— Updated Below —
Welcome to a new series for hellocomein: Book Club. The first book that we’ll be tackling is Hot, Flat, and Crowded, the new treatise on Global Warming and Globalization from Thomas Friedman.
I’m only a couple of chapters into this thing, so I don’t have much to say yet, except to expand on a paragraph concerning livestock (Ch 2 Pg 35):
That’s right – the striking thing about greenhouse gases is the diversity of sources that emit them. A heard of cattle can be worse than a highway full of Hummers. Livestock gas is very high in methane… “Molecule for molecule, methane’s heat-trapping power in the atmosphere is twenty-one times stronger than carbon dioxide, the most abundant greenhouse gas,” reported Science World. “With 1.3 billion cows belching constantly around the world (110 million in the United States alone), it’s no surprise that methane released by livestock is one of the chief global sources of the gas, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
In fact, according to ABC, livestock accounts for 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas problem. It’s unclear exactly how that number was calculated, but for the sake of discussion it’s pretty daunting.
There are a few groups looking at the livestock methane emissions from different angles that I thought would be worth sharing. One approach is to introduce biological tweaks to the system, such as developing food sources for livestock that produces fewer methane burps during digestion. Scientists at biotech company Gramina are doing exactly that with a new “burpless” grass in the works.
I think the more interesting discussion is being led by food writers Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman. Both take issue with the over-industrialized diet Americans eat. Simply put, we eat too much meat, and have been duped into thinking it’s healthy by the Agro-business lobbyists (More Protein!). As a result, we have an enormous livestock industry that is a large contributor to both Global Warming and Heart Disease. Bittman has a great food column in the New York Times called the Minimalist, and I’m anxious to read some of Pollan’s writings in the near future. For now here are a couple of interesting videos of Bittman at the TED Conference and Pollan on the most recent Bill Moyer’s Journal that provide the gist of their arguments. Both are definitely worth watching when you have a chance.
The New York Times has an article today on livestock’s contribution to global warming that’s worth a read. An excerpt:
At the electricity-from-manure project here in Sterksel, the refuse from thousands of pigs is combined with local waste materials (outdated carrot juice and crumbs from a cookie factory), and pumped into warmed tanks called digesters. There, resident bacteria release the natural gas within, which is burned to generate heat and electricity.
The farm uses 25 percent of the electricity, and the rest is sold to a local power provider. The leftover mineral slurry is an ideal fertilizer that reduces the use of chemical fertilizers, whose production releases a heavy dose of carbon dioxide.
For this farm the scheme has provided a substantial payback: By reducing its emissions, it has been able to sell carbon credits on European markets. It makes money by selling electricity. It gets free fertilizer.