By Emma Plumb, VI Form
Environmental Blog: Can We Blame Cows for Climate Change?
We all know that burning fossil fuels releases greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. We can, and should, buy hybrid cars, ride our bikes and put up solar panels to help solve the problem of climate change. But did you know coming home to a steak dinner also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions? Livestock is responsible for 27% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., and 18% of emissions worldwide through enteric (microbial) fermentation and manure management, not even taking into account transportation.
How do livestock produce so much methane and carbon dioxide? Ruminants- animals like cows, sheep, and goats- have unique digestive systems. They have four stomachs, and within one stomach known as the rumen, a digestive process called microbial fermentation occurs to break down carbohydrates. This process results in the production of methane gas and carbon dioxide. Ruminal animals then belch out these gasses to prevent bloating, releasing massive amounts of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. What’s especially concerning about these emissions is the methane produced. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 26% of methane released in the US is a result of enteric fermentation. Methane is estimated to be 20-23 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
Given the massive emissions of greenhouse gasses produced by livestock, it’s as environmental an endeavor as it is humanitarian to cut back on meat and dairy consumption, if not become vegetarian or vegan all together. Other possible solutions include feeding livestock more easily digestible grains, and grinding up food before the animals consume it, to limit microbial fermentation.
Emma Plumb is a VI Former from Sag Harbor New York