The earth has reached a breaking point on the amount of greenhouse gases the atmosphere can handle. According to 350.org, in March 2017, “the world’s carbon dioxide atmosphere levels surpassed 400 parts per million.” Scientists around the world have come to an agreement that safe levels of CO2 should stay below 350 parts per million. Exceeding that amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can cause dramatic environmental consequences for future generations. According to climate scientists at NASA, human activity—including “deforestation, land use changes, and the burning of fossil fuels”—is the main source of the expanding “greenhouse effect.” A November 2006 report issued by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations stated that, “Cattle-rearing generates more global warming greenhouse gases, as measured in CO2 equivalent, than transportation.”
The farming and agriculture sector of the United States has been heavily engrained in our society. According to the North American Meat Institute, “In 2013, American meat companies produced a combined 25.8 billion pounds of beef, 23.2 billion pounds of pork and 38.4 billion pounds of chicken.” These numbers are expected to double in the next fifty years. The major factor that correlates to livestock production is the amount of methane dispersed into the atmosphere. As stated by the Environmental Defense Fund, “methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide.” With much of the corporate media emphasis on C02 emissions, the impacts of methane are less well understood by the general public. Organizations such as Green Peace, 350.org and the Sierra Club mainly focus on human activity and fossil fuels as the main cause of climate change. Will Tuttle, the author of The World Peace Diet argues that, “as we gradually stop breeding cows…other native wildlife will be able to repopulate, bringing stressed and depleted ecosystems back to life.”
Credible news sources surrounding the increasing dangers of livestock production are difficult to find. However, in 2014 Nicolette Hahn Niman published Defending Beef. Niman argues that grass-fed pastoral animal husbandry is an essential counterpart to the impact of mono-agricultural production around the world. Corporate commercial grain-fed feedlots (CAFOs) appear to cause dramatic harm to the environment and ecosystems. Niman states, “When you buy grass-fed beef or well-raised grain-finished beef from a farm or ranch in your region, you may literally be providing the financial support that means the difference between the survival or failure of that family business.”
As consumers we must advocate this healthy habit of grass-fed consumption and fight the mass production of livestock. Humans must reduce our meat eating overall, and address this underreported issue of expanding livestock production around the world.
Source: “Methane: The Other Important Greenhouse Gas,” Environmental Defense Fund, no date, retrieved March 27, 2017, https://www.edf.org/methane-other-important-greenhouse-gas.
Editors Note: For previous coverage by Project Censored on methane emissions as an under-reported aspect of climate change see, “Methane and Arctic Warming’s Global Importance,” Story #6 in Censored 2016: Media Freedom on the Line.
Student Researcher: Will Sudbay (University of Vermont)
Faculty Evaluator: Rob Williams (University of Vermont)