The soothing cadence of mastication, farts, belches, and showers of piss never ceases from dusk till dawn
– Simon Fairlie
I’m working my way through the excellent book, Meat: A Benign Extravagance by Simon Fairlie. It’s a fascinating deep dive into the world of sustainability, food security, and social and environmental justice, centered on the question on whether eating meat is good, bad or something in between. But it also serves as an introduction to the concepts that frame the debate. Cue global greenhouse gases.
What are greenhouse gases (GHG) exactly? For the purposes of a discussion on agriculture and climate change they are:
Why do they matter?
- They absorb and emit thermal radiation (heat) and so impact the Earth’s surface temperature.
- Man-made emissions of GHGs cause rising temperatures and scientific consensus is they are responsible for climate change.
- Climate change puts ecosystems, biodiversity and livelihoods at risk.
What human activities are responsible for GHGs? See this lovely graphic from the World Resources Institute that breaks down the industries/activities that produce GHGs and so frames any discussion on how to tackle the issue.
Keep these proportions in mind when considering the effects of agriculture in general and livestock in particular, on climate change. Some people argue that to stop eating meat will fix global warming. Sadly its not that simple.
Finally, which countries are the worst offenders, in absolute terms and per capita? See this visualization based on WRI data, which shows how emissions have changed over time.
- Fairlie, S. 2011. Meat: A Benign Extravagance.
- Baumert et al. 2005. Navigating the Numbers: Greenhouse Gas Data and International Climate Policy. World Resources Institute.
- Hertzog. 2009. World Greenhouse Gas Emissions in 2005. World Resources Institute.