Image for Is the Methane time bomb about to be released?

*Satire: Leunig, http://www.leunig.com.au/ used with permission ...

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Global warming through our excessive use of fossil fuels is undeniably before us. Whilst drastic measures around some parts of the globe are being undertaken to lessen the amount of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, the big threat to temperature rising in the near future will be the release of the earth’s stored methane deposits.

While carbon dioxide CO2 is typically painted as the bad boy of greenhouse gases, methane CH4 is roughly 25+ times more potent as a heat-trapping gas. Some estimates claim it is three times that. Either figure is a serious concern regarding the containment of the Earth’s temperature this century at below several degree increase.

Research indicates that for each degree that the Earth’s temperature rises, the amount of methane entering the atmosphere from microorganisms dwelling in lake sediment and freshwater wetlands will increase several times.

Methane is naturally produced and released into the atmosphere from wetlands, termites and oceans.

Human produced methane is through fossil fuel production and use, livestock faming, landfill waste, biomass burning, rice agriculture, and biofuels.

Humans are creating methane emissions a lot faster than the earth can remove them. During the last 800,000 years, methane concentrations have always varied between 350-800 ppb, though since the industrial revolution, methane levels have become significantly higher.

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The Arctic time bomb

Locked into the frozen soils of the Northern Hemisphere’s high latitudes are vast stockpiles of carbon compounds. These compounds when they become unfrozen breakdown in an organic environment that releases methane.

An estimated 1.4 to 1.8 trillion tons of carbon and methane is believed to be resting in the Arctic permafrost. This is many decade’s worth of today’s human-generated greenhouse emissions. If it stays frozen it is fine, but if it thaws, it can start to decompose as bacteria unlocks those compounds, and adds them to an atmosphere already warming up due to heat-trapping emissions.

A swift, massive release of methane is one of the nightmare scenarios for dramatic climate change.

Presently the anthropogenic CO2 emissions are of significant concern, yet a sudden surge of methane into the atmosphere would be catastrophic by likely raising the global temperature several degrees this century alone.

There will no turning back once this methane is released!

Are cows to blame for global warming?
An average cow releases between 70 and 120 kg of methane per year.  So the release of 100 kg methane per year for each cow is equivalent to about 2,500+ kg of CO2 per year.

World-wide, there are about 1.5 billion cows and bulls, which contributes billions of metric tons of CO2 equivalents per year. In addition, clearing of tropical forests and rain forests to get more grazing land and farmland is responsible for an extra 2.8 billion metric tons of CO2 emission per year.

Livestock now uses 30% of the earth’s entire land surface, mostly permanent pasture but also including 33% of the global arable land used to producing feed for livestock. Forests are being increasingly cleared to create new pastures.  This is a major driver of deforestation world wide, especially in Latin America where huge expanses of forests in the Amazon have been turned over to grazing.

In Australia, Queensland continues to permit forest land-clearance for livestock at an alarming rate!

Global meat production is projected to more than double from 229 million tonnes in 2001 to 465 million tonnes in 2050, while milk output is set to climb from 580 to 1043 million tonnes.

A Japanese study showed that producing a kilogram of beef leads to the emission of greenhouse gases with a global warming potential equivalent to 36.4 kilograms of CO2. It also releases fertilising compounds equivalent to 340 grams of sulphur dioxide and 59 grams of phosphate, and consumes 169 megajoules of energy.

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One of the most effective ways to reduce our personal carbon footprint and to generally reduce our personal negative impact on the environment is to eat much less meat and dairy products.

“Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet”.  Albert Einstein.

Ted Mead has not eaten red meat since he was in his late teens. This has not always been based on ethics towards his personal carbon footprint, though in recent years he has acknowledged the need to reduce any forms of greenhouse emissions. Ted believes the entire world population through unsustainable resources will soon have to address their dependence on meat as a prime food source.