There are many easy ways that you can help reduce your methane emissions and your impact on global warming – the best being to go plant-based.

When we talk about greenhouse gas emissions, we generally refer to carbon dioxide (CO2) – the most dominant greenhouse gas produced by the burning of fossil fuels. But Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas and is mostly emitted by cows.

What is methane?

Methane (CH4) is the second most influential gas in the atmosphere after carbon dioxide. It is present in smaller amounts than carbon dioxide, but it is a much more potent greenhouse gas. Methane also plays a role in lower-level ozone formation, which causes photochemical smog.

How does methane end up in our atmosphere?

According to the International Energy Association, agriculture was the number one contributor to anthropogenic global methane emissions in 2020, followed by fossil fuels. Food and material waste is the third most prominent source of methane emissions (“Methane Tracker 2020 – Analysis”). The agricultural industry is responsible for 9% of total greenhouse gas emissions globally and 10% in the United States. However, most of these emissions are methane emissions (“Sources Of Greenhouse Gas Emissions”).

The methane emitted from agriculture has a lesser impact on the atmosphere than agricultural methane. This is due to the biogenic carbon cycle. When the livestock emits methane, it stays in the atmosphere for 9-12 years before being broken down into carbon dioxide and methane. After decomposing into carbon dioxide, plants absorb the carbon dioxide and convert it to energy. This is the biogenic carbon cycle.

In the biogenic methane cycle, there is no carbon being gained or lost. No net gain or loss of carbon over time is carbon neutral; all of the carbon emitted will be sequestered by vegetation. However, just because biogenic methane is carbon neutral does not mean that it does not impact the climate (“Methane Tracker 2020 – Analysis”).

While methane is in the atmosphere, it warms the atmosphere 86-88 times faster than carbon dioxide per 20 years (“Understanding Global Warming Potentials”). In a climate crisis, the rate at which methane warms the atmosphere is a major concern. Although agriculture releases more methane into the atmosphere, it is less impactful from the methane released from fossil fuels, which has a greater long-term impact. Nevertheless, we should be concerned about all methane sources given its high global warming potential.

So what can you do help?

Fortunately, there are many easy ways that you can help reduce your methane emissions and your impact on global warming.

Choose public and sustainable transportation
Fossil fuels are the number one source of methane emissions. Furthermore, the methane emitted by fossil fuels breaks down into carbon dioxide (NASA). Unlike the carbon dioxide released from plants and animals, this carbon dioxide will remain in the atmosphere for up to 1000 years before breaking down.

Reducing fossil fuel consumption is not an option for everyone. Many people could carpool on occasion, bike, or take public transportation instead of driving.

For long-distance travel, consider using a bus service like Greyhound, Flixbus, or Amtrak instead of taking a car or using air travel if possible. Flixbus is affordable and is often cheaper than driving.

Choose plant-based options
Given that the animal agriculture industry is the largest source of anthropogenic methane emissions, reducing meat consumption is an easy way to reduce your methane footprint (Eshel 11998). Even if you only reduce your meat consumption by half, it still would have a significant impact. You have the power to initiate change in your diet. Additionally, eating more whole plant foods naturally reduces your fossil fuel emissions. It takes more fossil fuels to produce processed foods.

Reducing meat consumption also reduces greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels. To produce meat, crops such as corn, soybeans, and various grains are grown locally and internationally for animal feed. They are then shipped to the factory farm. The animals are then shipped to the slaughterhouse and further processed. Eating the plants themselves reduces the extra steps in this process and reduces overall fossil fuel consumption.

If you are not ready to give up meat entirely, a great way to start is by cutting out beef. The beef industry utilizes 88% of all of the land allocated to food production in the United States. (Eshel 11998). Cattle also produce the highest methane emissions per kilogram of bodyweight compared to other livestock animals.

Furthermore, studies in the past few years indicate that the methane released from animal agriculture has been underestimated. The revised data suggests that “manure management CH4 (methane) emissions for (the) year 2011 in the US were 71.8% higher than IPCC-based estimates” (Wolf 21) derived from a bottom-up approach.

Luckily there has been an increase in the availability of affordable plant-based alternatives in supermarkets over the past few years. The Plant-Based Network has a wide range of recipe ideas and resources to help you choose plant-based options.

Reduce your food waste
Food waste is the third largest source of anthropogenic methane emissions. Currently, both the United States and Europe waste up to 40% of the food produced (“Wasted: How America Is Losing Up To 40 Percent Of Its Food From Farm To Fork To Landfill.”).

This number is higher if one considers the amount of food it takes to produce meat and dairy products. When considering that 88% of all agricultural land is allocated to beef, the potential for this statistic is much higher (Eshel 11998). Most of the crops produced globally are used as livestock feed.

Luckily, some cities are implementing biodigesters to combat the food waste dilemma. Anaerobic digesters are sealed, dark environments designed to maximize rates of food waste decomposition. When the food waste decomposes, it releases methane, which is then burned as a source of renewable energy. Biodigesters do not release any more greenhouse gasses than would otherwise be released; they simply accelerate the decomposition process in a place where we can collect the methane gas and use it for energy rather than allowing it to be released into the atmosphere (“Biogas: Converting Waste to Energy”).

Unfortunately, not every location has a biodigester, which is why everyone should try to do their part in reducing their food waste. One easy way to do this is to keep track of the foods that you normally end up throwing away. Try buying less of these foods, freeze them, or share with a friend.

Buy local
Shipping foods across the country or the globe is normal, but transporting food over a long distance also causes significantly more emissions than buying from local farms when possible. Buying from the farmers’ market not only helps support the local community but also helps eliminate unnecessary carbon emissions from long-distance transportation.

Avoid purchasing things that you don’t need
So many of us have been caught up in a culture that tells us to continuously buy more. When was the last time that you saw an advertisement telling you to buy less? One of the most important areas that you can easily make an impact is by thrifting.

Buying second-hand is an effective way to reduce your fossil fuel consumption. Buying second-hand clothing instead of shopping for new clothing is an excellent and easy way to start. There is a growing number of online second-hand clothing platforms, such as thredUP and Poshmark.

Finally, do what you can
Not all resources are feasible to everyone in every location. Even if you only choose to work on one thing on this list at a time, it will still make a difference.

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