Meat, Methane, and Global Warming

Updated on May 3, 2018
Rupert Taylor profile image

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

While carbon-dioxide is the major greenhouse gas by volume, methane is more potent and its release is still rising; rising rapidly in fact. Scientists have calculated that over the next century the global-warming potential of methane is 28 times higher than for carbon dioxide.

Source

Animal Farts

About 30 percent of methane emissions come from fossil fuel burning, and close behind as a source (27 percent) is livestock farming.

What’s Your Impact.org explains: “Animals like cows, sheep, and goats are examples of ruminant animals. During their normal digestion process they create large amounts of methane. Enteric fermentation occurs because of microorganisms in the stomachs of these animals. This creates methane as a by-product that is either exhaled by the animal or released via flatus.”

To put this into farmyard language, the animals belch and fart methane; very large quantities of it.

Source

More Cattle, More Gas

According to a 2006 article in Nature magazine, raising cattle, pigs, and other animals destined for the dinner table creates 90 million tonnes of methane each year. But now, it seems that estimate may be understating the problem.

Here’s The Guardian (September 2017) “Revised calculations of methane produced per head of cattle show that global livestock emissions in 2011 were 11 percent higher than estimates based on data from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change.” The concentration of methane in the atmosphere has risen 10 times faster in the last decade than in previous decades.

The meat industry has grown a lot since the 1960s; beef production, for example, has doubled in the last 50 years. This is because the world’s population has grown from three billion in 1960 to 7.6 billion today. At the same time, people have become more affluent so they are able to add more meat to their diets.

Methane emissions are rising in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. At the same time, people in highly developed Western nations are eating less meat, so methane emissions are declining in Europe and North America.

Termite Gas

A fully grown, barbecue-ready steer is going to tip the scales at about 635 kg (1,400 pounds). He’s going to let rip about 100 kg of methane a year. Plus, there are about 1.5 billion cattle in the world. Give or take, that’s about 150 million tonnes of methane annually.

And, then there are termites. What they lack in size they make up for in numbers.

There are more than 3,000 species of termite and they are industrious little critters. Many of the species eat decaying trees and other plants and produce methane in their digestive systems in much the same way as cows do.

At about 25 mm in length, a single termite emits about half a microgram of methane per day. That doesn’t sound like much, but the total numbers are immense. A British research team has studied termites in the tropical forests of Cameroon in Africa. It estimates the jungle is home to about 100 million termites per hectare.

There is some debate about the total termite methane gas emissions, but 20 million tonnes annually seems to be a frequently mentioned estimate.

Termite mound gas factory.
Termite mound gas factory. | Source

Who Else Is to Blame?

There’s another methane emitter that should not be overlooked – flatulent humans.

Output depends on input; a high-fibre diet creates more gas that a low fibre one.

Here’s how molecular biologist Brian Farley explains how high- and low-fibre participants created methane in a study published in the British Medical Journal: “Assuming that these people and this diet are representative of the world population (not necessarily true, but close enough), human beings collectively release about 73 metric tons of methane and 1,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every day just by farting.”

Plant-Based Meat Produces no Methane

Recently, products have come onto the market that could lead to a reduction in livestock-generated methane. Damian Carrington in The Guardian (November 2017) has written about meat “… food that looks and tastes just as good as meat or dairy products [that are] made from plants.”

He adds that “meat and dairy companies are now piling in with investments and acquisitions …” The government of China has put $300 million into companies in Israel that are making meat grown in laboratories. Bio-meat, as it’s called, is grown from animal cells.

Milk made from soya, almonds, and other sources is already well established and accounts for about 10 percent of milk sales in the United States.

Billionaire Richard Branson is investing in the technology. He says, “I believe that in 30 years or so we will no longer need to kill any animals and that all meat will either be [lab] or plant-based, taste the same, and also be much healthier for everyone.”

And, the gigantic loads of smelly gas won’t be rising from feed lots and barns.

Perhaps, veggie burgers are not everybody's first choice.
Perhaps, veggie burgers are not everybody's first choice. | Source

Bonus Factoids

While fossil fuel burning and raising livestock are the biggest sources of methane, there are other contributors:

  • Rotting waste in landfills – 16 percent of human-source methane.
  • Burning organic material such as forestry and crop waste – 11 percent.
  • Rice farming – nine percent.
  • Burning biofuels – four percent.

In addition, there are natural sources of methane such as wetlands, and oceans. However, these sources of methane have remained stable for thousands of years. It’s human activity over the last 250 years or so that had bumped up the emissions.

There are vast quantities of methane locked in the Arctic permafrost. Scientists are concerned that global warming might thaw the frozen ground and release what some are calling a methane time bomb. Michaeleen Doucleff at National Public Radio writes that “No one knows exactly how big the bomb is. It may even be a dud that barely detonates.”

Natural gas is primarily methane with small amounts of nitrogen, hydrogen sulphide, carbon dioxide, and helium.

Sources

  • “The Seven Megatrends That Could Beat Global Warming: ‘There Is Reason for Hope.’ ” Damian Carrington, The Guardian, November 8, 2017.
  • “Main Sources of Methane Emissions.” Whatsyourimpact.org, undated.
  • “Methane Emissions From Cattle Are 11% Higher Than Estimated.” Agence France-Presse, September 29, 2017.
  • “Do Human Farts Contribute to Global Warming?” Brian Farley, Quora, April 22, 2015.
  • “Is There a Ticking Time Bomb Under the Arctic?” Michaeleen Doucleff, National Public Radio,January 24, 2018.

Questions & Answers

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)