Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Methane, Nitrous Oxide, Cows & Warming

The LA Times points out the elephant in the global warming debate isn't what people do, it's what they eat. Methane and Nitrous oxide emissions emitted from livestock are greenhouse gasses with a far greater impact than that of the entire tranportation industry. Methane emissions cause 21 times the warming effect that Co2 does, and nitrous oxide's effect is 296 times that of C02. While ruminant livestock belch methane, both chemical compounds are released from the management of livestock manure pens. If you're really concerned with global warming, focusing on what we drive is a spurious strategy. You should also be concerned with volcanic eruptions, but that's another (and later) post.

So how bad are the releases from livestock operations?

"All told, livestock are responsible for 18% of greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide, according to the U.N. -- more than all the planes, trains and automobiles on the planet. And it's going to get a lot worse. As living standards rise in the developing world, so does its fondness for meat and dairy. Annual per-capita meat consumption in developing countries doubled from 31 pounds in 1980 to 62 pounds in 2002, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, which expects global meat production to more than double by 2050. That means the environmental damage of ranching would have to be cut in half just to keep emissions at their current, dangerous level."

So why isn't this getting more media play? Easy - the political influence of America's cattle and dairy lobbies, and the fact that legislating food choices is about as popular with people as former athletic directors in Lincoln. The Times seems to believe the only thing to do is eat less meat, but that's about as likely as pigs flying. Small steps could be made in waste management, but only about 20% of these emissions would be effected. It would give us more time to think of something else, which is my preferred strategy for the whole issue in the first place, if indeed the impacts of the "crisis" can be shown as such. Still, a very illuminating piece.

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