Carbon dioxide from fossil fuels is the primary man-made gas warming the planet, but methane is far more potent and the US’s biggest source of it is its 88m cattle, which produce more than landfill sites, natural gas leaks or hydraulic fracturing.
The Obama administration’s launch last month of a plan to curb methane emissions has given fresh relevance to climate-friendly technologies for cattle that range from dietary supplements and DNA gut tests to strap-on gas tanks.
Juan Tricarico, director of the Cow of the Future project at the Innovation Center for US Dairy, an Illinois research institute … said there were common misconceptions about where cattle methane comes from. “Ninety-seven per cent of all the methane gas is released by the front end through burps, not from the back end,” he said. ….
Methane accounts for 9 per cent of US greenhouse gas emissions and does not linger in the air as long as CO2, but it has a global warming effect more than 20 times greater than CO2, the White House says. ….
At Argentina’s National Institute of Agricultural Technology, scientists have created backpacks that collect gas via tubes plugged into cows’ stomachs. A typical animal emits 250-300 litres of methane a day and researchers say this could be used to power a car or a refrigerator for a day, but Jorge Antonio Hilbert of the institute says the tanks’ use on a large scale is “totally improbable”. ….
Ilmi Granoff of the Overseas Development Institute said … “Forget coal, Forget cars. The fastest way to address climate change would be to dramatically reduce the amount of meat people eat,” he said. “But that involves cultural preferences and they are difficult to touch.”
Barney Jopson, “Scientists seek climate-friendly cow of the future“, Financial Times, 9 April 2014.
Another reason to feel guilty when eating steak … or even while drinking milk!