Climate change is pulling the sea ice out from under polar bears’ feet, forcing them to swim longer distances to find food and habitat. Long-distance swimming puts polar bears at risk of drowning due to fatigue or rough seas.
A report published by the World Watch Institute in 2009 revealed that greenhouse gases produced by livestock comprise 51 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Methane gas, the gas produced most fervently by livestock, traps 100 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide within a 5 year period, and 72 times more within a 20 year period. The good news is that methane also leaves the atmosphere within a decade, whereas carbon dioxide takes several decades or even centuries. This means that a drastic shift away from raising livestock offers a very real hope that we can curb global warming.
*Watches as all of the meat-eating “environmentalists” pull out every “argument” in the book to defend their animal-consuming ways*
I’m a scientist that studies livestock and agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. Nothing gets under my skin more than irresponsible reporting on these issues, because they are DAMNED important. But more than anything… WHEN PEOPLE CITE SOURCES THAT HAVE NO SCIENTIFIC BASIS.
I am not familiar with World Watch. I have never heard of them. The ‘report’ cited does not have any references to scientific literature or provide any indication where they are getting their numbers from. You want a valid, easy to read report that is backed by hundreds of dedicated experts and scientists the globe over?
You go with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They provide all of their documentation for free online. The 5th assessment will be released at the end of October 2014. They also provide guides for policy makers and executive summaries, so you don’t have to comb through all the gory scientific jargon. Their reports are the work of hundreds of scientists that are the top in their fields.
But given this is my jam, let me provide you with a few tidbits of information. Because this post is wrong. Greenhouse gases, especially in agriculture, are a complicated issue.
1. Methane is about 34x more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Not 100.
2.You know the gas more potent than methane? Nitrous oxide (and accompanying derivatives, nitrogen is complicated), which is almost 300x more potent than methane. It is produced as a result of a variety of different processes relating to the production, use, and application of nitrogen fertilizers in agriculture.
If you want to know more about methane and nitrous oxide, let me know and I will post more on them!
3. Livestock are not the enemy, our production systems are. So is the amount we eat. In many cases, livestock graze lands that are not suitable for cropland. And in some cases, their ranging techniques are done in such a way as to promote and protect endangered plant species. Did you know that livestock are vital to organic farming systems because of their ability to recycle nutrients on farm, and how vital manure is as a fertilizer for them?
What is needed is a change to how farming is done in the western world, because right now, neither livestock production OR cropping is sustainable. They need greater integration with good crop rotation (that makes use of biological nitrogen fixation) to make use of how livestock benefit nutrient cycling while providing a high protein food source.
4. Agriculture does not account for half of the world’s greenhouse gases. This is what bothered me most of all. Agriculture accounts for approx. 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions:
Source: EPA 2010. A great link and summary of the global greenhouse gas status.
In the end, the greenhouse gas problem is such a huge one. But really, so much of it comes down to fossil fuel usage. People need to eat, and there are 7 billion people plus in the world. Livestock is not perfect, but neither are cropping systems in exclusion of one another. How we do agriculture right now is not sustainable, no matter what we’re growing. That is what needs to change. As do many other things (cough fossil fuelds) with how we live right now.
And please! Question the credibility of everything you read, make sure it has sources, check the sources. Including this one! There is a lot said without anything to back it up.
More reading if you’re interested:
Solutions for a cultivated planet by Foley et al. available from Nature.
Livestock’s Long Shadow — a long one, a joint report with good citation. Approaching the problem of the impact that livestock has. Secondary links within to parts of the report.