Beef Causes More Greenhouse Gas Emissions Than Expected: Livestock and Climate Change

First Posted: Jul 21, 2014 01:11 PM EDT

Want to avoid contributing to climate change? Then you may want to stop eating meat. Scientists have found that livestock emissions are actually on the rise, and that beef cattle are responsible for far more greenhouse gas emissions than other types of animals.

Carbon dioxide is actually one of the most prevalent gases when it comes to climate change. It's released by vehicles, industry, and forest removal. That said, methane and nitrous oxide account for about 28 percent of global warming activity.

In this case, the researchers assessed how much of these gases livestock might be contributing. They estimated the greenhouse gas emissions related to livestock in 237 countries over nearly half a century. This actually revealed that livestock emissions have increased by 51 percent over this period.

More specifically, they found a stark difference between livestock-related emissions in the developing world, which accounts for most of this increase, and that released by developed countries. These emissions are expected to increase further going forward since the demand for livestock-related products is estimated to double by 2050.

"The developing world is getting better at reducing greenhouse emissions caused by each animal, but this improvement is not keeping up with the increasing demand for meat," said Dario Caro, one of the researchers, in a news release. "As a result, greenhouse gas emissions form livestock keep going up and up in much of the developing world."

The researchers found that cattle comprised 74 percent of livestock-related gas emissions, with 54 percent coming from beef cattle. The findings reveal that beef in particular may be to blame for rising emissions.

"That tasty hamburger is the real culprit," said Ken Caldeira, one of the researchers. "It might be better for the environment if we all became vegetarians, but a lot of improvement could come from eating pork or chicken instead of beef."

The findings are published in the journal Climactic Change.

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