Sunday, December 10, 2006
How Buffalo Bill Saved The Planet
The UN has determined that cattle (buffalo are cattle) are an awesome methane-emitting threat to the future of the planet. The Independent Online has the story:
Meet the world's top destroyer of the environment. It is not the car, or the plane,or even George Bush: it is the cow. (Worse even than George Bush!!!)I suppose the logical conclusion is that if Buffalo Bill hadn't come along, we'd all have been roasted long before today. Cow fart gas is the worst global threat to Gaia, according to the UN.
A United Nations report has identified the world's rapidly growing herds of cattle as the greatest threat to the climate, forests and wildlife.
Livestock are responsible for 18 per cent of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, more than cars, planes and all other forms of transport put together.
Whether this is true or not I don't know; I have the wary suspicion that PETA and the Carter Peanut Lobby are behind this one. I lived through Carter's presidency, and the undeniable fact was that peanuts started showing up everywhere, including in school cafeterias, although the school cafeterias did remain blessedly free of Billy Beer. The Peanut Lobby was just running hog-wild back at that time, and I would guess that resurrected vegetarian-fascists are behind this UN Screamoid report. Back then they were loping around claiming that eating meat was a terrible waste of resources, and that half the planet was going to starve to death no later than the 1980's. Then Ronald Reagan got elected, defeated the Evil Soviet Empire, and now the UN is worrying about the global epidemic of obesity.
I doubt the global carrying capacity of ruminants has changed all that much over the last 1000 years. If it's not cattle on a range, it will be goats, elk, deer, antelope or buffalo. For those who are about to launch into hysterics about the terrible dangers of the American meat-eating culture, think again. North America (Canada plus the United States) and Central America only account for 14% of the world's cattle. Overall, the largest emitter of methane into the atmosphere is not ruminants anyway:
Natural wetlands are the world's largest methane source, and the only one whose emissions are controlled almost exclusively by climate. The mean annual emission from wetlands averages about 30% of the global source strength of about 525 Tg (1 Tg =1012 g) over the last 20 years and shows large interannual variations (Walter et al., 2001). Wetlands have been shown to explain large positive and negative anomalies in interannual growth rates of atmospheric methane (Dlugokencky et al., 2001), but they do not explain the trend of declining growth rates in atmospheric concentrations.There's another little factoid neglected in the UN screamoid release, but the NASA GISS report mentions it. The yearly annual increase of methane into the atmosphere is already declining. Partly this is due to recoveries of methane from oil wells and landfills, but here's another factor:
Ruminant animals, which produce close to 20% of total annual methane emission, consist of bovines (cattle and dairy cows), goats, sheep, pigs, camels, and water buffalo, although bovines account for about 80% of methane emissions from ruminants. Historical emissions from ruminant animals show a slow and steady increase over the last 2 decades. This trend is the result of two developments. Animal populations in developed countries, where emissions per head tend to be large because large animals are fed high-quality feed, are slowing while those in developing countries, where per capita emissions tend to be lower due to smaller animals consuming lower-quality feed, are increasing. The global result is large increases in bovine populations and small increases in emissions. Thus, emissions are becoming progressively decoupled from absolute population growth of animals.And here's another interesting fact omitted from the UN screamoid:
Mitigation of emissions from ruminant animals has also been identified with co-benefits: since methane emission represents incomplete conversion of food intake to dairy or meat products, reduction of emissions is associated with higher productivity or lower feed requirements. However, controlling emissions has been researched and accomplished in management systems such as those in the US where feed and activity are carefully controlled and where amount (dairy and beef animals) and speed (beef animals) of product are maximized via expensive cash inputs.Here's an Australian article from the 1990's discussing how to reduce methane emissions from cattle, and it makes the same point with much greater detail. The bottom line? Intensive cattle-farming operations produce much more meat or milk per bovine fart than free-range buffalo eating a pure forage diet did. I just thought you'd want to know all this. As of 1997, methane emissions in the US were dropping, not rising. Relatively, US pasturage is low compared to the global average.
The real question is whether we should drain the wetlands, obviously. Methane is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2. For a better understanding of the relative effects of methane emissions, CO2 and water vapor, I recommend this link, especially Table 4a. Graphically presented, it shows:
Granted, it's hard to see why an anthropogenic increase of .28% of all greenhouse gases would have much effect on our climate, but manmade methane is a very significant component of that very small total. If manmade greenhouse gases are really having a measurable effect on climate, then reducing methane emissions, no matter how, would be an important part of the solution. Maybe we need a Wetlands Filler and Drainer of today to save the planet.
Sniff. Just think of how a mild-mannered property developer could suddenly be revealed as Marsh-Drainer Mack, the Man Who Saved The Planet. Where is Heinlein when you need him?
Have a merry christmasss.
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