Cow Farts and Global Warming

James Eckstein | Contributor

With the abundance of inclement weather at the end of this summer, global warming has become a more relevant discussion topic. People are beginning to question their own appetite for cows. A common belief is that cow flatulence is one of the main contributors towards global warming. Is it true that cows are the primary source of arguably the largest issue planet Earth has ever faced? Yes and no.

Put into simple terms, global warming is the rise of Earth’s average temperature from the abundance of greenhouse gases trapped inside the atmosphere. These gases rise to the top of the atmosphere and essentially act as a massive blanket inhibiting infrared radiation from exiting into outer space. Because infrared radiation is a source of energy in the form of heat, Earth’s temperature continues to rise. This is known as the greenhouse effect and is the main driver behind global warming.

The two main greenhouse gases contributing to the greenhouse effect are carbon dioxide and methane. Out of all animals used as livestock, cows are the largest producers of greenhouse gases, specifically methane. On average, a single cow will produce anywhere between 70 to 120 kilograms of methane per year. As a comparison, this is approximately the same amount of methane produced by 74 pigs. Contrary to popular belief this methane is produced by cows not in the form of flatulence, but instead through burping. Only 5% of methane from cows comes out of their rear. Even with the huge number of over 1.4 billion cows worldwide, the blame is not entirely on them but instead the entire agricultural industry as a whole.

The agriculture industry encompasses all animals, plants, and fungi bred or cultivated to sustain human life. All together the agricultural industry is responsible for 18% of all total greenhouse gases, the #1 largest worldwide. Not only does this include the greenhouse gases created from livestock but all other parts included in the agricultural process. The deforestation involved to create land for livestock results in the destruction of massive amounts of forest. Approximately 64% of all deforestation is for agricultural use, specifically raising cattle. Less forests means fewer trees to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, resulting in an increased amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The next highest source of greenhouse gases is the transportation industry, producing approximately 13% of all total greenhouse gases.

Even with the massive amount of greenhouse gases being pumped out by the agricultural industry, there is a very easy fix that almost everybody could implement to help minimize the emissions. Since the majority of emissions from the agricultural industry come from livestock, one needs to simply lower the amount of meat and dairy they consume. This does not mean pledging one’s self to veganism (however if the entire population did this there would be massive drop in worldwide greenhouse gas emissions), but instead simply make an effort to reduce the amount of animal products one consumes. Not only will this lower the greenhouse gases produced from the agricultural industry, but create much happier cows as well.