Can Cow Farts Cause Climate Change?
Catherine is a 21 year old Cambodian who loves writing. She writes professionally (Phnom Penh Post, Politikoffee), and writes some more in her free time (check out her great Khmer/English blog, A Dose of Cath). Follow her insightful commentaries on Cambodian society and other issues that matter to her – inequality, sexuality or science.
When speaking of global warming, most people would point towards fossil fuel, deforestation, and carbon emission as the main culprits. What many people fail to realize is that cows are one of the biggest, if not the biggest, contributors to global climate change.
A documentary called “Cowspiracy” by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn discusses how cattle farming may be to blame for the spike in greenhouse gasses. Although at first glance it might seem absurd that cows contribute to global warming, as the film progresses, the pieces of the puzzle fall into place.
This graphic illustrates the scale of water usage in various industries (Source: Virtual Water)
There are 1.3 to 1.5 billion cows in the world. Bacteria in the stomachs of cows produces methane, which is released when they burp, fart and defecate. In 2003, it was estimated that cows produced 150 billion gallons of methane a day. Methane is 25-100 times more destructive than carbon dioxide on a 20 year time frame, according to Science Magazine. In addition to that, methane is 21 times more potent at trapping heat from the sun compared to carbon dioxide.
Animal agriculture, as a whole, is responsible for 18 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation
However, cows aren’t the only offenders in this greenhouse mess. Animal agriculture, as a whole, is responsible for 18 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation. As if that isn’t bad enough, it takes 4,650 liters of water to produce 300 grams of beef steak. To put that into perspective, a man should drink three liters of water a day, so the amount of water required to produce one steak is more than four men drink in a year.
According to VirtualWater.eu and “Cowspiracy”, thousands of liters of water are required to produce a simple steak
In the US, 70 per cent of grain produced is fed to livestock, much of it to cattle, rather than feeding it to people. The world’s cattle consume a quantity of food equal to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people, far more than the current global population.
“Agriculture is estimated to be the direct driver for around 80 per cent of deforestation worldwide”
The Wageningen University and Research Center
Animal agriculture has also been linked to deforestation, which is one of the biggest environmental issues facing the world. The Wageningen University and Research Center stated, “Agriculture is estimated to be the direct driver for around 80 per cent of deforestation worldwide.” Forests, even in the Amazon, are being cleared to make way for crops, especially crops to feed the animal farming industry. As a matter of fact, animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91 percent of Amazon destruction.
Crowded conditions in a beef cattle feedlot (Source: Socially Responsible Agriculture, Flickr)
Despite the overwhelming research and statistics, some organizations are still keeping mum about the link between animal agriculture and global warming. The meat industry is an enormous industry with billions of dollars at stake. In the documentary “Cowspiracy”, the filmmakers run around in circles trying to find an environmental organization to comment on animal agriculture and its effects. Not only did most of the environmental organizations refuse to talk, some, including Greenpeace, the most well-known and influential environmental organization, even went as far as threatening him to stop his documentation. This goes to show how much power the meat industry possesses and its manipulation of the public debate.
This goes to show how much power the meat industry possesses and its manipulation of the public debate.
Even after knowing these facts, meat is undeniably delicious to many people. Food is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and it takes a huge amount of self-control to turn away a big juicy burger. Nevertheless, with the rise of vegetarianism and veganism, meat alternatives are popping up in the markets, with some tasting almost identical to the real deal.
A meaty-looking veggie burger (Source: Wikicommons, Bradley J)
It’s delusional to think that the whole population would suddenly quit meat altogether but reducing meat consumption is a step in the right direction. After all, just cutting out one steak can save nearly 5,000 liters of water.
This piece reflects the views of its author only, and not necessarily that of the Politikoffee Media team and editors.