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Agricultural methane source

A surprising source of climate calamity

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Written by: Alexa Stone
Natural Gas Rig

Today’s super storms, famine, and rampant wildfires are, substantially, the consequence of climate change resulting from human induced Greenhouse Gases (GhG). To slow this process, CO2 and methane emissions are of immediate concern. Current atmospheric methane concentrations are higher than at any point in the past 800,000 years.

In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warned of reaching the Paris Climate Agreement’s maximum global temperatures by 2040. Their current report cuts ten years from that timeline. Recognizing the urgency, the panel’s GhG concerns have expanded from longer-term CO2 impacts to now consider the more powerful short-term impact of methane.

Cutting methane emissions is the single fastest, most effective way to limit climate change consequences.

GhG IMPACT

    • CO2 remains in the atmosphere for 300 to 1000 years.
    • Methane breaks up in about 12 years. During that time, it traps nearly 90 times more heat than CO2.

Where’s it coming from?

About 25% of the methane released into the atmosphere has been attributed to fossil fuels, mostly coal and natural gas. An even greater amount, 33%, has been attributed to agriculture, especially livestock. The average cow burps 220 pounds of methane a year. In California alone, the cattle population brings more methane pollution than 2.5 million cars.

Got cows? — Get seaweed!

A recent study, inspired by observing cattle at a seaside farm, found a dietary change that could reduce methane in bovine burps by 82%. Participating cattle consumed a daily supplement of 1.5 – 3.0 ounces of an Australian red seaweed for 21 weeks. Their per-cow methane output was reduced to 40 pounds per year.

A significant challenge remains. Currently, that 82% reduction is only achievable on feed lots. As calves, heifers, and younger cows, the animals graze in pastures. There – unless in seaside Australia – red seaweed is seldom found.

SOURCES:

Gizmodo.com (8/9/2021) — Methane Is a New Big Enemy in the Battle Over Climate Change, IPCC Says
SmithsonianMag.com — Smithsonian Magazine (3/23/2021) Seaweed-Fed Cows Burp Less Planet-Warming Methane
RevealNews.org — Reveal podcast transcript (6/12/2021)

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