Methane is part of the natural flow of gases between the Earth and the atmosphere.

Landscapes like wetlands release methane and the atmosphere absorbs it until it dissolves. This creates a balance with a lot of extra capacity.

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But our human activity also adds methane into the air [use the slider].

The three biggest sources are ruminants, rice fields and fossil fuel production.

This means there is slightly more methane entering the atmosphere than disappearing.

Remember a giraffe breaking down plants with bacteria? That process is called fermentation, which means carbohydrates are broken down without oxygen. In a wetland there is very little oxygen because everything is covered with water. So when old plants start to rot it happens through fermentation and creates methane.

Our global wetlands include the polders of Holland. That is why drying them up to create pasture for cows is double trouble, and why the Netherlands' methane emissions are very high.

How much of a problem is that extra methane? Let's find out.


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If the atmosphere is a party, C02 brings all its friends and none of them want to leave even when you turn on the lights.

Co2 and CH4

Methane, on the other hand, shows up by itself and leaves before midnight. But in those few hours it goes completely crazy.


The global warming potential of methane is 28 times higher than C02.

28 or 82?

The question of how much stronger than CO2 methane is, depends on how urgent you think the problem is.

The way scientists calculate the global warming potential of a gas is by comparing it to the effect of carbon dioxide over a period of 100 years.

But methane only lives for 12 years, so they take the effect of that time and spread it out over 100 years. The number you then get is 28 times stronger. But if you take a shorter timeframe of 20 years, it's 82 times stronger.

Maybe you've seen somewhere that we until 2030 to take serious action. In that timeframe, methane is a big problem.

This is both bad and good news.

Bad news

If we continue like the past 30 years, knowing that climate change exists but not reducing emissions, methane is the gas that could fry the planet and kill us.

Good news

Feedback loops = Game over

A LOT of methane is stored in frozen wetlands, which is better known as permafrost. One of the scariest things in climate change is what happens when the permafrost starts melting.

This would release so much methane that the temperature increases very fast.

This creates a feedback loop that warms up other sinks of methane. Once the Ocean warms up enough to release the methane from the Ocean bottom, it is pretty much game over.

feedback loops

From the fantastic book 'Eerste Hulp bij Klimaatverandering' by Anabella Meijer

Overall, methane is a smaller problem than CO2, but reducing methane will give us valuable time to prevent a disaster while we build a carbon-neutral society.

There are various ways to reduce methane emissions and we have to look at all of them.

Methane is one of the reasons lamb and beef always lead the charts of unsustainable food.

beef chart

That is why eating less beef and lamb (ruminant meat) is such an important first step.