Climate Change? The Answer is Pork

photoMeat may play a much bigger role in climate change than is generally believed, according to a new study from the Worldwatch Institute which finds that 51 percent of global emissions are being caused by meat.  The commonly-accepted figure until now has been 18 percent.

The controversial paper claims that United Nations figures have severely underestimated the greenhouse gases caused by tens of billions of cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry and other animals in three main areas: methane, land use and respiration. Their findings come amid increasing calls for people to eat less meat as a tool in fighting climate change.

In the 19-page report, Robert Goodland, a former lead environmental adviser to the World Bank, and Jeff Anhang, a current adviser, suggest that domesticated animals cause 32 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, more than the combined impact of industry and energy.

“If this argument is right,” write Goodland and Anhang, “it implies that replacing livestock products with better alternatives would be the best strategy for reversing climate change. In fact, this approach would have far more rapid effects on greenhouse gas emissions and their atmospheric concentrations than actions to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.”

Scientists have long been concerned about livestock’s emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Cows and other ruminants emit 37 per cent of the world’s methane. A study by NASA scientists published in Science recently found that methane has significantly more effect on climate change than previously thought: 33 times more than carbon dioxide, compared with a previous factor of 25.

Besides the exhalations of animals and land-use factors, eating meat rather than plants also requires extra refrigeration and cooking and “expensive” treatment of human diseases arising from livestock such as swine flu, the authors say.

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