Amidst the worsening global climate crisis, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report highlighting that cattle raised on woodland cleared pastures are emission-intensive.
Designed to inform upcoming climate negotiations, the report compiled studies from upwards of 100 experts, around half of whom hail from developing countries.
Previous studies have confirmed that cows do produce large amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, as they digest their food. In response, the IPCC have proposed solutions suggesting plant-based diets as a major opportunity for mitigating and adapting to climate change.
While climate change refers to a broad range of global phenomenons created by heat-trapping gases otherwise called greenhouse gases, including water vapor, carbon dioxide, and methane, Global Warming is the long-term rise in the average temperature of the earth’s climate system due to the increased production of greenhouse gases.
It’s reported that since the year, 1760 — marking the year of the industrial revolution’s inception, mankind’s development and activities have been actively producing more and more greenhouses gases.
As the world becomes warmer the environment is gradually shifting to a catastrophic state. Global warming has been linked to rising sea levels due to thermal expansion, melting of glaciers, ice sheets, and warming of the ocean surface, leading to increased temperature stratification. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration between the years, 1980 and 2015 damage caused by natural disasters averaged at USD $5.2 billion. In 2011 and 2015, the average damage costs were USD $103.8 billion.
The livestock industry is a large contributor overlooked in the conversation of climate change and global warming.
According to the United Nations, the world’s population has increased by approximately 1 billion inhabitants in the last 12 years, meaning there are 1 billion more people needing food for survival; driving up the demand for livestock products such as milk and meat.
On average a cow releases between 70 to 120kg of methane gas per year, methane is a greenhouse gas like carbon dioxide, but the negative effects on the climate of methane is 23x higher than the effect of CO2, therefore the release of about 100kg of methane for each cow is equivalent to about 2’300kg of CO2 per year.
Cattle rearing largely promotes deforestation, removing natural forestry to make space for pastures for livestock to roam and inhabit, while providing land to grow feedstuff material such as corn and grass. This phenomenon is significant as natural vegetation is important for the removal of greenhouses gases such as carbon from the air.
Infecting the Environment
Other agriculture activities contribute to negative impacts on the environment. Nitrogen-rich fertilizers can pollute water and threaten aquatic ecosystems. Pesticides and herbicides can lead to a loss in biodiversity. Machinery used by farmers often require fossil-fuel and give off carbon dioxide exhaust. The engines used in these machines are outdated, lack fuel efficiency and weren’t designed with environmental friendliness in mind.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), agriculture is responsible for 18% of the total release of greenhouse gases worldwide, for context this is more than the whole transportation sector. Livestock also uses 30% of the earth’s entire land surface, and 33% of the world’s arable land space is used to feed livestock.
With the aforementioned stated we cannot deny that livestock agriculture contributes significantly to global warming and by extension, climate change. If we want to reduce the damage done to our earth’s eco-system we have to rethink and reimagine how it is we get our protein.
Sustainable change that can reduce our carbon footprint and encourage efficiency calls for citizens and government intervention. Legislation that can protect our green spaces from deforestation, social reform to encourage and implement eco-friendly machinery and farming practices, will go beyond a serving of oxtail for dinner.