″You are what you eat,″ is a popular saying which encourages people to eat right. It turns out that what we eat may impact more than cholesterol levels and waistlines, our food sources may be having a deleterious impact on the planet’s climate and the fate of future generations. While many find that eating locally farmed meats offset carbon emissions by reducing the miles the food is shipped, there is no offset for the methane released by the bull’s waste. It appears that a person’s diet does directly impact global warming, a notion many are not yet aware of.
In fact, methane from agricultural sources has been indicated as an important factor in the global warming problem facing the planet. Most of that gas comes from cows and the huge pools of waste found on industrial cattle farms. Looking at all of the facts, it might seem as though vegetarianism is one way to help offset the increasing high temperatures and climatic problems which are beginning to plague us each season.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Beef has been indicated as the largest single source of the greenhouse gas methane. Methane is the number two greenhouse gas, contributing 14.5 percent to the total of all human-created greenhouse gas. Of that, cattle emissions contribute 65 percent.
Though the Environmental Protections Agency’s (EPA) numbers on methane are lower, stating that the gas only accounts for nine percent of the total human-created greenhouse gasses in the United States, they do note that methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Methane is capable of trapping 20 percent more radiant heat than carbon dioxide. Whether the EPA or FAO numbers are used, the resulting impact of the gas is then between 180 and 290 percent that of carbon dioxide.
A FAO report states that methane production by cows might be reduced by changing the feed cows are given. Most cows are fed corn, which is not a natural part of their diet. Since they don’t metabolize corn and other processed feeds efficiently, they release more methane. When cattle are fed their natural diet, methane decreases, and global warming is not impacted.
One other promising way to offset or nullify the impact of methane on the environment is to harness it for its ability to create electricity. Already, a power plant in Utah has been using manure from pigs to create power for their customers. That plant provides power to 3,000 customers. When more electricity is created from manure, less will need to come from coal or nuclear, two power sources which have a huge environmental impact without providing any extra benefits, as does the source of methane, cattle.
Other examples abound. In Portland, Oregon, for instance, a pipeline from the city’s historic landfill sends methane to a local manufacturing plant, which converts the gas to power. In California, an egg ranch in French Camp is turning its waste into a usable product. Where the chicken excrement was once a nuisance for the farmer, it is now a benefit which powers a 1.4 megawatt fuel cell power plant.
At the present, diet does impact global warming in a negative way. However, if more entrepreneurs see the value in converting livestock waste into electricity, our love of steak and burgers may help eliminate the environmental impact of coal-fired electricity plants as well as the ticking time-bomb that nuclear plants represent.
By: Hobie Anthony