Cattle and the environment do not thrive in factory farming. Cows used to typically reside on small to medium-sized farms in herds of ten to one hundred, where they could graze outdoors on grass pastures. This was before the emergence of industrial farming. Family-run farms of the kind that may conjure up idyllic visions of attentively cared-for animals were once fairly common throughout the United States.
Then, a shift toward industrial farming altered this dynamic, bringing with it problems like overcrowding and improper handling of animal waste, which still have grave effects on animal welfare and the environment today.
According to Sentience Institute’s estimates for 2019, factory farms are home to 99 per cent of all farmed animals in the US. More than 70.4% of cows are kept on factory farms, where they are confined to filthy, overcrowded indoor sheds and denied access to normal behaviours like grazing, nursing their calves, or interacting with their herds. Animal waste and methane gas pollution brought on by these terrible living circumstances also negatively affect the world on all fronts, contaminating our air, water, and land.
Because cows emit a significant quantity of methane when they digest their food, the production of dairy products and beef has a noticeable impact on climate change. Methane is a greenhouse gas, which means it has an impact on the earth’s temperature and climate. Planetary warming is caused by greenhouse gases, which trap the sun’s heat inside the atmosphere. In turn, this causes extreme weather phenomena such as powerful hurricanes, wildfires, and rising sea levels.
Where Do Methane Emissions Come From?
Several naturally occurring and human-influenced sources, including the following, produce methane emissions:
- mining of coal
- systems for natural gas and oil
- Treatment of wastewater
- industrial techniques
- Wild wetlands
- On average, energy, industry, agriculture, land use, and waste management account for 50–65 per cent of these emissions of methane.
Methane emissions from cow manure and factory farming contribute to global warming. Take into account that there are 9.4 million dairy cows in the US alone, and multiply the average daily waste produced by each cow, which is 81.5 pounds. In the wild, cows would cover a lot of ground and their faeces could safely fertilise the grass. However, manure runoff from animal agriculture can contaminate freshwater sources like rivers and streams with fertiliser.
In connection with this, land use, forestry, and agriculture contribute around 18.4% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. That is more than automobiles, trucks, trains, boats, or the whole transportation industry combined. Manure production and emissions from cattle are directly responsible for 5.8% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
What Are the Environmental Effects of Methane?
Stronger than carbon dioxide in trapping heat than it does, methane is a greenhouse gas. Additionally, it generates around 20% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Methane concentrations in the atmosphere have increased by more than twofold during the past two centuries as a result of human-related activities like animal agriculture. This has a big impact on global warming and leads to climate change and odd weather patterns.
How Is Methane Produced by Livestock?
Cows and other ruminant animals, such as sheep and goats, have stomachs with four separate chambers. Ruminant animals chew and regurgitate their food after swallowing it, and they also produce faeces that contain methane throughout the digestive process.
The amount of methane that cows emit can be significantly influenced by their diet. In contrast to other food sources, such as corn, research has shown that the digestion of grass and hay results in the production of greater methane. Scientists are looking into ways to lower methane emissions by changing what cows consume as they work to stem the damage caused by greenhouse gases like methane.
But getting back to biology, it turns out that belching is the real culprit behind high levels of methane emissions, contrary to popular belief that farmyard farts are to blame.
Percentage of Livestock-Related Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Over half of the greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases) released by livestock on a global scale come from cows, according to research by the United Nations. One cow can “belch 220 pounds of methane, which is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide,” according to a study by the University of California, Davis. Methane has a warming potential for the first 20 years after it enters the atmosphere that is more than 80 times greater than that of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas produced by automobile emissions.
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Cows: A Threat to The Environment?
Cows by themselves are not environmentally harmful, but when they are reared and killed in large quantities on factory farms with a focus on profit, the ecosystem suffers. Particularly in the production of meat and dairy, animal agriculture ranks among the top global emitters of gases that affect the climate.
A portion of the environmental issue is caused by cow dung in addition to methane emissions from cows. Rainfall can cause manure to run off into water sources when it is applied as fertiliser on fields since it contains phosphate and nitrogen.
The overabundance of manure and chemical fertiliser on fields due to overcrowding of animals on factory farms is referred to as manure overload. The runoff penetrates into groundwater because the plants and soil are practically laden with nutrients. This can cause widespread water contamination, which “promotes the establishment of toxic algal blooms and the dissemination of waterborne diseases.”
There are also other problems. When wetlands and forests are destroyed for farming, the land turns into a carbon source because these ecosystems naturally absorb and store carbon. Removing trees from the landscape causes extra carbon emissions because carbon dioxide is released back into the atmosphere.
Our environment continues to be in danger due to deforestation, which is also to blame for the loss of biodiversity and the climate problem.
Why Is a Nasty Cow Methane?
Cows would be the third-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, according to Sarah Kaplan’s article in the Washington Post.
As they break down their food, cows emit a potent greenhouse gas called methane into the atmosphere. Cows are ruminants, or creatures having many chambers in their stomachs, whose food ferments as it is being broken down. Methane is created as a result, and when cows urinate, this gas is released. Methane is very good at trapping heat, which has a direct effect on climate change and global warming.
What Role Do Cows Have in Global Warming?
Cows produce methane, a greenhouse gas that causes climate change and contributes to global warming. As they digest their meal and expel gas, cows release methane. According to a study from the University of California, Davis, belching is the main way that cows emit methane into the atmosphere.
Professor and air quality expert from the Department of Animal Science at UC Davis, Dr Frank Mitloehner, claims that methane from cattle is 28 times more potent in warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
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Compared to Car Emissions, Cow Methane
Even while it’s difficult to compare cows and vehicles directly, we may look at statistics that break down worldwide carbon emissions by industry. Agriculture is the industry that contributes the most to global greenhouse gas emissions when compared to transportation.
However, this does not take into consideration the ways that factory farms contribute to environmental degradation through fertiliser emissions, runoff, and other factors. A more in-depth analysis reveals that livestock emissions may be marginally lower than those in the transportation industry as a whole.
Although comparing cow methane to car emissions is somewhat akin to comparing apples and oranges, the truth is that both produce pollution that worsens our environment and contributes to climate change.
Why Is It Bad for The Environment to Consume Cows?
As climate change worsens and our global population expands, consuming beef is an increasingly unsustainable dietary option.
According to Denis Hayes and Gail Boyer Hayes’ book Cowed, consuming one pound of beef has a greater effect on climate change than consuming one gallon of gasoline. Their logic is consistent with the process of raising cows on factory farms, starting with the energy required to grow crops and fertilise fields, moving on to the gasoline used to power farm machinery and transport cattle to slaughter, and ending with the energy required to drive to the supermarket, buy the beef, and prepare it at home.
On the plus side, the study claims that substituting beans for steak “once a week for a year” can prevent 331 kilogrammes of carbon dioxide from entering the environment.
How You Can Help
Choosing a plant-based diet is one of the most significant things you can do to safeguard the environment. By omitting animal products from your diet, you lessen your impact on the environment and contribute to the preservation of the planet’s natural resources. Lessening the demand for meat will also help to diminish the cruel and terrible conditions that factory farms subject their animals too, as well as the environmental damage they do.
Find out more about the benefits of eating a plant-based diet for the environment, animals, and your health.
Nothing Has to Be This Way.
We can all decide not to accept the suffering and destruction brought on by factory farming. You can discover more about how your own effect can begin to improve things in the world.
Stay tuned to enviro360 for more infotainment news.