Blog Post 4: Climate

Climate is What You Eat

We are constantly hearing how car emissions should be lowered to counteract their effects on the climate, but are automobiles and other transportation mechanisms the biggest problem facing climate?

There is an issue with the amount of pollution that is coming from transportation and this issue needs to be addressed, but is there something else in our daily lives that could be causing more harm than driving here and there? The answer to both of these questions is “yes”. There is a bigger problem concerning climate change than cars and that is the cow. Cattle all over the world are adding to climate change with their emissions more than any form of transportation combined. This largely unknown problem has not been addressed and it is going to take some creative solutions to solve.

“Beef, it’s what’s for dinner” is a common phrase here in the U.S. and most Americans like their beef and have incorporated it into their regular diet. Unfortunately the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization have found that beef production is one of the biggest challenges facing climate control. In their report, “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization asserts that the world’s surging cattle herds are the No. 1 threat to the climate, forests and other wildlife. According to the UN the “livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale.” This is due to the cow’s bodily functions and the need for grazing. Cows release methane, a potent greenhouse gas, by flatulence and decaying manure. Cows right now are emitting more than 1/3 of all methane into the atmosphere. This gas warms the earth 20 times faster than carbon dioxide. Along with methane, cows produce ammonia, a gas that causes acid rain. Ranching, or clearing an area for cattle to graze is a major driver of deforestation, which also adds to climate issues. Mike Adams, a nutritionist and ethicist, has explained that “producing meat from cattle is and extremely inefficient and dirty way to produce food” and that “it also accelerates the destruction of the planet’s atmosphere.” According to Mike Adams’ article, “How to End Cruelty to People, Animals and Nature, and Create a World without War and Environmental Destruction”, the “planet Earth will simply not support the mass consumption of meat.” If beef production causes so many climate problems, shouldn’t we do something about it?

There are many ideas of ways to combat the climate effects of cattle ranching. Mike Adams explains in his book that “if we wish to protect our planet and live in an environmentally sustainable way, we must teach people how to emphasize plant-based diets.” So eating less meat could cut climate cost, but how? Well, less beef and pork would cut down on the vast amounts of cattle necessary to make said beef and pork; also less demand for grazing fields would lead to more vegetation growth, which helps to absorb carbon and release oxygen into the atmosphere. Or you could cut out eating meat all together. Researchers in the Netherlands, from Wagenigen University, suggest that insects “produce far less greenhouse gases than cattle and pigs do” and would be a “viable alternative to eating meat”, so as to replace the protein loss. Another alternative is to eat only organic meat products. Those same Dutch researchers found that “traditional, pasture-based methods of raising animals can actually replenish environmental health”, but the consumption of said cattle would still need to be reduced. According to Koneswaran and Nierenberg’s, “Global farm animal production and global warming: impacting and mitigating climate change”, raising cattle organically “may emit 40% less GHGs (Green House Gasses) and consume 85% less energy than conventionally produced beef.” Now I’m not advocating for us all to replace traditional meat with insect meat, but I’m not against innovation when it comes to the way we eat and what we eat.

A study, published in “New Scientist” magazine, recently revealed that “the production of 1kg of beef releases GHGs with a warming potential equivalent to 36.4kg of carbon dioxide. That is a 1 to 36.4kg difference between eating beef and not. We can all live and be just fine without eating beef, therefore cutting back is the least we could all do.

Adams, M. (n.d.). How to end cruelty to people, animals and nature, and create a world without war and environmental destruction. Natural health news. Retrieved September 12, 2011, from

Bristow, E. (2011). Global Climate Change and the Industrial Animal Agriculture Link: The Construction of Risk. Society & Animals, 19(3), 205-224. doi:10.1163/156853011X578893

Jacobson, M. (2009). Livestock’s long shadow. Nutrition Action Health Letter, 36(5), 2. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Kingston-Smith, A., Edwards, J., Huws, S., Kim, E., & Abberton, M. (2010). Plant-based strategies towards minimising ‘livestock’s long shadow’. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 69(4), 613-620. doi:10.1017/S0029665110001953

Pitesky, M. E., Stackhouse, K. R., & Mitloehner, F. M. (2009). CLEARING THE AIR: LIVESTOCK’S CONTRIBUTION TO CLIMATE CHANGE. Advances in Agronomy, 1031-40. doi:10.1016/S0065-2113(09)03001-6

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