Global warming is a serious issue that plague the 21st century. With industries spewing out untreated gas emissions, and people driving cars that pump large amounts of carbon dioxide into the air, the situation will only continue to get worse. Undoubtedly, the most effective method to deal with this issue is proper voting. By voting for leaders for that advocate for environmental protection, the legislation that they bring forth could do wonders for the environment, and the world. However, just because politicians have the highest potential to deal with this issue doesn’t mean that we, as the ordinary folk, don’t have a part to play when it comes to reducing carbon emissions. There are several things that the average person can do to reduce their carbon footprint, and some of them are quite unpopular. This article talks about some of the methods people could adopt to reduce their carbon footprint.
Indulging in Plant-based Diets
Going vegan and vegetarian has become a popular trend in the 21st century, especially among the millennials. However, the majority of people don't realise that this trend is quite helpful when it comes to reducing carbon emissions. However, this is quite an unpopular opinion, especially among meat lovers. A study on this issue that was conducted by the National Academy of Sciences found that abandoning meat and adopting a vegetarian and vegan lifestyle could significantly reduce the amount of greenhouse gases produced, by up to 70 percent (Moran). This is quite a significant amount that would help significantly in the fight against climate change.
Furthermore, the same study also declares that out of all the global carbon emissions, the agricultural sector accounts for 25 percent. Additionally, since agriculture involves both animal and crop production, the animal production sector accounts for 80 percent of all the emissions produced by the agricultural industry. These numbers are quite surprising since when one looks at the issue of carbon emissions, one tends to think that the transportation sector and the manufacturing sector hold the bar for carbon emissions (Moran). However, the fact is that the animal production sector produces more carbon emissions than all the transportation methods combined. From this perspective, one can see that people should drop meat and other animal products and go vegan; however, there is a complication. Currently, many studies are available on this topic, and some disagree with this standpoint, stating that the supposed amount of greenhouse gases produced by animal production aren’t as large as they seem.
A study conducted by EPA in 2007 reported that the issue of animal production producing greenhouse gases isn’t as severe as other studies report. When it comes to the greenhouse effect, there are three leading gases that cause the most damage. The first one is Carbon Dioxide (CO2) which has the most significant impact (it contribute to 84.5 percent). The second gas is methane (CH4), which accounts for 8.2 percent, and the third is nitrous oxide (N2O) (O’Mara). However, it is essential to note that methane has a more significant greenhouse effect than that of carbon dioxide (up to 31 times more severe). However, it is less commonly produced when compared to carbon dioxide. When it comes to animal production, carbon dioxide and methane are the most frequently produced gases. However, unlike other reports, EPA found that animal production accounts for only a small part of the greenhouse gases produced in the United States.
In 2007, EPA found that out of the major sectors that produce a substantial amount of greenhouse gases, animal production contributes to only 2.8 percent of all emissions. Furthermore, they found that these emissions mainly came from two processes, which are eccentric fermentation (which is the process through which ruminants digest their food) and the production and management of manure. However, another surprising fact that they found is that since the 1990s, the amount of greenhouse emissions produced by the animal production sector has remained constant. This is despite the fact that the amount of meat consumption in the United States has increased by up to 50 percent, while at the same the amount of animal product consumption has also increased, with milk production increasing by 16 percent, and egg production increasing by 33 percent (O’Mara). This means that the amount of greenhouse gases produced have remained the same while the animal protein consumption and production have gone up. This is a testament to the improvements that have been made in the animal production sector in terms of feed efficiency, management of manure and increased efficiency when it comes to the use of cropland.
FAO also researched the impact of animal production on the amounts of greenhouse gases produced. From their research, FAO found that globally, livestock produces an equivalent of up to 7.1 Gigatonnes of CO2 every year. When compared with the global production of greenhouse gases in all the sectors, this equates to approximately 14.5 percent of all the emissions that result from human activity (Grewer). This is yet another report that contradicts with the stand on the emissions that result from domesticated animals. Furthermore, FAO also found that out of all the animals that are raised for human use, cattle contributed to the highest production of greenhouse emissions (those that are raised for meat, milk and draft power). Cattle accounted for 65 percent of all the emissions produced by livestock.
Furthermore, they also found that from the emissions that emanate from cattle, the production of feeds contributed to the highest percentage of the emissions, which was at 45 percent. The second highest process that contributed was the eccentric fermentation, which contributed to 39 percent (Grewer). Other processes such as the storage and the subsequent processing of manure accounted for only 10 percent.
This study that FAO conducted was in coordination with USAID. While undertaking this venture, the two organizations collected data through questionnaires from three countries, which include Mali, Bangladesh, and Colombia. After this, they reviewed the data, conducted follow up interview on matters such as postharvest losses and the various agricultural practices that are used in these areas. After this, they then used an estimation tool known as the EX-Ante Carbon Balance tool to determine the amount of carbon emissions produced by various materials such as crops and dead wood. For livestock, they primarily measured the levels of methane and nitride oxide that livestock produced. While methane is produced after the digestion of most animals, especially ruminants, the nitride oxide is produced naturally when the bacteria breakdown not only nitrogen fertilizers but also organic material from manure (Grewer). The values for these emissions were estimated through the IPCC Tier 1 and Tier 2 methods, which is the most common method for determining greenhouse gas emissions levels. Since there are various aspects of animal production, such as the herd size and weight, they were calculated independently, some with the Tier 1, such as the herd size. It is through these estimations and data collection that they were able to come up with the numbers.
There is an undeniable link between agriculture, and more so animal production and the production of greenhouse gases. However, even though there has been a lot of research done on the topic, the statistics are contradictory, with some spelling doom, while others are stating that the situation is not as dire as it seems. However, what is undeniable is the fact that there has been progress when it comes to the animal production sector (Clark). New technologies have come up in the effort to reduce the carbon footprint of this livestock. Better graving methods and improved feed production processes have gone a long way to help reduce the amount of greenhouse gases produced.
In terms of the carbon footprint left by animal production, the conclusions are varied. However, animal production doesn’t affect the environment only in terms of the amount of carbon emissions, and it is at this point that the situation becomes more intense. There are various other ways in which animal production affects not only the planet but also we humans.
For one, animal production uses a lot of resources. The most common feed that is used to feed these animals is grain. However, a conflict arises because grain is a staple food in many parts of the world, and thus rather than feed this grain to people, it is fed to animals (Clark). It is estimated that the amount of grain that is currently used to feed livestock around the world is enough to supply approximately 3.6 million people with food.
Furthermore, livestock production is inefficient. It uses a lot of resources to produce a unit mass in produce. These resources are in terms of money, agricultural land and food. Among all the livestock, cattle is the most inefficient when it comes to feed conversion. Pigs then follow them, and chicken are the most efficient when it comes to the amount of protein content per unit compared to the amount of food that they eat (Clark). Moreover, agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation. With the pursuit of better grazing land and land to cultivate fodder, farmers clear large tracks of land worldwide, and this hurts the world’s ability to recuperate from global warming.
The debate between vegans and meat lovers is intense. Even though most people adopt being vegan for personal or medical reasons, it is a debate that has a more significant impact than most people realize. There are various studies in the academic field that share information about the intensity and complexity of the issue. Though they all agree on the fact that livestock production has an vital role to play when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, they do not agree on the intensity of the issue. Some claim that livestock production produces more greenhouse gases than the transport industry, while others state that they do not produce as much as others claim. However, this is maybe true when livestock production is looked at through one perspective, which is emissions. There are myriads of other effects that are caused by livestock production, and it is therefore up to us to come up with better agricultural practices to help conserve the earth and her resources.
Clark, Michael, and David Tilman. "Comparative analysis of environmental impacts of agricultural production systems, agricultural input efficiency, and food choice." Environmental Research Letters 12.6 (2017): 064016.
Grewer, Uwe, et al. "A methodology for greenhouse gas emission and carbon sequestration assessments in agriculture: Supplemental materials for info series analyzing low emissions agricultural practices in USAID development projects." (2016).
Moran, Dominic. "Livestock Production and Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Defining the Problem and Specifying Solutions." OUP Academic, 1 July 2011, academic.oup.com/af/article/1/1/19/4638592.
O’Mara, Frank P. "The significance of livestock as a contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions today and in the near future." Animal Feed Science and Technology 166 (2011): 7-15.