about burping cows without realizing how big the source really is.”
“Methane doesn’t last as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, but it’s much more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide,” Benjamin Poulter, a research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and another author on the study, told NBC News.
Methane admissions could be slowed if fossil fuel use goes down, leaks from pipelines and wells are curbed and changes are made to how humans raise, grow and eat our food.
“We’ll need to eat less meat and reduce emissions associated with cattle and rice farming,” Jackson said, “and replace oil and natural gas in our cars and homes.”
New innovations like algae feed supplements to help reduce cow burps and using drones to monitor methane leaks from oil and gas wells could also help put a dent in methane emissions.
And while carbon emissions plunged during the coronavirus restrictions that limited transportation and manufacturing, Jackson said there was likely little impact on methane.
“There’s no chance that methane emissions dropped as much as carbon dioxide emissions because of the virus,” he said. “We’re still heating our homes and buildings, and agriculture keeps growing.”
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