Rising methane levels may be thwarting climate change efforts. A 2017 study attributes about half of the increase to cows and other ruminant livestock which produce methane as they digest food.
These animals host microbes in their stomachs, gut filling hitchhikers that help them break down and absorb the nutrients from tough-to-digest grasses. Those microbes produce methane as their waste, which wafts out of both ends of cows. The manure that cattle and other grazers produce is also a site for microbes to do their business, producing even more methane. Now consider that there are 1.4 billion cattle in the world. You can see why so much of the methane being produced is from livestock.
“Methane emissions are a big deal. About a sixth of the warming that we’ve had since the start of the Industrial Revolution has been caused by methane,” said Stanford University professor Rob Jackson, who chairs the international emission tracking organization known as the Global Carbon Project.
Methane is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a molecule of methane will cause 28-36 times more warming than a molecule of carbon dioxide over a 100-year period. Recent data shows that methane concentrations in the atmosphere have risen from about 1,775 parts per billion in 2006 to 1,850 parts per billion in 2017.
So, one way to reduce that is to just stop eating beef, right? That’s what researchers near and far believe, including Paul West at the University of Minnesota.
“As an individual, one of the biggest effects that we can have [to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture] is changing what we’re eating to eating a smaller amount of beef,” said West.
Why stop there? we ask. To have the greatest impact, we all need to cut out animal products from our diets as quickly as possible. We can’t afford to only take small steps anymore.
To learn more, see our article: Cows Gas the Planet.
Snow Road in the Italian Alps – photo by Marco Zorzanello, Time Magazine
It seems like the freezer is broken and now everything is starting to melt! At a time when we would normally expect plenty of snow and ice in northern latitudes, levels this year are at record lows. Global warming is a huge problem and raising meat is one of the biggest reasons why.
Paul McCartney has produced a new short documentary on the importance of going meat-free for just one day a week. He explained the goal in making this film, “My film, ‘One Day a Week,’ aims to raise awareness of this important issue and show people that if we all join together in this effort, we can help improve the environment, reduce the negative impacts of climate change, and even improve people’s health.”
His daughters Stella and Mary McCartney, plus actors Woody Harrelson and Emma Stone are also featured, as they narrate and share facts about how livestock agriculture impacts climate change and the environment. “Meat Free Monday encourages people to not eat meat at least one day a week with the hope that if enough people do it and the idea spreads, it will make a difference,” said McCartney.
We encourage you to share this video with friends and family.
It’s worse than we thought. A new study showed that livestock cause the emission of even more methane than previously thought. Methane is a greenhouse gas 30 times more powerful at warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Previous estimates of the global livestock industry’s methane production had been underestimating their total output, according to a new study by the Joint Global Change Research Institute. Read more
While world leaders gather in Marrakesh, Morocco, for the next major United Nations Climate Change Summit meeting, the UN World Meteorological Organization has announced global carbon dioxide levels have passed a symbolic threshold. Global average carbon dioxide levels are above 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in 3 million years.
Unfortunately, the grand strategic narratives around the Morocco conference will barely touch on one crucial aspect – meat and the massive greenhouse gas emissions that come from producing the livestock needed for it. Read more
The grand strategic narratives around the COP21 conference in Paris will barely touch on one crucial aspect – meat and the massive greenhouse gas emissions that come from producing the livestock needed for it.
The Paris talks are of vital importance, not just for climate change itself but for framing what kind of food policy follows. Why does food matter for climate change? Well, it’s a major driving factor. The UN’s own Special Rapporteur, Olivier de Schutter says it well, “There is no doubt in the scientific community that the impacts of livestock production [on climate change] are massive.” In fact, a study written by two senior economists at the World Bank showed that the livestock-meat sector of the economy is responsible for 51% of greenhouse gas emissions. But for some reason it barely gets a mention in Paris. It seems that in at least this one respect, the conference is in denial.
Don’t hold your breath for the conference to recognize this, much less use the feared “V word”. While sobering evidence like this has mounted for years, climate change policy makers have focused their attention on energy rather than food. This policy blind spot is because tackling the emissions from producing food means tackling consumers’ food choices, and they’re simply afraid.
The livestock sector’s impact on climate change has been persistently neglected – in both policy and practice – for a long time. Unlike other sectors such as waste, transport and energy, in which greenhouse gas emissions reductions have been attempted through varying means such as taxes, incentives or subsidies, the livestock sector has enjoyed an unprecedented freedom to carry on with “business as usual.”
But the environment simply can’t stand business as usual and demands courage from us all. Without tackling the problem of animal agriculture, we will not be able to solve the climate change problem.
To learn more about the meat connection to global warming, see our Global Warming Flyer.
Vegetarians may be cooler than ever, in light of another record-breaking year for global warming. With 2014 now on the books, it’s officially taken the title of hottest year on record. That ranking comes courtesy of data released Monday by the Japan Meteorological Agency, the first of four major global temperature record-keepers to release their data for last year.
The world is heating up, and meat is a prime driver, and maybe even the largest driver, behind the crisis. We have written in the past of the connection between livestock agriculture and global warming, and we have been encouraged by Vice President Al Gore becoming a vegan in recognition of that connection.
Closer to home, greenhouse gas emissions in Washington state dropped by about 4.6 percent between 2010 and 2011, led by reductions in emissions from the electricity sector, a new state report shows. However, as good as this is, it’s clear that this is still only nibbling around the edges of the problem, when we stop to consider that the World Watch Institute has determined that livestock agriculture causes 51% of greenhouse gas emissions.
A state law requires Washington to reduce overall emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, make a 25 percent cut in 1990 levels by 2035, and make even greater reductions by 2050. According to Hedia Adelsman, special assistant to the state Ecology Director, “We still need to take action. We are making a lot of progress but there’s still work to do. We need comprehensive policies to make sure we not only get to 2020 but 2035.” We agree. Comprehensive policies are needed. But that means, now more than ever, we can’t “forget about food” when it comes to global warming and other environmental problems. Offering and promoting vegetarian options in the state cafeterias, and in state-run and supported institutions, would be a great way to start.
The message is clear, the best way to keep cool in the long run is to eat and drink cool vegetarian food, for both you and the world we live in.