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June 20, 2021 – Modifying Diet
One of the biggest sources of Methane comes from the food we eat, or rather the way we grow and dispose of the foods we eat. Agriculture is the biggest source of carbon emissions after transportation but most of these emissions come in the form of Methane along with another greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide is one of the most potent non-carbon greenhouse gases.
One of the first things we need to tackle is the amount of food that we waste. In America we waste an average of 108 billion pounds of food each year. Most of this food goes into landfills and eventually decomposes releasing methane. In some cases, this methane is being captured and used as a fuel source to generate electricity.
The methane is technically a renewable as the carbon dioxide from burning this can be absorbed by plants to produce more food. While moving to capture the methane from landfills is a workable strategy it would probably be better to not waste the food in the first place. US restaurants often provide large portions and at home people often cook much more than is needed to feed their family. One strategy to help reduce food waste is to eat half of a meal at the restaurant and take the other half home to make a second meal. Another strategy is for two people to share a meal. Buy one appetizer and one main course and split it between two people. At home, leftovers can make a tasty meal and don’t forget to check the refrigerator and use food before it spoils.
One of the biggest sources of Methane comes from Ruminants, which in the US is mostly Cattle and Sheep. Goats, deer, buffalo, and camels are also ruminants and are eaten in different areas of the world. Ruminants have a stomach that contains four chambers. Their digestive system produces a large amount of methane which is then expelled into the atmosphere when the belch. As an alternative we can move to a more vegetable based diet with foods like chicken and fish instead of red meat. Research seems to indicate that this is also more healthy diet.
Rice production is another large source of methane emissions from agriculture. The process of growing rice in a flooded field creates ideal conditions for the production of methane. Rice is a major source of sustenance for a large part of the world’s population so we need to come up with more climate friendly ways to grow it. There are two approaches that can be taken. The first is to try and capture the methane and use it as a renewable energy source. The second method is to find ways of producing rice in a way that is more climate friendly. Research is currently underway to find ways of implementing the second option.
Most CO2 produced in agriculture is part of the transport sector and this can be addressed with electrification. This is also true of the emissions from factory farming such as dairy farming and raising cattle or chicken indoors rather than free range. Again, most of these emissions can be eliminated by electrification of the grid.
Nitrous oxide (N2O) is released from soil when nitrogen-based fertilizers are used. N2O is a strong greenhouse gas, about 300 times more potent that CO2 and it will stay in the atmosphere for abou114 years. The obvious solution is to use less nitrogen-based fertilizers. Using soil testing and careful crop rotation, the amount of fertilizer required can be kept to a minimum. N2O gets emitted when the soil is tilled so keeping this to a minimum also helps reduce emissions. Utilizing nitrification inhibitors to reduce nitrate leaching and N2O production will also be needed.
Food is a critical requirement for survival and also is often a source of pleasure. Most Americans love to eat burgers or to slap a steak on the barbeque. In the end though, it is likely we will need to modify our diet to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases generated through agriculture if we are to truly address global warming.
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