Monday, February 19, 2007

Vegetarianism Most Effective Tool Against Climate Change

A New Global Warming Strategy: How Environmentalists are Overlooking Vegetarianism as the Most Effective Tool Against Climate Change in Our Lifetimes
by Noam Mohr


Methane and Vegetarianism

By far the most important non-CO2 greenhouse gas is methane, and the number one source of methane worldwide is animal agriculture.17

Methane is responsible for nearly as much global warming as all other non-CO2 greenhouse gases put together.18 Methane is 23 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than CO2.19 While atmospheric concentrations of CO2 have risen by about 31% since pre-industrial times, methane concentrations have more than doubled.20 Whereas human sources of CO2 amount to just 3% of natural emissions, human sources produce one and a half times as much methane as all natural sources.21 In fact, the effect of our methane emissions may be compounded as methane-induced warming in turn stimulates microbial decay of organic matter in wetlands—the primary natural source of methane.22

With methane emissions causing nearly half of the planet’s human-induced warming, methane reduction must be a priority. Methane is produced by a number of sources, including coal mining and landfills—but the number one source worldwide is animal agriculture.23 Animal agriculture produces more than 100 million tons of methane a year.24 And this source is on the rise: global meat consumption has increased fivefold in the past fifty years, and shows little sign of abating.25 About 85% of this methane is produced in the digestive processes of livestock,26 and while a single cow releases a relatively small amount of methane,27 the collective effect on the environment of the hundreds of millions of livestock animals worldwide is enormous. An additional 15% of animal agricultural methane emissions are released from the massive “lagoons” used to store untreated farm animal waste,28 and already a target of environmentalists’ for their role as a primary source of water pollution in the U.S.29

The conclusion is simple: arguably the best way to reduce global warming in our lifetimes is to reduce or eliminate our consumption of animal products. Simply by going vegetarian (or, strictly speaking, vegan), 30,31,32 we can eliminate one of the major sources of emissions of methane, the greenhouse gas responsible for almost half of the global warming impacting the planet today.

Advantages of Vegetarianism over CO2 Reduction...

Humans' beef with livestock: a warmer planet
from the February 20, 2007 edition
American meat eaters are responsible for 1.5 more tons of carbon dioxide per person than vegetarians every year.
By Brad Knickerbocker | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

As Congress begins to tackle the causes and cures of global warming, the action focuses on gas-guzzling vehicles and coal-fired power plants, not on lowly bovines.

Yet livestock are a major emitter of greenhouse gases that cause climate change. And as meat becomes a growing mainstay of human diet around the world, changing what we eat may prove as hard as changing what we drive.

It's not just the well-known and frequently joked-about flatulence and manure of grass-chewing cattle that's the problem, according to a recent report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Land-use changes, especially deforestation to expand pastures and to create arable land for feed crops, is a big part. So is the use of energy to produce fertilizers, to run the slaughterhouses and meat-processing plants, and to pump water.

"Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today's most serious environmental problems," Henning Steinfeld, senior author of the report, said when the FAO findings were released in November.

Livestock are responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions as measured in carbon dioxide equivalent, reports the FAO. This includes 9 percent of all CO2 emissions, 37 percent of methane, and 65 percent of nitrous oxide. Altogether, that's more than the emissions caused by transportation.

The latter two gases are particularly troubling – even though they represent far smaller concentrations in atmosphere than CO2, which remains the main global warming culprit. But methane has 23 times the global warming potential (GWP) of CO2 and nitrous oxide has 296 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide.

Methane could become a greater problem if the permafrost in northern latitudes thaws with increasing temperatures, releasing the gas now trapped below decaying vegetation. What's more certain is that emissions of these gases can spike as humans consume more livestock products...

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