Optimism found in talk about methane
February 16, 2022
It’s hard to be optimistic about the world these days, but I still try.
A rise in nationalism is not only ripping into the fabric of democracies, it’s making a global effort to save our earth seem impossible. Nevertheless, my belief in humanity’s problem-solving abilities was restored the other day when I ran across a TED Talk featuring Dr. Ilissa Ocko, a climate scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund who spoke on how we can mitigate climate change by tackling methane first.
According to Ocko, “Cutting methane is the single fastest, most effective opportunity to immediately slow down the rate of warming” — thereby buying us time to reduce the carbon dioxide we’re releasing into the atmosphere in much, much higher volumes.
Ocko isn’t some voice in the wilderness; search online for “methane capture to offset global warming” and countless articles supporting her premise turn up; search again for “methane capture WILL NOT offset global warming” and the legitimacy of Ocko’s words is reinforced. In other words, Ocko is advocating a factually sound approach and we should listen to what she and other scientists have to say about it.
According to Ocko, 99% of all the climate-warming gases emitted into the atmosphere is carbon dioxide (CO2), while the remaining 1% is mainly methane. But because of methane’s mass and molecular structure, it “could cause more warming over the next 10 years than all that CO2,” she says.
Long-term, CO2 is the biggest problem because it lingers for years in the atmosphere. But methane builds up and dissipates faster — so if we cut methane now, “we can reduce a lot of warming right away,” Ocko says.
And we have the technologies to cut methane emissions right now, she adds.
The methane being released into the atmosphere mostly comes from three sources: production of fossil fuels for energy consumption; managing our human garbage and waste; and raising livestock and other agricultural practices.
In fossil fuel energy production, methane is a biproduct and leakage is a major reason for its escape into the atmosphere. Plug those leaks and there will be far less methane released — at “no net cost because the saved (methane) gas can be sold” and used in eco-friendly ways, Ocko says.
Moreover, satellites can now locate and measure methane emissions from space, so finding those leaks is getting easier every day.
As for waste management, in which methane is produced through the decomposition of garbage and waste, “We can suck up the methane from landfills by using tubes with vacuums” — which can then be used to generate electricity. We can also divert our food waste into composting centers to further contain the methane output.
Farming and ranching remains the largest methane producer and is the toughest to address, Ocko says, although “there are exciting new technologies on the horizon.” Cattle belch methane in astonishing amounts, and feed supplements are being developed to reduce their “emissions” while rice production in flooded fields creates ideal conditions for microbes to turn into methane, something that can be reduced by maintaining more shallow levels of water covering the rice fields.
“This is the methane moment,” Ocko says in concluding her talk, “because cutting methane is the single fastest, most effective opportunity to reduce climate change risks in the near term. And cutting CO2, which will otherwise build up over time, is the key to reducing risks in the long term.
“We need to do both to plot a safer course for ourselves and our children and for generations to come.”
Tom McDonald is editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange. Contact him at: