150 million years ago, dinosaurs roamed the Earth and the average temperature was about 18 degrees hotter than it is today. A new study by British scientists connects the two, arguing that flatulence from sauropods could have produced 520 million tons of methane annually, enough to partially explain the warm climate, the BBC reported.
Published in the journal Current Biology, the study was conducted by David Wilkinson, of Liverpool John Moores University, and scientists at the the University of London and the University of Glasgow. The team studied flatulence in cows, and used estimates of the size and number of sauropods (an order of large dinosaurs that includes the apotosaurus, aka the brontosaurus) to come up with the 520 tons figure.
It's difficult to know what to make of the findings. According to Dr. Wilson, cows today produce between 50 and 100 million tons of methane annually- less than 20% of what sauropods contributed, a seemingly insignificant amount. But given the size difference between cows and sauropods, among the largest land animals of all time, 100 tons is a lot of methane.
There's no reason to believe that the meat industry that produces huge numbers of cows is shrinking, so things aren't going to get better soon. As it stands, the meat and dairy industries are responsible for 51% of all greenhouse gas emissions.
What's the Takeaway?
I worry that the study will be used to fuel climate change denial: if dinosaurs can cause global warming, surely humans can't be at fault for rising temperatures today, right? The problem is that cows aren't the only animals producing methane, humans are pumping carbon dioxide into the air as well and we're on track for an 11 degree Fahrenheit global temperature increase by 2100: not so different from dino times.
Maybe the lesson is: With all the havoc we're already wreaking on the environment, it's a really good thing we don't have dinosaur farts to worry about, too.