How could vegetarians stop global warming?
Vegetarians stop global warming by reducing methane emissions.
Why is that important?
We always hear about CO2 as the cause of Global Warming, but, although CO2 will play a large part in future warming, the main factor causing recent Global Warming may not be CO2.
Why is that?
Cars and power plants, which are the primary sources of CO2 emissions, also produce aerosols and aerosols actually have a cooling effect on global temperatures!
The magnitude of this cooling approximately cancels out the warming effect of CO2.
Unfortunately that does not mean we can just keep on driving our cars, without a worry about Global Warming.
Aerosols are short-lived, settling out of the air after a few months, while CO2 continues to heat the atmosphere for decades to centuries. So if we just continue emitting CO2 it may have little influence in the short-term, but in the long-term CO2 emissions will catch up with us, and by then it will be too late to stop their warming effect.
But what does all this have to do with becoming a vegetarian?
It seems that CO2 is not the only culprit for the Global Warming that is currently observed. It turns out another greenhouse gas is to be blamed as well, probably even more so, namely Methane. This is about twenty times as effective as CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Methane will warm our climate much faster than CO2 possibly could.
Fortunately methane has a relatively short life time in the atmosphere (9-15 years), compared to CO2 which remains for decades to centuries. Therefore we only need to stop emitting methane during 15 years and all human emitted methane in the atmosphere will be gone and the climate can take it’s natural cause once again. Therefore, reducing methane emissions should be an effective means to reduce climate warming on a relatively short timescale.
In general it’s a lot easier to reduce methane emissions than it is to reduce CO2 emissions, so if we start reducing methane emissions first and then use the time we buy that way, to work on more effective means to reduce CO2 emissions we may be able to keep Global Warming at bay.
How can methane emissions be reduced?
In order to answer that question we first need to know where these emissions come from.
There are many natural sources for methane such as wetlands, termites, oceans, and hydrates (which are present in seafloor deposits around the world). For the moment we’re not really concerned with those as they are part of the natural balance.
What we are interested in is the human influence in Global warming, so we want to have a look at Human-influenced sources of methane.
Sources of human produced methane:
• They include natural gas and petroleum production and distribution systems, agricultural activities, coal mining, stationary and mobile combustion, wastewater treatment, and certain industrial processes.
• The breakdown of garbage in landfills releases large quantities of methane.
• Transporting fossil fuel and fossil fuel combustion releases methane as a by-product.
• The largest source of methane worldwide is due to animal agriculture.
Even though a single cow releases a relatively small amount of methane, the collective effect on the environment of the hundreds of millions of livestock animals worldwide is enormous.
About 60% of global methane emissions come from these sources.
The historical record, based on analysis of air bubbles trapped in ice sheets, indicates that methane is more abundant in the Earth’s atmosphere now, than at any time during the past 400,000 years. It also indicates that since 1750, global average atmospheric concentrations of methane have increased by 150 percent!
Fortunately most governments worldwide are aware of this and are working hard to reduce methane emissions in coal mining, landfills, oil and natural gas systems, and agriculture by more effectively capturing methane during fossil-fuel extraction, capturing methane from landfills, and reducing biomass burning. They also agreed on a system called the Clean Development Mechanism which allows rich countries to keep within their emissions limits by funding projects that soak up greenhouse gases in poor countries, getting carbon credits in return.
If governments are working together worldwide to reduce this greenhouse gas we should be save, isn’t it?
Unfortunately it won’t be enough. Greenhouse gas emissions will only be reduced with significant result, if each and everyone of us contributes. Each individual can make a difference. If every single person worldwide makes a commitment to pollute less, to use less energy, to take more care of the environment, the whole world will change very rapidly. If we leave it up to big industries and governments, it will take a very long time to make any changes at all.
What exactly can each of us do and how will it make a difference?
Reduce the amount of trash you contribute
The largest source of human-produced methane in the U.S.A. results from the breakdown of garbage in landfills. The best way to help reduce methane emissions is by reducing the amount of trash we contribute, and by composting our organic waste, rather than throwing it away together with our other trash.
Another source of methane includes methane that is released as a byproduct of transporting fossil fuel, and fossil-fuel combustion. Using energy more efficiently will also help reduce methane emissions.
The number one source of methane worldwide is animal agriculture.
About 85% of this methane is produced in the digestive processes of livestock, and while a single cow releases a relatively small amount of methane, the collective effect on the environment of the hundreds of millions of livestock animals worldwide is enormous.
An additional 15% of animal agricultural methane emissions is released from the massive “lagoons” used to store untreated farm animal waste. These lagoons are also the number one source of water pollution in the U.S.
Global meat consumption has increased fivefold in the past fifty years, and shows little sign of abating.
The conclusion is simple: arguably the best way to reduce global warming in our lifetimes, is to reduce or eliminate our consumption of animal products and that’s how vegetarians stop Global Warming.
Moreover, the same factory farms responsible for these methane emissions also use up most of the country’s water supply, and denude most of its wilderness for rangeland and growing feed. Creating rangeland to feed western nations’ growing appetite for meat has been a major source of deforestation and desertification in third world countries.
Because of animal agriculture’s high demand for fossil fuels, a meat based diet is also far more CO2-polluting than a plant-based one.
Becoming a vegetarian not only serves to reduce methane emissions with a short-term effect, but also CO2 emissions that have a long-term effect. Becoming a vegetarian will help reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, while at the same time reducing water pollution and preserving wilderness and forests worldwide.
If you don’t want to become a vegetarian, you may still choose not to eat meat a few times a week. Just remember: Every little bit will help!