The ranchers extolling cattle in Writers on the Range (8/11/20) got it wrong. While they claim multiple benefits for wildlife from ranching and irrigated agriculture, cattle decimate riparian areas that wildlife depend on in the arid West. Further, beef production is a major contributor to water pollution from the rangeland to the slaughter houses.
Most importantly, meat production is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. Animal agriculture produces the greenhouse gases (GHG) methane and nitrous oxide. Methane’s impact on global warming is 28 times higher than carbon dioxide. Nitrous oxide from manure storage and fertilizers has a global warming effect 265 times that of carbon dioxide.
Livestock’s Long Shadow report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 18 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions are attributable to livestock.
Other research shows that livestock account for half of worldwide GHG emissions.
Whenever the causes of climate change are discussed, fossil fuels top the list. Oil, natural gas, and especially coal are major sources of human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. But domesticated animals raised for food account for at least half of all human-caused GHGs. Replacing livestock products with better alternatives would be the best strategy for reversing climate change. In fact, this approach would have far more rapid effects on GHG emissions, and thus on the rate the climate is warming, than replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy.
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