Providing enough food for the people of the World is no simple task. Billions of animals are raised each year to keep our stomachs full and to keep up with the demand for food. Take a moment to think about how large of a number one billion truly is. Let’s focus on a smaller number, say 89.9 million. Picture 89.9 million cows in a very large pasture, an ocean of cows. Now imagine all those cows pooping several times a day, everyday. That’s exactly what happens everyday here in the United States.
According to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association the cattle inventory as of January 1, 2015 was 89.9 million. On average, one cow can produce 65 lbs of manure a day. That’s nearly 12 tons of poop a year from one animal! Believe it or not, but that’s nearly 1.1 billion tons of cow manure expected to be produced this year in the United States alone. Holy COW Batman, that’s a lot of shit!
Why does any of this matter? Why is any of this information important outside of being the obscurest trivia question?
Cow emissions are actually more damaging to the planet than CO2 from cars. You may not have heard, but cow have been blamed for a number of other environmental problems as well. Desertification, creating dead zones in oceans, destroying coral reefs, poisoning rivers and drinking water, and oh yeah, did I mention the introduction of alien species? Yes, sadly the cow has had a part in all of this according to a 400-page report by the Food and Agricultural Organisation, entitled Livestock’s Long Shadow back in 2006. The report also surveys the damage done by goats, pigs, chicken and sheep. But in almost every case it all comes back the World’s 1.5 billion cattle. Livestock are responsible for and estimated 18 percent of greenhouse gases that cause global warming. That 18 percent is more than cars, planes and all other forms of transportation combined! The culprit:
Livestock are contributors of more than 100 other polluting gases, including more than two-thirds of the World’s emissions of ammonia (One of the main causes of acid rain); as well as an significant contributor to global methane (CH4) emissions. Methane, a greenhouse gas, is produced from the decomposition of livestock manure under anaerobic conditions. Technically anaerobic conditions are defined as, “the conditions in which, as a result of both chemical equilibria and biochemical activities, oxygen is not available for redox reactions. Instead, other oxidized compounds may be present which can be used by micro-organisms for specific types of energy metabolism.”
In other words, the bacterial rich environments found in large piles of manure metabolize other microorganisms found in waste, and release an array of gasses into the atmosphere as a result. The bacteria thrives in oxygen deprived environments like a big pile of poop, hence the anaerobic bit, and all of this goes into overdrive the warming it gets. If you have ever been near a large cattle farm on a hot summer day you have actually experienced this first hand. That smell of manure that travels for miles is the smell of bacteria at work.
The report concluded that massive damage done by livestock will more than double by 2050 as demand for meat increases, unless drastic measures are taken. This is a huge environmental problem that not many people know about. Unfortunately, there’s no clear or easy solution since cows are just so damn delicious. The number of cattle being raised will only increase going forward, so what do we do to get a handle on emissions from manure?
Find out in my next segment!