Meat & Dairy Matter - Changing Consumer Choices Can Cut Methane & Nitrous Oxide Emissions 84%

cow silhouette photo

photo: Tambako the Jaguar via flickr

One more piece of information supporting how important your personal dietary choices are in dealing with climate change: New research published in the journal Global Environmental Change shows that by reducing the amount of meat and dairy eaten and changing farming practices, by 2055 we could reduce emissions of methane and nitrous oxide--two greenhouse gases far more potent than carbon dioxide--from agricultural sources by more than 80%.Summing up the research, study lead author Alexander Popp of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research says, "Meat and milk really matter. Reduced consumption could decrease the future emissions of nitrous oxide and methane from agriculture to levels below those of 1995."

The calculations show that global agricultural non-carbon dioxide (non-CO2) emissions increase significantly until 2055 if food energy consumption and diet preferences remain constant at the level of 1995. Taking into account changing dietary preferences towards higher value foods, like meat and milk, associated with higher income, emissions will rise even more. In contrast, reducing the demand for livestock products by 25 percent each decade from 2015 to 2055, leads to lower non-CO2 emissions even compared to 1995. (Science Daily)

The researchers note that in addition to changing consumer demand for meat and dairy products--which they cite as the most important thing--technical changes in agriculture technique to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions are also necessary to see these sort of emission reductions.

Taken together, changing consumer demand and farming technique, could reduce methane and nitrous oxide emissions by 84% by 2055.

Nitrous Oxide Emissions From Farming Mean Acid Rain Failing Again
One timely example of how nitrous oxide emissions do more than contribute to climate change. Grist reports that nitrous oxide from factory farms is now the number one source of acid rain, replacing sulphur emissions from coal-fired power plants:

Part of the problem dates back to WWI, when two German scientists invented the Haber-Bosch process, which took nonreactive nitrogen from the air (N2) and converted it into reactive, usable ammonia (NH3). Most of the nitrogen harvested via this process has been used in fertilizers, and the runoff from farms has created dead zones in Chesapeake Bay and at the mouths of the Columbia and Mississippi rivers. Some efforts have been made to regulate the agricultural nitrogen runoff, but atmospheric emissions of agricultural ammonia remain virtually unrestricted.

Agri-ammonia vapors also derive from concentrated animal feeding operations in the U.S. South. The gas rises into the air and is deposited dry or in rainfall where in the ground bacteria breaks it into nitrogen and nitric acid, which can kill fish and plants. "Agriculture is increasingly functioning as an intensively managed industrial operation, and that is creating serious water, soil, and air problems," says Viney Aneja, a professor at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

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More on Vegetarianism:
Vegetarian Diet Could Cut Climate Change Mitigation Costs by 70%
Why Graham Hill Is a Weekday Vegetarian and Why You Should Be Too! (Video)
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