Of all the greenhouse gases, CO2 and methane are by far the two most worrisome and have the largest concentrations in the atmosphere. Last year (2021), CO2 concentrations reached 415.7 parts per million (ppm) and methane 1908 ppm. Compared to the era before industrialization, these values amount to a 149% increase in CO2 and a 124% rise in methane.
To put things into perspective, the rise of CO2 and methane levels in the atmosphere continues to accelerate, despite our awareness and efforts towards climate change. And these gases trap heat in the atmosphere (the greenhouse effect), leading to global warming. Since 1990 till now, their warming effect on our planet has grown by almost 50%.
So what’s happening? If these greenhouse gases continue to fill up our atmosphere at an accelerating rate, it can only mean one thing: we are headed in the wrong direction. Our methods for reversing climate change are either wrong or the impact insignificant.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) enters the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels, wood, solid waste, and other organic materials, as well as some industrial processes.
On the other hand, scientists are still not sure why methane levels are increasing at such an alarming rate. But it’s believed that methane goes up when organic matter decays in wetlands and through the seepage of gas from underground deposits.
Interestingly, as the climate gets warmer, organic materials decay faster. So this is likely the cause of the acceleration in methane levels that we have seen from 2007 to 2020. During that time, global warming has significantly increased.
Now, what we have is a vicious cycle where global warming leads to an increase in methane, which in turn causes the earth to heat up further.
To curb the increase in methane levels in our atmosphere, we have to first put a stop to global warming. And to do so, we need to significantly reduce how much CO2 gets into the atmosphere.
Apparently, what the world’s nations have been doing is like a drop of water in a mighty ocean—insignificant. I sincerely hope COP27 will address this issue by implementing more impactful and stringent policies. We should go beyond mere intentions and small steps. If we must rescue our planet—our only home—we must be willing to make sacrifices. From using petrol-based cars to environmentally harmful production processes, many things may have to stop.
– By Zina Athanasiadou, Ambientalist, US.