by William J. Langenberg, M.Sc. Env. Biol.
Former lecturer, Climatology, Kemptville College
Actually, all farm animals (ruminants) ’may’ reduce global warming, according to the latest research by the American Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre (CDIAC). That farm animals (cows primarily) contribute to global warming is a myth (a false perception). Farm animals emit greenhouse gases (GHGs), namely CO2 and methane, but these GHGs emitted are short-lived. They break down in roughly 8 years. Livestock farming could even offer a solution for climate warming.
Around 1850, the concentration of GHGs CO2-equivalents in the atmosphere began to increase slowly. That increase accelerated in the mid-20th century. According to atmospheric analysis conducted by the CDIAC, the concentration of CO2-equivalents increased by roughly 60% between 1750 and 2017 (from 277 ppm to 450 ppm). After 1950, the earth was no longer able to drain this increase caused by ‘human activity” through carbon sequestration. The result was a warming of the climate.
CO2 emission per person: An important source of CO2 emissions is the burning of fossil fuels, but there are more sources. Animals and people exhale CO2. Every person on this planet exhales 500 litres of CO2 per day, which is about 1 kilogram. This does not sound like very much, but remember that the world population is 7.7 billion people, which amounts to a total 2,800 megatons, which contributes to a total of 6% of the total CO2 emissions.
Livestock farming reduces global emissions: Contrary to many who believe that cows contribute to GHS emissions, CO2-equivalent emission by livestock is of a different character than emissions from burning fossil fuels. CO2 emissions from farm animals are not only part of a short cycle, but the CO2 and methane emitted are also directly captured by plants as carbon, which means that in this case no CO2 is added to the atmosphere on balance.
Recent research in Europe is showing that composted cattle manure produces lots of humic acid, which will become more important in crop nutrition in the years to come. I, as a grower of culinary herbs, use composted cattle manure in providing the correct nutrition and growing medium to produce healthy organic herb plants.
Finally, livestock farmers are the only people who could become the “Carbon Farmers” of our times, by sequestering CO2 in their farm land. Agricultural land can sequester 4 times the carbon that is in the atmosphere. Every kilogram of carbon sequestered in the soil takes 3.67 kg of CO2-equivalent out of the atmosphere. Canada has signed the Paris Agreement, the “40/00 initiative” in 2015. Under this initiative, we will be able to stop CO2 emissions into the atmosphere related to human activities.
I had a display on this Initiative at the North Grenville Sustainability Fair back in 2018. It did not create much attention and interest at that time.
If we all want to reduce CO2 emissions immediately: “Take the train instead of the plane!” Planes are the main contributors to global warming, definitely not the cows.