By Brandi Buzzard Frobose on October 26, 2021
There’s a worldwide movement to decrease our environmental impact and preserve our planet by limiting the amount of greenhouse gas emissions we release into the atmosphere. Researchers, thought leaders and consumers are all exploring ways we can change our behaviors and lifestyles to meet climate goals by doing everything from driving electric cars, to lessening our dependency on oil, to changing our diets. Many of these initiatives may make a significant impact over the coming decades, but changing our diet, while in good faith, is not as much of a cure-all as it’s presented.
When it comes to greenhouse gases, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are two main players at center stage: carbon dioxide, which accounts for 80 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., and methane, which accounts for 10 percent. And although both have an impact on our environment, they exist and are emitted in different settings and mediums.
For example, 87 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. are from burning fossil fuels for transportation, electricity generation and industry. Other contributors are land use changes and cement production.
Whereas methane, comprising just 10 percent of greenhouse gases, is emitted from energy production, waste management and agriculture.
The differences continue once emitted, as carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for 1,000 years before it is deposited back into geological reserves, whereas methane is redeposited back into plant matter in 1/10 of the time. Over the past few centuries, humans have increased our climate impact via our dependency on fossil fuels, which has directly affected our environment and the natural carbon cycle of the planet.
You probably remember photosynthesis and carbon dioxide’s role in it from middle school biology course. Photosynthesis is the ability of plants to take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in leaves, stems and roots while releasing oxygen as a by-product. This process is the center of the biogenic carbon cycle, which is the natural cycle of carbon in our environment. When plants perform photosynthesis, they convert carbon into cellulose. Dense cellulosic grasses cannot be digested by humans, but cattle are easily able to consume and digest such plant matter. Cattle, like those that I and other farmers and ranchers raise, convert the cellulose into beef while belching methane into the atmosphere, where it remains before cycling back into the soil and plants. This is the natural way cattle, plants and carbon existed before man-made technology and industry started to have an effect. This entire process of raising cattle is responsible for only 2 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA. When looking at the big picture, it’s reasonable to allow a certain amount of emissions for dense protein production.
We should all be aware of the impact our daily activities have on our environment. Things like recycling, using public transportation and purchasing fewer plastics and other wasteful consumables can help us lessen our impact moving forward.
However, changing the way we eat, which already has such a negligible effect, will not reverse climate change so enjoy your avocados, beef, kale and strawberries guilt-free, while taking the bus to work.