Livestock and Climate Change

Wednesday, November 4, 2009
at 8:01 PM

Whenever the causes of climate change are discussed, fossil fuels top the list.Oil, natural gas, and especially coal are indeed major sources of  human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHGs). But we believe that the life cycle and supply chain of domesticated animals raised for food have been vastly underestimated as a source of GHGs,and in fact account for at least half of all human-caused GHGs. If this argument is right, it implies that replacing livestock products with better alternatives would be the best strategy for reversing climate change. In fact, this approach would have far more rapid effects on GHG emissions and their atmospheric concentrations—and thus on the rate the climate is warming—than actions to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.

Livestock are already well-known to contribute to GHG emissions. Livestock’s Long Shadow, the widely-cited 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), estimates that 7,516 million metric tons per year of CO2 equivalents (CO2e), or 18 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions, are attributable to cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, horses, pigs, and poultry. That amount would easily qualify livestock for a hard look indeed in the search for ways to address climate change. But our analysis shows that livestock and their byproducts actually account for at least 32,564million tons of CO2e per year, or 51 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions.

This is a strong claim that requires strong evidence, so we will thoroughly review the direct and indirect sources of GHG emissions from livestock. Some of these are obvious but underestimated, some are simply overlooked, and some are emissions sources that are already counted but have been assigned to the wrong sectors.Data on livestock vary from place to place and are affected by unavoidable imprecision; where it was impossible to
avoid imprecision in estimating any sumof GHGs, we strove to minimize the sum so our overall estimate could be understood as conservative.

For details can be read here


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