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Posts Tagged ‘methane’

A coalition is petitioning the Environmental Protection Agency to list emissions from CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations aka Factory Farms) under the Clean Air Act such that steps can be taken to begin regulating CAFOs.

The organizations include:  Humane Society of the United States, Association of Irritated Residents, Center on Race Poverty and the Environment, Clean Air Task Force, Dairy Education Alliance, El Comité para el Bienestar de Earlimart, Environmental Integrity Project, Friends of the Earth and Waterkeeper Alliance.

The 69-page petition provides detailed scientific and legal information about the significant emissions of methane and nitrous oxide—two greenhouse gases—as well as hydrogen sulfide and ammonia from factory farms, and how all of these pollutants have been shown to have negative effects on human health and welfare, including adverse effects on climate and the environment in the United States.

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Quotes:

“Unregulated air pollution from massive factory farms has a devastating impact on human health and the environment,” says Jonathan Lovvorn, vice president and chief counsel for Animal Protection Litigation and Research at The HSUS. “The EPA should hold these big agribusiness corporations accountable for the enormous harm they are inflicting on local communities, independent family farmers, and the environment.”

Our lungs and the future of our planet are not animal factory subsidies,” said Tom Fratz, president of the Association of Irritated Residents and a resident of the San Joaquin Valley, an air basin in California with more than 2.6 million dairy cows. “President Obama promised us during the election that he would protect rural residents from this pollution and we expect EPA to keep that promise.”

Hog lots and other factory farms aren’t just stinky, they’re also destabilizing our climate,” said Kate McMahon of Friends of the Earth. “The EPA has a legal obligation to protect the public by cracking down on this economic and public health threat – a threat that has yet to be addressed by climate legislation pending in Congress.”

The people who live in the communities devastated by unregulated air pollution from animal factories deserve protection” said Charlie Tebbutt of the Western Environmental Law Center and co-chair of the Dairy Education Alliance. “Implementing this petition will get animal factories into the Clean Air Act process and give communities better opportunities to protect themselves.”

Through global warming and deposition, the toxic emissions from industrial animal operations have profoundly impacted our water resources” said Hannah Connor of Waterkeeper Alliance. “By actively regulating the emissions from this industry, EPA will be taking a positive step towards protecting and enhancing not only the quality of our Nation’s air resources, but also the quality of our Nation’s water resources, and the public health and welfare of our communities.”

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updatePlease join the campaign!

Bill S. 527 gives a free pass for factory farms to pollute the air with CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide without regulation!

Farm Sanctuary has setup a form to write to your representative in Congress to vote NO on S. 527.  Please take a few minutes to voice your opposition to S. 527 to your network and Congressional representatives!

Bill S. 527 specifically includes the following text:

CERTAIN EMISSIONS FROM AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION- No permit shall be issued under a permit program under this title for any carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, water vapor, or methane emissions resulting from biological processes associated with livestock production.

Keep on the lookout for a petition soon.  Here is my personal response:

Please oppose Bill S. 527, which exempts livestock production from the Clean Air Act!

According to a 2006 UN FAO report – 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions are due to livestock.  This is more than the emissions from all the cars and planes in the world combined!

As global meat consumption is predicted to double by 2050, we must take significant measures to minimize livestock production, and its impact.

In addition – the UN FAO report states animal agriculture is responsible for 37% of anthropogenic methane emissions (20 times more powerful than CO2) and 65% of all nitrous oxide (296 times).

In light of the rising dangers of global climate change, the expansion of factory farming must not be left unregulated.

These farms should be expected to INVEST in better farming practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, like every other industrial sector.

Thank you.

More…

NY Times:  Senators Have Beef with ‘Cow Tax’

Grist: The ‘cow tax’: not now, maybe not ever

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notfunny

WSJ Video:  Watch how methane is measured : Gassy Sheep Add to Global Warming

Have you heard that cow farts are causing global warming?

Actually, most of the methane emissions from cows and other livestock aren’t from flatulence or farts.  They’re from burping.  About 98 per cent of the methane from a cow is emitted through its mouth. (source:  Kebreab, Journal of Animal Science. 

In fact, the average grain-fed dairy cow belches out about 500 litres of methane each day,  compared to about 600-700 litres a day per grass-fed cow, due to their unique enteric fermentation digestive process. (source:  Ermias Kebreab of the National Centre for Livestock and the Environment).  In total, livestock’s total gas emissions include 37% of all methane (20 times more powerful than CO2) and 65% of all nitrous oxide (296 times).  Yes it’s much funnier to talk about farting than burping/belching.  It certainly raises more eyebrows, which explains why many of the headlines on cattle methane go for the “farting to blame for global warming” angle instead, despite its inaccuracy.

The answers to the commonly asked questions below will help dispel the inevitable joke/comment on our gassy footprint.

How many livestock are there?

  • In 2007, at any given time, there were approximately 1.3 billion cattle, 1 billion sheep, 1 billion pigs, 800 million goats and 17 billion chicken (UN FAO).  This means – one cattle for every five people, one sheep for every six, one goat for every eight, and 2.5 chickens for every person.
  • 10 billion animals are raised and slaughtered each year in the USA (30 animals for each American)

How much do livestock eat?

  • Each day, a cow eats about 20 pounds of grain, 40 – 60 pounds of ensilage, 30 pounds of hay and drinks about 15 – 25 gallons of water

Do they poop a lot?

  • Animals raised for food produce 1.4 billion metric tons of manure, which is 130 times more excrement than the entire human population put together, for a total of 87,000 pounds per second.

When one looks at the number of animals which are eaten, and the amount of crops and energy that are required to feed them, it becomes increasingly clear that we must define the problem as rising meat consumption, not the cows themselves.  According to the UN FAO, annual global meat production is projected to more than double from 229 million tons in 2000 to 465 million tons in 2050.

It’s important to understand that methane emissions from livestock are only one part of the “meat footprint”.  The emissions from the meat production process includes many other steps which generates high levels CO2.

Some of the ways which the animal agriculture industry generates its CO2 emissions include:  the clearing forests for cattle grazing or planting feed (Brazilian Amazon especially), slaughtering livestock in factories, and transporting, storing and packaging the meat.    So please don’t let anyone keep you from holding in farts (it’s bad for you) or keep you from enjoying beans.

Correction:  A previous version cited that the average dairy cow belches out about 100 to 200 liters of methane each day, according to Michael Abberton, a scientist at the UK-based Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research.   Guess you can average it out.

picture source

But whether it’s farting or burping, it’s given plenty of ammunition for global warming skeptics to make light of global warming, and the research & policies that are proposed to address animal agriculture’s impact.

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If you read the comments from articles about the impact of meat on global warming, it’s likely you’ll encounter arguments against vegetarianism, especially if the word “vegetarian” or “vegan” is in the title.

These arguments tend to be not only misguided but irrelevant as they shift the focus of the debate from “Should I reduce my meat intake to help stop global warming?” (the question we should all be asking ourselves) to “Should I be a vegetarian?” (the question you ask yourself after you try it out for a bit)

Take this example of a popular “Have your say” discussion from the BBC which asks the question, “Should we eat less meat to help the environment? (with a staggering 2281 comments)”

People who are Vegetarians do so voluntarily. No one forces them to eat meat, or give up their chosen diets no matter how unnatural they are. Why, then, must they try to force the rest of us to live their chosen lifestyle? Surely, they must realize that they are in the vast minority and eventually there will be a backlash against them & their totalitarian methods by the silent majority? They & the weak-willed politicians that give in to them, had better be careful of just how far they push us.

David Zimlin, Dunedin, Florida, United States

But you’ll also encounter gems like this one..

I was at the lecture. Dr Pachauri spoke in a personal capacity only and as a previous (omnivore).  His figures come from transparent, international organisations and they are clear. If we took 1 meat free day each per week it would reduce CO2 emissions = 5 MILLION cars being taken off the road.  The panel ALSO referred to subsidies of grain and welfare.  If you want to carry on, selfishly and as usual feel free, but please go and discover another planet to ruin. I want to look after this one.

[inmyshoes], United Kingdom

As the last commenter shows, you don’t have to be a vegetarian or vegan to talk about it – or to blog or twitter excessively about it.  I’ll admit it.  I’m not 100% vegetarian.  I’m currently maybe 90% vegetarian (I eat a little seafood, and eat a little dairy).

Some might suggest this makes me a hypocrite,  and might argue that advocating for a more meat-less diet must mean that I must also have a 100% meat-less diet.

But the numbers speak for themselves:

  • If the average American were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent, that would be the equivalent of switching from driving a Camry to a Prius. (source:  Eshel, University of Chicago)
  • Beef production generates more than 13 times the total greenhouse gases from producing chicken. (source:  Fiala, Ecological Economics, picture)
  • $20 trillion would be saved from the cost of fighting climate change if the global population shifted to a low-meat diet – defined as 70 grams of beef and 325 grams of chicken and eggs per week. (source:  Stehfest, Climatic Change)

More:  10 WTF Statistics on Meat and Global Warming

In my opinion, a small reduction in meat consumption (especially beef) from a lot of people is a relatively affordable and easy thing to do.  Compare it to the efficiency and ease of green options such as biking to work or school, buying a Prius or installing solar panels (which are all great ideas).  Eating lower on the food chain is the simplest and most “bang for your buck” green thing to do.

But the question of whether one should be 100% vegetarian or vegan is something to be answered with time… as it requires more effort, discipline, and practice.

If you don’t think you can be vegetarian for one day, why not try out the model of NY Times Food Writer, Mark Bittman, who is vegan until 6pm.

Perhaps we all just need more frequent reminders that global warming is an imminent danger and very real.  Afterall, it is why I blog about it and how I contribute to fighting it.

MSNBC’s “Countdown to Doomsday” explains the risk of thawing frozen methane:

More on methane deposits in the future…

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10 shocking statistics on meat and global warming.

1. If every American (300 million) gave up meat for 1 day a week, this would have the same positive effect on reducing greenhouse gases as saving 90 million plane tickets from New York to Los Angeles! (source:  Meat the Truth documentary, see video clip) [1]

2. If every American gave up meat for 2 days of the week, this would have the same effect as replacing all household appliances like fridges, freezers, microwave ovens, dishwashers, washing machines, tumble dryers and so on and so forth, by energy efficient ones. (source: Meat the Truth documentary)

3. If all Americans gave up meat for 3 days a week, they would save almost 300 megatons of greenhouse gas emissions. This would have a greater impact on reducing global warming than if all cars in the US were replaced with Toyota Priuses. (source: Meat the Truth documentary)

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4. Livestock production produces more greenhouse gases (18%) than all forms of transportation (cars + airplanes) combined.  (source:  UN Food and Agriculture Organization)

5. If the average American were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent, that would be the equivalent of switching from driving a Camry to a Prius. (source:  Eshel, University of Chicago)

6. $20 trillion would be saved from the cost of fighting climate change if the global population shifted to a low-meat diet – defined as 70 grams of beef and 325 grams of chicken and eggs per week. (source:  Stehfest, Climatic Change)

7. Beef production generates more than 13 times the total greenhouse gases from producing chicken. (source:  Fiala, Ecological Economics, picture)

Chicken Close Up

8. Animals raised for food produce 1.4 billion metric tons of manure, which is 130 times more excrement than the entire human population put together, for a total of 87,000 pounds per second.

This contributes to livestock’s total gas emissions which include 37% of all methane (20 times more powerful than CO2) and 65% of all nitrous oxide (296 times). (source:  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

9. 70 – 80% of deforested land in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest is occupied by farmers who use the land for livestock feed and grazing.   The rainforests are a natural defense against global warming, by converting CO2 into oxygen.  Brazil is the world’s 4th largest climate polluter, as 75% of greenhouse gas emissions are from deforestation  (source:  Mato Grosso, Greenpeace Brazil, video).

10. The impact of livestock on global warming is rapidly increasing. Annual global meat production is projected to more than double from 229 million tons in 2000 to 465 million tons in 2050  (source:  UN Food and Agriculture Organization).

* The calculations used in the documentary “Meat the Truth” derive from and have been validated by many sources including the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the UN FAO and the World Watch Institute.  It was produced under the consultation of many scientific institutions, which can be viewed on its website:  http://www.meatthetruth.nl/en/about-the-film/meat-the-truth-sources/

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cows

This is a useful post for illustrating meat’s carbon footprint to different people.  Do you like exotic food?  Know a Prius or SUV owner?  Don’t plan on going veg anytime soon?  There’s something for everyone. Hopefully, at least one of these ten studies will help you or someone you know to consider eating less meat.

1.  Livestock’s Longshadow

This is probably the most cited and comprehensive study on the impact of meat on global warming and the environment.  Estimated that livestock produces 18% of all greenhouse gases, more than all forms of transportation combined.  Summary:  Spotlight: Livestock impacts on the environment

Steinfeld et all., United Nations, Food and Agricultural Organization, 2006.

For those who just want to hear it from a “legitimate source”.

2.  Diet, Energy and Global Warming (pdf)(view as html)

One of the first major studies on this subject, which concluded choosing a vegan diet reduced more greenhouse gases than switching from a SUV to a prius.  Summary:  Vegan Diets Healthier for Planet, People than Meat Diets

Gidon Eshel and Martin, University of Chicago,  December 2005.

For the veg-curious and hybrid or SUV owners.

3.   Kangaroos and Greenhouse Gases

Concluded switching from beef to kangaroo meat would significantly help fight global warming.

Articles about this subject are surprisingly popular.  Though I don’t think I would touch kangaroo meat, many people seem curious about this new alternative.  To me, this is fine.  It brings a lot of awareness to the impact of livestock on global warming, which is the most important thing.  Apparently, about 58% of Australians eat kangaroo meat.  Summary:  Kangaroo Farming would Cut Greenhouse Gases

To start conversations with exotic food lovers, cute Australians, global warming skeptics, and maybe animal rights activists.

George Wilson, University of New South Wales (May 2008)

4.  Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States

Concluded that reducing meat consumption will more effectively lower one’s carbon footprint than “buying local”.  Summary:  It’s the Meat Not the Miles

Christopher L. Weber and H. Scott Matthews, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Department of Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon Universit(April 2008).

For locavores and the “just buy local or organic” discussions.

5.  Climate Friendly Dining Meats

A look at the individual carbon footprints of beef, pork, chicken and fish.  Beef accounts for only 30% of all meat consumption, but contributes 78% of meat’s greenhouse gas emissions.  AFP summary:  Hamburgers are the Hummers of Food in Global Warming.

American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting, Chicago (Feb. 15).

For the everyday meat eater.

6.  The Cheeseburger Footprint

Concludes: “The greenhouse gas emissions arising every year from the production and consumption of cheeseburgers is roughly the amount emitted by 6.5 million to 19.6 million SUVs.  There are now approximately 16 million SUVs currently on the road in the US. ”  Total Cheeseburgers = Total SUVs?

Jamais Cascio, ref: Energy Use in the Food Sector (PDF), a 2000 report from Stockholm University and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, (Dec. 2006).

To help cheeseburger-eating, frequent SUV drivers feel even more guilty.

7.  Climate Benefits of Changing Diet

Concluded that if the world shifted to a low-meat diet, the world could cut $20 trillion off the cost of fighting global warming (that’s $20,000,000,000,000).  Summary:  Eating less meat could cut climate costs

Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, Earth System Science and Climate Change Group, Wageningen University Research Centre, February 2009.

For any discussion about the dismal state of the world economy or stimulus packages.

8.  Global Environmental Costs of Beef Production

A well-cited article by scholars, ahead of its time.  Showed “cows emit between 2.5 and 4.7 ounces of methane for each pound of beef they produce.  Because methane has roughly 23 times the global-warming potential of CO2, those emissions are the equivalent of releasing between 3.6 and 6.8 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere for each pound of beef produced.”  (Nathan Fiala – interesting researcher on this subject, Scientific American)

For those who give you links to carbon footprint calculators.

Susan Subak, University College London (July 1999).

9.  Amazon Cattle Footprint (pdf)

This is an impressive study with maps and graphs on how cattle ranching is responsible for 80% of the continuous deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.  According to Dr. Norman Myers, 5% of the world’s deforestation is currently due to cattle ranching.  Overall deforestation is estimated to be responsible for 20% of all greenhouse gases, more than transportation.  Summary:  How Cattle Ranches are Chewing Up the Amazon Rainforest.

For the everyday treehugger (a good thing) who isn’t cutting back on meat.

Greenpeace (January 2009)

10. Evaluating environmental impacts of the Japanese beef cow–calf system by the life cycle assessment method

Concluded that producing 1kg of beef results in more CO2 emissions than going for a three-hour drive while leaving all the lights on at home.  Summary:  Meat is Murder on the Environment

For the next time your wife/husband/roommate/etc. complains about you leaving the lights on or wasting gas.

Akifumi Ogino, National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science, Tsukuba, and Graduate School of Agriculture, Kyoto University, Sakyo, Kyoto, Japan (July 2007)

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(2/6/09 – NY Times) Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in its Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR), stated that it might tax cows in an effort to curb methane and other greenhouse gasesIt has since backed down from any greenhouse gas regulation on the livestock industry.

Under the proposal, if a state charged the “presumptive minimum rate” from the EPA, the cow tax would be $175 per dairy cow, $87.50 per head for beef cattle and a little more than $20 per pig,” said American Farm Bureau Federation Director of Regulatory Relations Rick Krause.

This could have limited the number of cows which farms have, raised the price on meat and dairy products, or put weaker farms out of business.

Perhaps this wasn’t the perfect proposal, but I would’ve liked to see something, anything done to limit the impact of greenhouse gases from livestock.  While it doesn’t make me glad to see farms struggling or put out of business, it’s like seeing a hummer dealership fail.   Businesses or farms will need to adapt.

If the government wants people to believe that global warming is as serious of an issue as scientists are telling us, no sector of the economy should be immune to reform and regulation.

Here are some interesting comments from the Times blog post:

Sigh…the ranchers don’t have to do anything?

At least we should make them fund the research into better feed to reduce the methane. I have still yet to hear if grass fed beef emits less methane.

Mark,  Dallas

It is such a joke. The cattle industry is so subsidized, and they complain about a little tax. A low quality slab of steak would cost about $100 if the government didn’t subsidize the industry. But of course, healthier foods like vegetables recieve very little subsidy (yea, corn does, and too much, but most other vegetables do not).

— 0megapart!cle

Most serious people that are informed about climate change would acknowledge that cows in our agriculture chain do account for a disproportionate amount of emissions. But before we go for a tax, maybe we should just rein in the vast subsidies that the industry now enjoys in the form of grain subsidies, land usage subsidies, etc. This would also of course greatly benefit public health and the accompanying public health expenditures if people ate more spinach and less subsidized beef.

— akb
Well, something must be done. Perhaps a meat tax rather than a cow tax would be better. NYTimes yesterday noted that carbon emissions were down due to decreased consumer spending, in turn due to economic downturn.
— Rr Salamander

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