Methane is a chemical compound that is made up of hydrogen and carbon elements. Methane is colorless, odorless and is abundant in Earth’s atmosphere relative to most other gases. Methane’s absorbs more heat than carbon dioxide and stays in the atmosphere for close to a decade. Methane is naturally occurring, and is predominantly produced by wetlands like bogs, marshes and permafrost. Oceans and methane-frozen crystals, known as methane hydrates, are also natural sources for methane emissions.

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Human Produced Methane

Human caused methane sources include fossil fuel burning, gas and factory ruminants in agriculture and from organic waste in landfills.

Fossil Fuels

Natural gases are a fossil energy source that formed deep beneath the earth’s surface over long periods of time. Natural gas contains different heat trapping compounds. Methane is one of the primary molecular components of natural gas. Methane is burned for energy and electricity to power human infrastructure, machines and transportation. When methane is burned, it produces water vapor and carbon dioxide, which both have heat trapping potentials. Both carbon dioxide and water have heat trapping potentials and worsen the problem of global warming through atmospheric changes.

Agriculture

The chief source of methane from animal agriculture farms is produced by livestock. Livestock ruminants, like cattle, buffalo, goats and deer have digestive tracts which microbes known as methanogens which metabolize the plant substances in their diets. Methanogens in ruminant animals are responsible for producing methane which is ultimately released when these animals belch. Though ruminants are of course present in naturally occurring ecosystems, they are mass-bred on factory farms. Industrial populations of ruminant animals are large and dense, which makes their methane contributions much more considerable than they would otherwise be in the wild.

Landfills

Landfill gas is the byproduct of organic materials decomposing. As bacteria from food and waste products breaks down, gases are subsequently released into the air. Landfills gases include methane, carbon dioxide, nitrogen and oxygen. Methane from landfills is of such environmental concern, the state of California has implemented a long term plan to limit the amount of waste that ends up in landfills in order to decrease its annual methane emissions; its plan is known as SB1383.

Conclusion

Humanity can not afford to rely on natural gas as a primary source of energy. If we continue to burn methane, we will upset the natural balance of natural gases in Earth’s atmosphere. Brazil, China, the Russian Federation and the United States are among the world’s leading emitters of methane, making them liable for long term global warming consequences. Unless we can change our dependence on methane and other greenhouse gases – which require dramatic economic and technological shifts, we will continue to worsen the heating impact of such natural gases.

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