Understanding Global Climate Change

678 words | 3 page(s)

Understanding climate change today depends on understanding the nature of the various gases and man-made pollutants seen as at least partially responsible for it. There is no single “greenhouse gas” sealing the upper atmosphere and trapping heat; it is a combination of gases that creates this effect, and none is more powerful than methane. Methane is a primary component in all natural gas and an extremely strong greenhouse gas, so even small leakages into the atmosphere are important (Howarth, Santoro, & Ingraffea 680). This gas actually holds heat 23 times more effectively than carbon dioxide gas, and it is also established that approximately 60 percent of the methane currently generating climate change is produced by human activity (Samimi, Zarinabadi 1012). This is then an impact in itself. Because of its intense chemical composition and density, methane more forcefully locks in heat than other greenhouses gases, and is consequently less easy to be diffused in the atmosphere. Put another way, its atmospheric presence is long-lasting; it is estimated that methane exists for hundreds of thousands of years within the atmosphere before natural cycles eliminate it (Samimi, Zarinabadi 1013), so increased climate change is more a probability.

In terms of the natural environment, the impacts of methane are many and extreme. This is one of the six most dangerous gases known to mankind, and methane’s power in trapping heat has been directly identified with severe changes to the climate and, consequently, natural systems. With methane accelerating rising temperatures, glaciers are melting at rapid rates, which raises sea levels and decreases the salinity of the oceans. This in turn promotes violent storms and dangerous changes to natural currents such as the jet stream, long in place and essential for stabilizing the natural environment. Then, rising temperatures inevitably increase the risks of fires, as well as larger areas of the planet’s surface becoming too dry to support life (Samimi, Zarinabadi 1014). This situation is worsened by a modern turning to shale gas to supply fuels, because research supports that shale drilling and mining is responsible for severe leakages of methane, embedded in the rock, into the atmosphere (Howarth, Santoro, & Ingraffea 688). What is clear is that methane, acting in concert with other greenhouse gases, has immense and varied impacts on the natural environment, which directly influence others. For example, severe changes in sea levels generate tsunamis and storms threatening coastal regions, an impact going to both environment and human safety.

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Methane is colorless and odorless, as is carbon dioxide, and it has no real, immediate impact on human health when in relatively small doses in the air. Concentrated amounts are fatal but this is highly unusual, as most methane becomes trapped in the upper atmosphere. At the same time, it presents a danger in terms of displacing oxygen. When methane amounts are even slightly higher, humans suffer from a wide variety of negative health effects, and largely because they are denied necessary oxygen. Dizziness, fainting, and nausea may occur, just as coordination is affected. The heart beats faster to pump in more oxygen, so there is a greater risk of heart disease or attack (NYSDH). Then, methane and other greenhouses gases inevitably pollute the water supplies, which goes to agriculture and creates another threat to human health. Even as methane is not normally present in large enough doses to be fatal, it is still a deadly gas and, as rainwater brings it into the soil, the effects on human health may only be estimated. This goes to the increasing urgency within the scientific community to minimize methane emissions (Dentener et al 1751).

All of the evidence combined strongly affirms that methane, by virtue of being so powerful a greenhouse gas, poses extreme threats to humanity. This occurs through both its effect on the atmosphere and generating of artificial climate change, as well as its direct effect of displacing oxygen and polluting the natural environment necessary for human life and health.

  • Dentener, F., et al. “The impact of air pollutant and methane emission controls on tropospheric ozone and radiative forcing: CTM calculations for the period 1990-2030.” Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics 5.7 (2005): 1731-1755.
  • Howarth, Robert W., Renee Santoro, and Anthony Ingraffea. “Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations.” Climatic Change 106.4 (2011): 679-690.
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  • New York State Department of Health (NYSDH). Important Things to Know About Landfill Gas. 2014. Web. 3 Sept. 2014.
  • Samimi, Amir, and Soroush Zarinabadi. “Reduction of greenhouse gases emission and effect on environment.” Journal of American Science 8.8 (2012): 1011-1015.

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