Beef, what a gas!
With the threat of global warming staring us in the face, we try to find something to point the finger at. First, it was the big trucks, that as children we would pump our arms at hoping they would honk for us. Those were the days, when driving in a convertible on the highway, big rig trucks would emit a cloud of black smoke to billow in your face. Second, we blamed the landfills for secreting too much methane; with that a billion dollar industry of regulators and environmental enforcement agencies were born. Currently, we blame the very cars that we drove to the landfill while enjoying our gas-scented evocative childhood pleasures. Finally, a select few, but prominent, people are pointing the finger to the meat and dairy industry.
Cows and other ruminants are the top two or three leading contributors of greenhouse gasses, a study put out by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization stated. Cows do not produce the same volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as SUVs, such as, CO2; however, they produce gasses that have at least 21 times the warming potential—methane and nitrous oxide. When a cow eats, the food is ingested through the mouth and lead to the largest of its four stomachs, where bacteria are introduced and the food starts to break down. Then the food returns to the mouth as cud, where the cow chews it further. Here in lies the problem, when the cow is chewing the food, it is belching and releasing methane into the air. It is estimated that a single cow can belch out anywhere from 25-130 gallons of methane daily. To try and combat the cud problem, scientists in Australia, Britain and New Zealand are attempting to create a bovine Alka-Selzter, in tandem with creating new strands of grass that are more energy efficient hence creating less methane during digestion. The problem of digestion does not stop there, once the food digest the cow defecates leaving behind a completely new producer of methane and nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide has 296 times the warming potential that carbon dioxide has, to combat the creation of this VOC the gasses from manure storage containers are lit, converting the NO2 into the less harmful CO2. Now, multiply that by the 1.5 billion cattle in the world’s meat and dairy system and you have a problem bigger than any SUV on the market could produce.
Since 1967 the auto industry has made significant changes to car engines and exhaust systems. Driving down any highway in America 1967 and before and it would be gilded with black smoke, the smell of gasoline would permeate through anything within 500 feet of a gas station because of not having protective rubber stops to contain the fumes being emitted while pumping gas. In 2002, a regular combustion engine car would emit 1.4 pounds of CO2 each year, that is a momentous difference from the 14.6 pounds being emitted in 1967. In an attempt to fight against vehicular VOCs, Toyota invented the gas-electric hybrid. Hybrid cars first became available to the public in the late 1990s, this was a huge strive for cleaner air and better fuel efficiency. Many people bought hybrid cars, but their popularity never grew to epic proportions because humans are creatures of speed and hybrid cars could not deliver. In 2008, the hydrogen car will be on limited release in Los Angeles. This car run strictly on hydrogen and electricity and has no VOC emissions, just pure water. This is a magnificent improvement and it will drastically reduce the amount of CO2 emissions, but it will not be enough until regulations are made for other aspects of life.
The ubiquity of beef in American culture is equally as prevalent as baseball or apple pie. Americans eat, according to the 2000 census, nearly 100 pounds of beef each year. Americans are also among the leaders in obesity, heart disease and colorectal cancer, all of which are linked to excessive red-meat intake. Therefore, with the obvious health implications and the risk of melting the polar ice caps, Americans still support the meat and dairy industry. This is because the implications of peoples’ actions are kept out of mainstream politics because the agricultural industry has too much money they can hold over the government’s head. In the late 1970s, Sen. George McGovern suggested that American’s cut down on fatty meats and dairy intake for health reasons. The American meat and dairy industry took this as a personal assault on their business, so they took action and voted McGovern out of office a few years later. In September of 2007, former senator John Edwards suggested that Americans trade in their SUVs to benefit the environment, also stating that cows generate more greenhouse gasses than SUVs. When TV talk-show host Bill Maher asked, “you want to take a shot at meat?” Edwards dodged the question as not to damage his chances of becoming president.
Humans are the only species that drink milk beyond infancy. As babies, we drink milk for nourishment and to help us grow. Cows milk is very high in saturated fat and protein, within a year a cow will become four times its birth size thanks to the milk of its mother. Americans drink excessive amounts of milk and then wonder why as a nation they are so morbidly obese compared to the rest of the world. The bad news of drinking milk does not stop there, all the chemicals and growth hormones that are put into the cows feed gets filtered through their bodies and eventually ends up in their milk supply and then to the consumers. We feed our children milk, which is like feeding them liquid steroids; girls are developing breast sooner and that are much larger than previously recorded, boys are much taller, developing facial hair earlier and their voices are deeper. Not only do the hormones, chemicals, and antibiotics get into the milk—it gets into the meat also. Therefore, humans are eating twice the amount of growth hormones than if they were to eat meat alone. Ingesting these antibiotics causes our immune systems to become weaker and begin to attack themselves, thus causing allergies, such as, the ever-present peanut allergy that is plaguing today’s youth in record numbers. The consumption of beef will cause massive damages to the environment and the world’s population by 2050, as the demand for meat and dairy increases exponentially.
This problem stares us in the face every time we open the fridge or sit down to dinner, cows and their byproducts are omnipresent in society today. Unless politicians and reputable environmental agencies start to speak on this issue more frequently, the problem will persist indefinitely. One way to combat the issue indirectly would be to take McGovern’s stance and link red meat and dairy products to a well-known health risk. This will help cut down the demand for meats and dairy, assuming there is not a counter campaign by government agencies or politicians in an effort to boost their own reputation. In such an event, it would not be in the best interest of the environment to stop pushing the issue. More legislation has to be made for cows, other ruminants, and their manures, regulating their emissions. Global warming will still endure, even with the advent of new fuel-efficient and low emissions cars, the reduction in the supply of meat and dairy will greatly reduce the risk of global warming for the time being.