EDF’s new calculator shows the disastrous impact of methane pollution
It’s been a brutal summer here in Texas. Parts of the state have suffered for weeks with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees and rarely falling below 80 at night. It’s a strain on our power grid, agriculture and, most importantly, people.
It’s not just Texas of course. Excessive heat and severe flooding have claimed thousands of lives in Europe, Asia and Africa. Increasingly destructive heat, fires, hurricanes and droughts are all linked to climate pollution, including methane emissions.
But how much warming, exactly, is methane contributing? It is difficult to quantify because this powerful gas has a short lifespan. The EPA has a good tool to calculate the climate impact of various greenhouse gases, including methane, but it only shows the impact over a long-term period – 100 years – and this may understate the short-term warming potential of methane .
The Biden administration’s decision to reinstate and strengthen methane emission rules, coupled with the global methane commitment from COP26, has put methane in the spotlight. But many are unaware of its power and the potential benefits we could achieve by reducing methane emissions. If we don’t recognize the scale of the methane problem, we could miss a critical opportunity to avert the worst heat waves and other climate disasters in the future.
This is why EDF has developed a new calculator which converts abstract greenhouse gas emissions figures into equivalent activities of our daily lives to make the data more meaningful.
Translating methane leaks into daily activities
Our calculator shows how different species of greenhouse gases warm the planet, as these individual impacts can vary greatly over time. Although we know that all greenhouse gases behave differently, scientists have historically measured them with the same rubric, comparing them to long-lived carbon dioxide over a 100-year period. This metric – while simple to apply – masks the much more powerful, but shorter-lived effects of some other greenhouse gases like methane.
Our new tool translates emissions into everyday activities, such as driving cars, consuming beef or charging smartphones. It also allows users to see the impacts of these emissions from the year they were released up to 100 years into the future.
Our calculator shows how short-lived greenhouse gases like methane generate a lot of short-term warming, but their impact relative to carbon dioxide diminishes over decades. This provides a more complete picture that reflects the nuances of short-lived gases. It also means that reducing emissions of short-lived gases can quickly slow warming. Studies show that the reduction of methane from oil and gas operations, agriculture and other sources such as a lot and like quick possible could slow the rate of warming by 30% over the next two decades.
Taking action can have immediate effects
Understanding the critical differences between short and long-lived gases can help us develop policies that will have profound impacts – both in the long term and more immediately. This idea has led the United States, Europe and countries around the world to focus on methane emissions
We have a variety of solutions available to you. Limiting methane leaks from oil and gas operations, for example, will both reduce pollution and save product. It’s approachable and immediately impactful.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), between 50 and 80 percent of methane emissions from oil and gas could be eliminated at relatively low cost using technologies and practices that already exist.
We are already experiencing dramatic impacts from global warming in the form of stronger storms, more intense heat waves, and larger and more destructive wildfires. If we really want to see improvement, both today and for future generations, we need to act now on gases like methane.