Westshore Community College
ENG112-42: English Comp II
April 12, 2021
This essay highlights the affects food production has on the release of methane and other greenhouse gases. My argument focuses primarily on the production of meat and how the factors like agriculture have caused significant increases in the most dangerous of greenhouse gases. The discussion centers around the question of how it has impacted the environment and climate change. Animal agriculture is a global leading factor of climate change due to the dangerous greenhouse gasses emitted from the process.
Keywords: greenhouse gases, climate change, agriculture, meat3
Why You Should Care About What You Eat
One of the most pressing concerns faced around the world is climate change. There is much debate over the human activities leading to climate change; however, science proves there are more than just a couple of ways humans are speeding up the process of climate change. The daily choices Americans make add up to major consequences regarding the sustainability of the climate. In class, the students read Facing Extinction, a paper by Catherine Ingram, with which she discusses the harmful effects of climate change. “We have burned so much carbon into the atmosphere that the CO2 levels are higher than they have been for the past twenty three million years” (Ingram 2019). Although many would think of food choices as a less concerning issue in terms of climate change, animal agriculture is proven to be a huge factor in the global emissions of greenhouse gasses. To limit these emissions, Americans need to change their eating habits.
Animal agriculture, in particular, is seen to be a big contributor of the potent greenhouse gas, methane. As also mentioned by Catherine Ingram, are the threatening extents of methane gas, “Methane is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon…” (Ingram 2019). In summary, she even goes on to say that methane is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The process of how methane is emitted is best explained by authors: Richard Waite, Tim Searchinger and Janet Ranganathan, “Cows and other ruminant animals (like goats and sheep) emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas, as they digest grasses and plants. This process is called “enteric fermentation,” (World Resources Institute 2021). To simplify, enteric fermentation occurs when microbial fermentation breaks down food in the fore-stomach. Through this digestion, burps form, and that is where the methane is emitted into the atmosphere. Other ways methane is released in animal agriculture are through manure and chemical fertilizers. By purchasing the meat, particularly beef, one contributes to the rise in the demand for meat, increasing its production, and therefore emitting more methane into the atmosphere. A factor that goes into the meat one purchases is the farming of the land
the cattle graze and eat from. According to fao.org, twenty-six percent of the planet’s land is used for livestock grazing and another thirty-three percent of croplands are used to produce feed for these livestock. There is so much land that goes into meat production and the farming of that land has harmful consequences on the environment. One issue with agriculture is the amount of fertilizer farmers use to increase crop production, Ingram addresses this by stating, “Excess nitrogen from fertilizer becomes nitrous oxide when it escapes into soils and groundwater. It is 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide…”(Ingram 2019). She later goes on to say that this issue accounts for 20% of global warming.
Prominent people in our society are taking notice of this rising concern and are positioning themselves to help the cause. Bill Gates and the Bill Gates Foundation are funding the development of alternative methods for soil fertilization using plant based products in hopes of reducing greenhouse gas emissions (MIT Technology Review, 2021). Bringing awareness to this crisis is one step closer to resolving the problem but5
with populations around the world increasing, the demand for meat production increases as well.
Author Ilija Djekic dives into the consequences of the rising demand for meat, “Agriculture production is expected to increase to match the demand of an increasing global population…greenhouse gases are projected to increase by 80% by the year 2050” (Djekic 2016). When demand increases so will supply, but at what cost? Not only will methane emissions escalate but so will emissions by transportation. The
transportation industry, releasing carbon dioxide and nitrous oxides, is one of the leading contributors of greenhouse gases. Although meat production has caused such spikes in climate change there are ways to not further increase it. This information raises awareness to increasing demand for meat, which is proven to be a leading factor for climate change. One may say we cannot stop all meat production for it will create world hunger. Bill Gates offers a solution to reduce the demand on the beef industry in particular: synthetic beef. While he acknowledges that poorer countries cannot afford to manufacture synthetic beef, he proposes that the “richer” countries (like the USA) make a purposeful switch to synthetic beef (MIT Technology Review, 2021). Although this idea may not gain a lot of popularity at first, more ideas such as this can help pave the way towards maintaining sustainability within food production. Journalists: Linnea I. Laestadius, Roni A. Neff,Colleen L. Barry, and Shannon Frattaroli talk about how to start being more environmentally friendly, “efforts to reduce meat consumption in light of climate change have been relatively limited. One potential avenue for encouraging consumption changes is via non-governmental organizations (NGOs). This study used a qualitative approach to understand how and to what extent environmental, food-focused, and animal protection NGOs in the U.S., Canada, and Sweden have worked to reduce or alter domestic meat consumption in light of climate change” (Laestadius 2013).
Aside from the cattle industry’s effect on greenhouse gasses, the effect of beef consumption on the human body should be a deterrent as well. Food Research International did a study comparing the Dutch Diet and four healthy diets aimed at lowering greenhouse gasses, “Omitting meat from these healthy diets or consuming only foods with relatively low associated GHG emissions both resulted in GHG emission reductions of around a third,” (Elsevier 2017). Increases in cancer and heart disease directly related to beef consumption have played a major role in the deterioration of health worldwide. Another option, if the consumption of beef continues, is to feed the cows seaweed as it reduces their methane emissions by eighty-two percent thus reducing the effect on the environment. Moving forward, if we are to reduce the impact of animal agriculture on the earth’s climate and adjust to healthier lifestyles to increase sustainability, a major shift in world perception and education is needed. With more awareness on the subject of the harm agricultural practices cause to the climate and to the body, humans can start living a more healthy and environmentally friendly lifestyle. Through careful consideration of what we decide to eat, we can help lead to a more sustainable climate. We will never be able to reverse the damage that has already been done to the environment but we may be able to slow the progression to ensure a future for the next generations to come.
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