Is Reducing Livestock Herd Size the Key to Reducing Methane Emissions?

In summary, livestock are part of the biogenic carbon cycle and release methane, but reducing herd size would not reduce atmospheric effects.
  • #1
Graeme M
325
31
I am aware that it is claimed that ruminant farming and animal agriculture more generally are significant contributors to anthropogenic emissions. Here in Australia, for example, about 80% of emissions from the ag sector are from methane and nitrous oxide. Various groups propose finding ways to reduce agricultural emissions in order to mitigate the growing contribution to atmospheric warming from methane. However, farming advocates argue differently, claiming that methane from ruminants is simply part of the biogenic carbon cycle and not a net contributor.

From what I have read, this is true if herd size remains constant - that is, due to the rapid breakdown of methane in the atmosphere and subsequent take-up by plants of the carbon dioxide that results, livestock are simply recycling methane through this process so long as herd size remains stable over and beyond the residence time of methane.

However, the global herd size is increasing and will continue to increase which leads to increasing emissions from manure management, enteric fermentation and other on-farm activities. That suggests that reducing the global herd size, or at least slowing its growth, would help mitigate warming potential from this sector.

More to the point though, surely reducing herd size continuously would further reduce the atmospheric store and further mitigate warming potential? I am told that this would not be the case as the plants eaten by livestock would still grow, still take in CO2 from the atmosphere and still breakdown releasing methane. In effect, they say, even if we eliminated animal agriculture it would make no difference to the effects of methane from the biosphere.

Is this true? Are efforts to reduce methane emissions from livestock really a waste of time?
 
Earth sciences news on Phys.org
  • #2
Graeme M said:
Are efforts to reduce methane emissions from livestock really a waste of time?
Probably. Since the cattle are not eating fossil fuel, there is no new carbon entering the atmosphere. It is all part of the atmospheric carbon cycle.
 
  • #3
Graeme M said:
Various groups ... farming advocates
The truth is (as often happens) is likely somewhere between. There is a natural carbon cycle around grasslands which includes methane and ruminants, but the human activity pumped it bigger than it would be still natural.

Graeme M said:
Is this true? Are efforts to reduce methane emissions from livestock really a waste of time?
I don't think so, but I also don't think that it would be our most urgent issue either.

By my opinion is that it would be better to shrink back to the simple utilization of natural grasslands (without more intensive/invasive practices in play) but food is imperative. Many other things are not.
 

1. What is methane and how does it contribute to the carbon cycle?

Methane is a colorless and odorless gas that is a natural part of the Earth's carbon cycle. It is produced through biological processes, such as decomposition of organic matter, and also through geological processes, such as the breakdown of fossil fuels. Methane contributes to the carbon cycle by acting as a greenhouse gas, trapping heat in the Earth's atmosphere and helping to regulate the planet's temperature.

2. How does methane impact the environment?

Methane has a significant impact on the environment due to its role as a greenhouse gas. It is estimated to be 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere. This can lead to changes in global climate patterns, such as rising sea levels and more frequent and severe natural disasters. Methane also plays a role in air pollution and can contribute to the formation of smog.

3. What are the main sources of methane emissions?

The main sources of methane emissions include natural sources, such as wetlands and termites, and human activities, such as agriculture, fossil fuel production and transportation, and waste management. Livestock, particularly cattle, are a major source of methane emissions due to their digestive processes. Landfills and wastewater treatment plants also produce significant amounts of methane.

4. How can we reduce methane emissions?

There are several ways to reduce methane emissions, both on an individual and global scale. Some examples include using renewable energy sources instead of fossil fuels, implementing more sustainable agricultural practices, and properly managing and disposing of waste. Additionally, reducing food waste can also help decrease methane emissions from landfills. It is important to address methane emissions as part of a larger effort to mitigate climate change.

5. What are the potential consequences of high levels of methane in the atmosphere?

High levels of methane in the atmosphere can have serious consequences for the planet and its inhabitants. As a potent greenhouse gas, it can contribute to the warming of the Earth's climate and lead to more frequent and severe natural disasters. It can also impact human health, as methane can displace oxygen in confined spaces and contribute to air pollution. Additionally, high levels of methane can also impact the health of ecosystems and disrupt the delicate balance of the carbon cycle.

Similar threads

  • Earth Sciences
Replies
2
Views
2K
  • Earth Sciences
Replies
34
Views
8K
Replies
5
Views
3K
  • Sci-Fi Writing and World Building
Replies
21
Views
967
Replies
39
Views
7K
Replies
8
Views
850
Replies
4
Views
3K
  • Earth Sciences
Replies
2
Views
4K
Replies
7
Views
3K
Replies
73
Views
13K
Back
Top