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Thursday, October 22, 2009

COWS ARE KILLING US

Posted By on Thu, Oct 22, 2009 at 8:00 AM

Supporters of Issue 2 like to claim that their opponents want to force veganism on Ohioans. That's nonsense, of course, but even this wing-and-burger-lovin' omnivore is thinking about cutting back after reading this report from the Worldwatch Institute. Seems that our bottomless appetite for meat may be even worse for the planet than our obsession with SUVs:

Whenever the causes of climate change are discussed, fossil fuels top the list. Oil, natural gas, and especially coal are indeed major sources of human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHGs). But we believe that the life cycle and supply chain of domesticated animals raised for food have been vastly underestimated as a source of GHGs, and in fact account for at least half of all human-caused GHGs. If this argument is right, it implies that replacing live-stock products with better alternatives would be the best strategy for reversing climate change. In fact, this approach would have far more rapid effects on GHG emissions and their atmospheric concentrations — and thus on the rate the climate is warming—than actions to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.

Livestock are already well-known to contribute to GHG emissions. Livestock’s Long Shadow, the widely-cited 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), estimates that 7,516 million metric tons per year of CO2 equivalents (CO2e), or 18 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions, are attributable to cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, horses, pigs, and poultry. That amount would easily qualify livestock for a hard look indeed in the search for ways to address climate change. But our analysis shows that livestock and their byproducts actually account for at least 32,564 million tons of CO2e per year, or 51 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions.

… [L]ivestock (like automobiles) are a human invention and convenience, not part of pre-human times, and a molecule of CO2 exhaled by livestock is no more natural than one from an auto tailpipe. Moreover, while over time an equilibrium of CO2 may exist between the amount respired by animals and the amount photosynthesized by plants, that equilibrium has never been static. Today, tens of billions more livestock are exhaling CO2 than in pre-industrial days, while Earth’s photosynthetic capacity (its capacity to keep carbon out of the atmosphere by absorbing it in plant mass) has declined sharply as forest has been cleared. (Meanwhile, of course, we add more carbon to the air by burning fossil fuels, further overwhelming the carbon-absorption system.)

The full report is here. — Frank Lewis

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