One of my greatest mistakes as a Climate communicator, I’ve long believed, has been failing to convey the threats posed by methane, the second most harmful greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide. Despite the efforts of many people over many years to emphasise the dangers of methane, carbon remains our go-to shorthand for Climate pollution. That’s why businesses and politicians brag about how much they’ve cut carbon emissions, but if they did it by switching to natural gas instead of coal, their overall contribution to global warming has barely changed.
Methane appears to be finally getting its day in the sun. One thing to remember about methane (CH4) is that it doesn’t last nearly as long as CO2 in the atmosphere: its life cycle is measured in decades, not millennia. While methane retains a lot of heat in the atmosphere, reducing the amount of CH4 in the atmosphere would be a rapid fix that would help reduce the increase of global temperatures and give us more time to work on the carbon problem.
According to Rob Jackson of Stanford University, the best estimate is that methane contributed roughly a third of the global warming we’ve observed in the last decade, not far behind CO2. Of course, the first step in lowering methane levels in the atmosphere is to stop building anything new that is connected to gas: stop installing gas cooktops and furnaces, and replace them with electric appliances. Also, instead of developing new gas-fired power facilities, solar, wind, and battery electricity should be used.
As a new research by renowned energy experts Bob Howarth and Mark Jacobson underlines, don’t use natural gas to make hydrogen, even if you’re capturing the carbon emissions. This so-called “blue hydrogen,” which is popular with oil and gas firms and was included in the bipartisan infrastructure package, does not reduce global warming emissions, owing to the methane that is released during the process.