05 September 2009

92 Days - Explaining the Connection Between Going Veg and the Methane (and Nitrous Oxide) Menace

With the help of GreenHeart Education's climate change research analyst, I have been working to understand the importance of methane emission reductions in our fight to safeguard the future.

There is no question that stopping the emissions of methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (or N2O, which comes from burning fossil fuels, from chemical fertilizers, and from manure, which forms ammonia, which converts to N2O in the atmosphere) will give us the most reward for our efforts.

Because the eating of industrialized meat is a huge producer of methane and nitrous oxide emissions — and because what we put in our shopping carts and our mouths is something that we have total control over — I will continue to strongly suggest lowering meat consumption / going vegetarian as the most important compassionate climate action that individuals and families can take.

And as spiritual leader, Supreme Master Ching Hai, points out, the more people who go vegetarian, the more time we give ourselves to get to zero carbon emissions. "Stop killing animals, stop producing meat, stop eating meat," she advises. Okay, here's the science of this issue (please see The Green Grok if you need more information):
  • Even though CO2 has caused more warming over the long term, reductions in CH4 or N2O emissions will provide a lot more climate relief in the short term than reductions of CO2.
  • This is because reducing methane emissions by one ton is equivalent to reducing CO2 emissions by 25 tons; thus, its CDE (carbon dioxide equivalent) is 25.
  • Because its carbon dioxide equivalent is 298, reducing our emission of nitrous oxide by one ton is the equivalent of 298 tons of CO2. So almost 300 times the bang for our buck!
The above figures are based on the 100 year global warming potential of the greenhouse gases. If we use the IPCC's global warming potential figure over 20 years, the benefit of reducing methane is even more dramatic.
  • Over 20 years CO2 is 1, methane is 72 and nitrous oxide is 279.
So 1 ton of methane emissions prevented = 72 tons of CO2. Each ton of nitrous oxide prevented = 279 tons of CO2. Nitrous oxide emissions last in the atmosphere for 114 years and so these emissions must stop — because they are so persistent and cumulative.

I really hope that explaining this science and math to people will help them understand the climate-change-fighting power of going veg, switching just one habit. After all, it's not that we're asking people to stop eating altogether. We're simply asking them to make a dietary choice that is delicious, nutritious, healthier (do it right!), cheaper, more fun, definitely more compassionate, and a gift to their children's future.

So the case for closing down the livestock industry is overwhelming - it's a matter of our survival. If slaughtering and eating other animals does not stop, humanity is dead.

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I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?