Cows and Climate Change


Climate change has become an everyday topic. Few people on Earth have not discussed what is going on around us at least once. One of the issues that is rarely talked about is the methane emissions coming from living beings. The main culprits here are cows and their manure.

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As funny as the cow belches and farts can be, they are becoming an increasingly large problem. In previous years, scientists have even underestimated their effect.

During a study conducted in late 2017, scientists learned that the global methane emission estimates were off by 11 percent. This number is connected solely to the emissions coming from cows. The study was requested and funded by NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System program.

To the casual observer, that number might seem insignificant, but it is not. As the old saying goes, it is the dose that makes the poison. And the livestock around the globe was responsible for around 120 million tons of methane emissions just in 2011. And it is true that there are much more carbon emissions than methane, but methane traps more of the sun’s energy, which makes it more responsible for the greenhouse effect present all around us.

The bigger issue with underestimating global gas emissions is that we then grossly underestimate the amount of work necessary to combat it at a reasonable rate.

Another issue scientists are facing is found in the word that describes the gas emission issue, and that is the word estimate. For all intents and purposes, an estimate is just an estimate. It is by no means an exact number. It cannot be quantified by any degree of certainty. When calculating the amount of emissions produced by each cow scientists have to take a lot of variables into consideration. This means that they have to factor in the average size of the bovine and the amount of food it consumes. They also have to factor in the difference in size between feed and dairy cattle. And lastly, they have to take note of the way the cattle manure is handled. As there is no way to make any type of accurate guidelines for this, scientists build models, and if those models are developed using outdated information, the estimates are bound to be somewhat off.

This is precisely why an 11 percent discrepancy exists when it comes to the data about the cattle methane emissions.

The issue with the calculations used in 2006 is that the rate of overall change was smaller back then. After 2006, the rate at which methane was produced rose drastically. People have also adopted new ways of raising cattle. Because of that, today’s cattle is much larger in size. Logically, bigger animals eat more food and produce more gas.

For example, cattle from America and Canada are producing more gas than ever before despite their numbers being lower than in previous years. This is down to the way people handle the cow’s manure. In Europe, they try to minimize gas emissions while in America they tend to centralize the manure processing because it is cheaper, and that then leads to higher gas emissions.

One of the ways that the emissions might be lowered is by eating less red meat. But most people from western countries are unwilling to do something like that. Introducing a month or even a day in the week when red meat is not consumed is much more plausible. But this is all still a long way away from being implemented.

Small steps like these will help in the long run, but it will take a concerted effort from everyone around the globe if we want to see any considerable change.

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