We’ve underestimated how much livestock methane emissions have contributed to global warming

 Cows, pigs and sheep are significant contributors to climate change, that’s nothing new, but it seems the amount of this has been grossly underestimated. 

According to a NASA-sponsored study from the Joint Global Change Research Institute, methane emission from livestock (CH4) in 2011 was 11% higher than estimates provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2006.

The research suggests this estimation was wrong due to out of date data in previous studies. 

According to the senior author of the study Dr. Julie Wolf, methane is an important moderator of the Earth’s atmospheric temperature

“It has about four times the atmospheric warming potential of carbon dioxide. Direct measurements of methane emissions are not available for all sources of methane. Thus, emissions are reported as estimates based on different methods and assumptions,” she said.

“In many regions of the world, livestock numbers are changing, and breeding has resulted in larger animals with higher intakes of food.  This, along with changes in livestock management, can lead to higher methane emissions.”

What can be done to reduce this?

The seaweed approach

For years now, researchers have been trialling the use of seaweed in the diet of livestock to reduce the amount of methane produced.

Results from a study by James Cook University showed that a small amount of seaweed can make a huge difference.

“We know that if Asparagopsis is fed to sheep at 2 percent of their diet, they produce between 50 and 70 percent less methane over a 72-day period continuously, so there is already a well-established precedent,” one of the team, Rocky De Nys, told ABC News.

Eat less meat?

Coming from a vegetarian, the idea of potentially reducing methane emissions without making any lifestyle changes is exciting.

Research led by scientists at the Oxford Martin School, found that reducing meat consumption within health guidelines, or eating what is mostly a vegetarian diet would quite dramatically decrease emissions.

The study found that if health guidelines regarding meat consumption were followed, a third of emissions could potentially be cut by 2050. 

But simply telling people to eat less red meat may not spur a massive reduction of greenhouse gases. In developing countries, for example, meat is often relied on as a source of nutrients and protein.

To make such a dramatic change on the dinner plates around the world, it would require localised planning for different communities. If the transition was to be poorly planned, many people could end up unwell. It entirely depends on different people’s bodies and how much red meat they consume already.

Reducing meat consumption, especially red and processed meats, can be beneficial for health reasons too, for example reducing the risk of cancer and heart attack.