I wrote a short story last night, a Science Fiction piece centering on curbing global greenhouse emissions by changing our diet. As usual, I coughed and handwaved my way through anything that required actual numbers or figures, like the number of cattle on the planet or how many million tons of Methane they fart (sorry, “emit”) into the atmosphere each year.
This afternoon I spent a bit of time finding the necessary data and plugging it in. I found a February article from the Christian Science Monitor of particular interest. It reads, in part:
Livestock are responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions as measured in carbon dioxide equivalent, reports the FAO. This includes 9 percent of all CO2 emissions, 37 percent of methane, and 65 percent of nitrous oxide. Altogether, that’s more than the emissions caused by transportation.
The latter two gases are particularly troubling – even though they represent far smaller concentrations in atmosphere than CO2, which remains the main global warming culprit. But methane has 23 times the global warming potential (GWP) of CO2 and nitrous oxide has 296 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide.
If that’s not disturbing enough…
annual global meat production is projected to more than double from 229 million tons at the beginning of the decade to 465 million tons in 2050. This makes livestock the fastest growing sector of global agriculture.
This is all good stuff for the purposes of my story — it allows me to project out to a time when livestock will account for half of greenhouse emissions worldwide — but it wreaks hell on my dietary insecurities. I was, just this week, contemplating a move toward what folks are calling a “Paleo” diet. While I wasn’t looking forward to getting mammoth bits stuck betwixt my teeth, I was looking forward to copious amounts of yummy beef.