Methane gas emission problems?  Round up the usual bovine suspects.

Reuters recently published an article about the need to curtail cow burping and flatulence.  Why?  Because cows generate 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions each year.  Since their “contributions” are in the form of methane gas, it’s a particularly meaty problem.  To quote the Environmental Defense Fund:

Methane has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere. Even though CO2 has a longer-lasting effect, methane sets the pace for warming in the near term.”

You’ve probably herd this before, but have you ever looked at the numbers?  How much methane does a cow really produce?  A great deal.  The average cow belches and farts about two hundred pounds of methane per year.  Multiply that by 1.5 billion cows worldwide and the total is staggering: 300 billion pounds.

To put this into perspective, the US gas network leaked the equivalent of 235 million lbs. of methane gas during major incidents in 2020.  If one were to include minor gas leaks, that number would be five times larger, or about 1.2 billion lbs. Quite a lot, but still less than one-half-of-one-percent of the total worldwide cow emissions that year. So, what’s the solution?

A change of diet.

Scientists are studying how changes in cattle feed impact methane gas emissions.  For example, adding a small amount of seaweed to a cow’s diet has been shown to decrease the amount of methane released from cow orifices by half.  (Medium) well done!  Daily per-bovine emissions would be reduced to about a quarter pound(er) of methane.

It’s a start.

Yet, it is only a start.  Cows constitute only half of this food chain equation.  Modifying their diets is far easier to contemplate than the alternative.  That, of course, is a touchy subject.  Let’s not go there.

“Round up the usual bovine suspects.”


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Peter Dragone - Co-founder of Keurig.