Methane is a concern for climatologists as it is a detrimental greenhouse gas. Yet, methane is natural. Only the concentration of it in recent post-industrialization is problematic. Methane in the atmosphere has effectively doubled in the last two hundred years. The fact is that methane is being released at increasingly larger amounts. In pre-industrial times, methane sources were the natural emissions of animals, bogs, fires and volcanoes. Today, there are still all of those things with the added spike of methane from human activities. Here are some of the facts about how increased methane is being added to Earth’s atmosphere.
Due to accelerated melting of polar ice and other sea ice, methane is produced when exposed carbon is made readily available to bacteria that make methane in their waste production. The exposed organic carbon being released is in the permafrost, which in cooler times stays locked securely under heavy ice. Waste and landfills are another source for increased methane being released. Mining activity, as well as farm activity for natural gas and other methane sources, also increase the amounts of methane released.
Deforestation is occurring and becomes rampant as more people need more food, and thus farm land to grow it. Development for places to live, industries to be built and ever more increase of eroded and degraded soils also produce bio-mass that quickly produces methane. Also, in displaced areas of former forest and grasslands, cattle and other livestock are raised, increasing emissions of methane through their digestive processes. Finally, there are termite mounds which produce increased methane. As with the livestock methane problem, termites are more numerous due to human activity. When a forest is cleared, termites spread to fill available space upon secondary grasslands and even some deserts.
Even newer technology, such as fracking, in more extreme attempts to mine for natural gas, is adding atmospheric contaminants.Yet, people are more (perhaps understandably) concerned about such things as flammable water from drinking taps than they are about atmospheric increase of gases.
This methane increase is of huge concern, as there is no indication of lessening in all of the above activities required to feed and sustain increasing human populations. Rather, there is now ever-increasing demand for more universal and equitable energy and food sources. And although methane as compared to carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere in lesser quantities, just one kilogram causes 20 times more damage as a significant greenhouse gas. However, scientists and others who study the problem of global warming and its related climate change observe that a steady reduction of methane emissions would provide an atmospheric restoration of balance relatively quickly. This is due to the fact that methane, unlike CO2, does not persist in the upper air for nearly as long. CO2 released today could still be present in the atmosphere for the next century, whereas methane molecules persist for only a decade or so.
Therefore, the role of methane in Earth’s atmosphere is largely dependent upon nations of the world coming up with innovations for alternative energy sources, improved agricultural efficiency, lowering bio-mass production, reducing burning and livestock concentrations, preventing deforestation and curbing emissions in every possible way, including conservation.
Greater sources of concern are human psychology and political systems. These are currently set up so that nations tend to compete for resources rather than reduce need for them. They also prefer familiar energy and domination paradigms which are no longer sustainable since Earth resources are finite, and feedback loops exacerbate the mounting accumulation of greenhouse gases.
It is the geopolitical atmosphere which directly affects Earth’s atmosphere. What the situation comes down to is that people will need to voluntarily choose a long-term view to protect the atmosphere, and, therefore, sustainable life on the planet. If they choose to deny or ignore the problem, they have effectively by default, entered into an era never seen before in human history. The great experiment of the very critical cross-roads of the 21st century will display whether humanity unites to preserve a recognizable civilization, or whether they create a new one.