By JJ Jacobs
While the country is focused on Donald Trump naming inexperienced individuals to cabinet positions, ignoring intelligence briefings, and cancelling press conferences to meet with Kanye West, the crisis of our planet still looms in the background. Recently, Donald Trump picked Scott Pruitt, an Oklahoma attorney and climate change denier that is currently suing the EPA over climate change as the head of the EPA. That move left many scratching their heads, but it isn’t the least bit surprising. We also found out that Rick Perry, former Texas governor and climate change denier, would head the Department of Energy, the cabinet position he famously couldn’t remember during his bid for president back in 2011. While both of these picks spell bad news for our planet, there is perhaps a bigger issue at play that never sees the light of day when discussing climate change and that is the effect big agriculture has on climate change.
We all know about greenhouse gases like CO2 and methane are the driving forces behind climate change. We’ve invented hybrid and fully electric cars to combat CO2 emissions as well as cracked down on other sources contributing to the dispersing of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. While transportation exhaust is responsible for 13% of greenhouse gas emissions, animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock and their byproducts are responsible for at least 32,000 tons of CO2 per year, which is about 51% of all greenhouse gases emitted worldwide. One byproduct produced by animal agriculture, methane, is 25-100 times more destructive than carbon dioxide on a 20 year time frame, and methane has a global warming potential of 86 times that of carbon dioxide on a 20 year frame. Cows alone produce about 150 billion gallons of methane a day. Livestock is also responsible for 65% of all human-related emissions of nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide has 296 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, which will stay in the atmosphere for an additional 150 years. It is predicted that agriculture emissions will increase by 80% by 2050. You might say these statistics are all well and good, but what about fossil fuels? Don’t they contribute more towards climate change? Well, the emissions of methane compared to that of natural gas emissions in the United States are nearly equal. Even without fossil fuels, we would exceed our 565 gigatonnes CO2 limit by 2030 just from raising animals. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t focus on fossil fuels and finding other sustainable forms of energy like wind, solar, and electric energy sources. We should definitely be looking to curb our use of fossil fuels by switching to renewable energy sources, but that would not completely slow down global warming and climate change when animal agriculture is so destructive to our climate. We cannot hope to stop and reverse climate change unless we look at all the options and solutions to each problem. As far as big agriculture, the problem extends past greenhouse gas emissions.
Because animal agriculture is growing constantly, more land is needed to keep these animals. Currently, livestock covers 45% of all the Earth’s total land. With needs of expanding, animal agriculture is greatly influencing the destruction of our rainforests. In fact, animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. 1-2 acres of rainforest are cleared every second and up to 137 plant, animal, and insect species are lost every day due to rainforest destruction. So far, 136 million acres of rainforest have been cleared for animal agriculture. The rainforest is one of the most diverse populations of plants, animals, and insects in our biodome. The destruction of the rainforest contributes to climate change and results in increasing temperatures. From a young age, I learned to be concerned with saving the Amazon, but the Amazon as still under attack to this day, perhaps even more so.
You might be wondering, what does all of this mean? First, it means that we have to study in greater detail the effects of big agriculture on our climate. It means that we need to hold the government accountable when it comes to big agriculture, and we must enforce stronger regulations when it comes to animal agriculture. Big agriculture is a huge business in the United States, especially here in the Midwest. If we are willing to have EPA restrictions (for now) on fossil fuel production and use, we must also have restrictions on big agriculture because we cannot let emissions get more out of control otherwise animal agriculture would be unsustainable for the planet.
Oppenlander, Richard A. Food Choice and Sustainability: Why Buying Local, Eating Less Meat, and Taking Baby Steps Won’t Work. . Minneapolis, MN : Langdon Street, 2013. Print.