Mark Hertsgaard, Tuesday, July 2, 2013:
Eating beef is particularly environmentally damaging: Cows are less efficient than chickens or pigs at converting corn (or other feed) into body weight, so they consume more of it than other livestock do. As a result, the industrial agriculture system employs 55 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce 1 calorie of beef. Meanwhile, livestock production is responsible for much of the carbon footprint of global agriculture, which accounts for at least 25 percent of humanity’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.(The rest of Hertsgaard’s article delves into the “responsible meat” fantasies of Michael Pollan, in denial of the facts just spelled out here.)
Despite its large carbon footprint, the agricultural sector is invariably overlooked in climate policy discussions. The latest example: In his 50-minute speech on climate change last week, President Barack Obama did not even mention agriculture except for a half-sentence reference to how farmers will have to adapt to more extreme weather.
David Biello, Tuesday, July 16, 2013:
Few would have to change their livelihoods as radically as American farmers if efforts to combat climate change became more serious. ... [T]he biggest change delivered by science to farming in the past century is ... the advent of fossil-fuel-powered machinery and fertilizer wrested from the air by chemistry. That, along with cutting down forests to make room for farms around the world, makes agriculture the second-largest cause of the greenhouse gas emissions changing the climate. There's methane from massive meat farms and manure lagoons. There's nitrous oxide — yes, the stuff used at the dentist’s office — seeping out of the soil thanks to all that nitrogen fertilizer, and it's no laughing matter since N₂O is nearly 300 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than CO₂ over a century [and persists in the atmosphere less than a tenth as long as CO₂, making it ~170-fold a more effective target for action. And methane is more than 20 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than CO₂ over a century and persists in the atmosphere only 10 years, making it ~200-fold a more more effective target for action.](The rest of Biello’s article mostly describes only reducing tillage, but with the example of using herbicides instead.)
Also noticing the misapplication of climate action is the National Academy of Sciences, in its recent report “Effects of U.S. Tax Policy on Greenhouse Gas Emissions”:
[T]he combined effect of current energy-sector tax expenditures on GHG emissions is very small and could be negative or positive. The most comprehensive study available suggests that their combined impact is less than 1 percent of total U.S. emissions. If we consider the estimates of the effects of the provisions we analyzed using more robust models, they are in the same range. We cannot say with confidence whether the overall effect of energy-sector tax expenditures is to reduce or increase GHG emissions.environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, vegetarianism, veganism