“I am cow, eating grass
methane gas comes out my ass
and out my muzzle when I belch
o the ozone layer is thinner
from the outcome of my dinner
I am cow, I am cow, I’ve got gas”
(I Am Cow – Arrogant Worms)
The second verse of I Am Cow artfully (or distastefully, depending on your preferences) describes the gaseous emissions of a cow. Apparently, a cow releases about 70-120 kg of methane gas a year. ONE cow. What about a whole herd? Goodness. What’s more, methane has a greater effect than carbon dioxide, as a greenhouse gas.
Okay, let’s not just accuse the cows (otherwise they’d be sad). Ruminant animals (sheep, goats, and camels too) have fore stomachs (the rumen) where microbial fermentation occurs, so that the animal can digest the fibrous stuff they ate (see: not anatomically accurate image). Unfortunately, that fermentation produces methane.
Confined animal feeding operations/factory farms, pollute the air in a whole lot of ways. Have you ever walked near a farm? It stinks. Why? Here are two reasons.
1. Manure is part and parcel of rearing animals. Manure is usually stored in giant tanks or lagoons to decompose, and releases hydrogen sulfide, methane, ammonia and carbon dioxide into the air. More pollution is caused when large amounts of this manure is used to fertilize fields. (Nasty.)
2. Cheap meat comes from feeding cheap, low-quality, grain-based feed to animals (mainly cows). However, their bodies weren’t designed to digest that stuff, so they get indigestion, which causes them to release more methane.
Not only are some of these gases greenhouse gases, gaseous ammonia and nitric oxide produced affect the nitrogen cycle, which in turn affects soil and stream, acidity, forest productivity, and other parts of the cycle.
This almost makes me want to become a vegetarian, but I’m not sure if that will make that much of a difference, if any difference at all.
Cambra-López, M., Aarnink, A. J., Zhao, Y., Calvet, S., & Torres, A. G. (2010). Airborne particulate matter from livestock production systems: A review of an air pollution problem. Environmental pollution, 158(1), 1-17.
GRACE Communications Foundation. (2016). Air Quality. Retrieved 27 October 2016, from http://www.sustainabletable.org/266/air-quality
Steinfeld, H., Gerber, P., Wassenaar, T. D., Castel, V., & de Haan, C. (2006). Livestock’s role in climate change and air pollution. In Livestock’s long shadow: environmental issues and options (pp. 79-122). Rome: Food & Agriculture Org..
Time for change. (2008). Are cows the cause of global warming? Retrieved 27 October 2016, from http://timeforchange.org/are-cows-cause-of-global-warming-meat-methane-CO2