Australia’s most powerful climate-forcing agent – it’s not coal

I recently had an Opinion Editorial published in The Age, with two co-authors, which discussed something most people don’t think a whole lot about – how their diet affects their carbon footprint. It was a response to the draft Garnaut Review on the economic impact of climate change on Australia. Here is a snippet.

PROFESSOR Ross Garnaut has managed to write a 548-report on climate change in which he mentions Australia’s largest current contribution to climate change precisely once — in the glossary, where we find a definition of “enteric fermentation”.

Never heard of it? It’s what goes on in the digestive systems of ruminants, like cattle and sheep. It produces methane, Australia’s largest but also most under-appreciated contribution to climate change over the next few decades. The second-largest current contribution is coal. It gets mentioned 272 times in the report — as it should.

Why is methane so under-appreciated? There’s a political reason and a technical reason.

The political reason is that if telling Australians that they need to pay more for petrol and electricity is tough, telling them they need to consume less beef, lamb and dairy products is going to be tougher still.

As for the technical reason, maybe the best way to explain it is like this: Suppose I offer you $1000 if you let me hold a blowtorch to your leg for 10 seconds. When you decline, I explain that you should not focus on just that 10 seconds when the torch is applied to your leg. I have calculated that the average temperature applied to your leg over the 20-minute period that starts when I apply the blowtorch, will be only 48 degrees, which is hot, but quite bearable.

That, in effect, is the approach Garnaut takes to methane in his draft report…

Continue reading here.

A more detailed overview, written for the layperson, is given in an Australasian Science article I published last year, which you can download for free. It shows that if you follow the recommended weekly dietary intake of beef, then your food will contribute more to global warming than if you also owned a large 4WD vehicle.

I’ve been harping on about this issue for a while in the media, for instance here, here and here. It’s really important stuff, but grossly under appreciated.

Of course, small things will amuse small minds

Barry W. Brook

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61 Comments

  1. It is correct, I think, that we only have to reduce consumption of red meat from ruminants, i.e beef, sheep, goats. That means pork, chicken, fish and kangaroo can be eaten and one does not have to “Go vego” completely to comply. Some commentators (on the Bolt blog- small things please small minds) seem to think that all non vegetable protein is out.But then – do they think at all? Dairy food is also a problem because of its origin, and I think the dairy industry uses LOTS of water too.

  2. Many efficiency decisions are made on basis of small improvements. In some cases a 1% improvement drives an efficiency change. Consider a transit
    scheduling problem. Operate the same public timetable with 1 less bus in
    a fleet of 100 buses and that’s a 1% saving, but worth about 700,000
    dollars. If you
    look at the numbers in the Australasian Science article, cattle
    generate 317 times more warming than wheat, and pigs generate
    3.5 times more warming. We are talking thousands of percent difference.

    If your concern is strictly global warming, then a chicken eater who
    doesn’t eat dairy will have a lower greenhouse footprint than a
    vegetarian, but not as low as a vegan. The chicken eater, however, has
    a higher cruelty footprint – see Jamie Oliver’s recent TV show!

    If your goal is to minimise your greenhouse footprint, then vegan is obviously best. But most people find this tough — I ride a bicycle most places but haven’t quite managed to be car free. Maybe one day I’ll
    get there.

    Kangaroos have no potential to provide more than a tiny proportion of
    our current beef consumption. Estimates are typically about 2%. They
    have a low greenhouse footprint but a hefty cruelty footprint (about
    300,000 joeys left to starve annually). Beef has a huge greenhouse
    footprint but a lower cruelty footprint.

  3. I always find it irritating when small person solutions are presented for things like this. Fast food companies are farming methane-producing cattle all over the (former) rainforest land in Brazil, but big buisnesses are very rarely targeted for having to change. Instead it’s just individual people being told to ‘eat less meat’ or ‘recycle paper’ which helps, but not when you see the Stationary compary down the road throwing out huge cartloads of paper.

  4. Ruminants (most common domestic species are cattle, sheep and goats) eat grass, shrubs etc. This plant material is mostly carbohydrates (carbon, oxygen, hydrogen) in the form of relatively indigestible cellulose (cell walls of plants). The cellulose is broken down by ruminants in their rumen – one of their stomachs, by bacterial symbionts. There is very little oxygen in the rumen, so the digestion is termed anaerobic. This means methane (CH4) is produced in prodigious amounts, whereas relatively little CO2 is produced by this digestion. Humans and most other non-ruminant mammals can’t handle cellulose (‘fibre’) either, and so it basically passes right through us.

    So they are taking in carbon in the form of carbohydrates (which was formed via photosynthesis by removing CO2 from the air), and ‘supercharging’ it as a greenhouse gas by turning it mostly into methane (72 times more powerful than CO2 in terms of radiative forcing over a 20-year period). It’s a ‘great’ way to make the carbon cycle more greenhouse intensive.

    Methane eventually breaks down into CO2 and water (over about a decade or two, so much shorter lifespan then CO2 on average).

  5. Let’s see what things are people doing that are responsible for destroying the planet?

    Driving cars, heating and lighting their homes, eating meat and dairy, reading publications made from pulp paper, flying in jet airplanes on holiday.

    What would life be like without these things? Hmmm let’s see.

    Walking, riding a bike or taking public transit to work and the store. (I happen to like the freedom of driving my car from my garage to my work on my schedule thank you.)

    Turning my thermostat to freezing cold in the winter and stinking hot in the summer. Reading by those crappy CFLs. Not watching my big screen tele.
    (No thanks.)

    Eating soy patties and washing it down with soy milk with a fine tofu parfait afterwards. (Yeccch!)

    Staying home those two weeks I manage to get for myself each year instead of flying with the Mrs. to the islands or to visit her family in Addis Ababa. (What the hell do you think keeps me going the other 50 weeks of the year?)

    You AGW folks are going to have a hard time selling this to John Q. Public. Luckily there is no “climate crisis” so you just be a nice chap and collect your director salary from the Research Institute for Climate Change and Sustainability at the University of Adelaide and we’ll go about our business.

    If you start to demand that we give up all the things that make our lives comfortable and prosperous we might start asking a lot of questions that you may not be comfortable answering.

    I’m in no way dependent financially on the fossil fuel industry, what do you suppose would happen to your job at the Research Institute for Climate Change if it turns out that there is no climate change?

  6. Yes, Lab Rat, I understand the frustration. But consider the alternative. Greenpeace did a great report last year “Eating up the Amazon” and ended by telling people (in Europe) to boycott meat produced via Amazon deforestation – which includes pigs and chickens fed on soy. How do people know where the feed in the pigs they eat comes from? They don’t, so nothing happens. How about better labelling laws? FSANZ rejected calls to list if a product contains palm oil. The quick answer is don’t buy stuff in packages. In my case, I have triple concerns, environment plus animals plus health. So I don’t need to worry too much about labels. But all these concerns are trumped by climate change. And methane reductions are absolutely essential to have any chance of avoiding 5 or 6 degrees in the
    next 100 or so years.

  7. While it would certainly help to have less cows, there are other approaches that at least help:

    San Francisco article describes approaches to capturing methane (from manure, at least) and burning it for power. While that generates CO2, as Prof. Brook notes, it’s better than emitting it as methane, AND it produces power as well.

    California farms are starting to go in for this, as it is good business. It wouldn’t work everywhere. However, CA has a 1.5million cow dairy business (large), and cares about air pollution and global warming, hence UC Davis studies it seriously, findign of course that more of the methane is from belching than from manure. [But every bit helps].

    UC Davis is not as widely know, say as UC Berkeley, but:
    “UC Davis is a leading center of air-quality research; with 54 faculty members working on the subject, UC Davis has the largest university air-quality research program in the United States.” It does a lot of research in agriculture, plugin vehicles, etc.

    I see that Oz and NZ are supposed to be working on breeding cows with lower methane emissions, and I know that goes on elsewhere. Any progress Down Under?

    Finally, the other biggie for methane is rice paddies, which probably doesn’t apply much to Oz, but does elsewhere.

    Bill Ruddiman’s fine book “Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum” hypothesizes that humans helped alter climate:
    ~8000 years ago with agriculture (CO2)
    ~5000 years ago with rice paddies & more animals (CH4)

    Although there are plenty of reasons to have less meat, (especially when grain-fed), there are still places where animals are the most effective way of using the land.

    There is at least some hope that tuning the breeding of cows and pigs and such can lessen the methane, and serious people are working on it, but of course, it’s very new.

  8. Thanks for the article Barry. It is infuriating how some of the largest forcings are left from reports, and the Garnaut one it seems is no different.

    Lance seems to think that a vegan diet is one of privation.

    Perhaps he would like to visit VeganYumYum.com.

    He also seems to think that you need to use immense amounts of energy to stay comfortable in Australia – when a properly insulated house is warm in winter and cool in summer. It isn’t hard, friends from Europe live in just such dwellings, but there has been no regulation to encourage this in Australia, and we’re about 80 years behind most developed countries.

    And so on with transport and recycling. Yes, some changes are necessary and it isn’t all cupcakes, but neither is it unreasonably difficult.

  9. Lance, if only in it for the money is the best you can come up with, then I’m afraid you are clutching at straws. I think cce summarises the true state of play in his section “Turning the tables and then turning them back”.

    By the way, I focused my scientific research most directly at climate change only as I became aware of the full magnitude of the problem – I was researching plenty of other topics before climate science, and would happily do so again once we fix the climate problem. But until then, it would be akin to fiddling whilst Rome burned.

  10. But the methane emitted by cows ends up being fixed by grass which the cows eat. . .Surely it is increasing the humber of cattle or land clearing to make pastures for cattle that do the real harm?

    Not a denier! But this puzzles me–and I eat meat!!!

  11. Lance seems to think that a vegan diet is one of privation.

    Perhaps he would like to visit VeganYumYum.com.

    Shouldn’t you also refer to the science on the subject, professor or does that only apply to climate beyond which you take the fork in the road leading to junk science. Most credible science in matters of human nutrition strongly argue that meat is a necessary part of the human diet. Following a vegan diet is extremely difficult to achieve as requires a great deal of attention to modify.

    i would be very careful in sending people to unsciency blogsites telling them how ” yummy” a vegan diet actually is.

    What next, hot rock theropy to replace nuclear medicine? YumYumhotrocks.com. Lol

  12. Jc – Nobody is suggesting you go vegan or even vegetarian. All that is suggested is that you cut ONE red meat (ruminant) meal a week and replace it with fish, chicken, pork,or kangaroo which is a very low fat red meat very high in iron and delicious marinated and barbecued.Those of us who understand nutrition know that you can also get non-haem iron from dark green vegies which is even better absorbed if you drink orange juice (or eat or drink any other high Vit produce) with the meal. So you could easily replace that missimg red meat meal with any other iron source. The reccomendation is for 2 to 3 red meat(or equivalent) meals a week any more and you are facing an increased risk of bowel cancer.

  13. JC, my comment was in response to

    “Eating soy patties and washing it down with soy milk with a fine tofu parfait afterwards. (Yeccch!)”

    I actually think he has a good point about the difficulty some would have with this message, irrespective of the science (his response was trolling denialism, but I thought this part was worth considering).

    I tried to suggest a stop-flying campaign at my local (ANU) Zero Emissions society a couple of days ago, and the response I got was intense. And this is from so-called environmentalists, who thought their lives would be terrible if they couldn’t travel, and visit friends and family. I’m sure a don’t eat meat and dairy suggestion would be equally badly received. So, what do we do, when some of the largest forcings are things that very few are willing to talk about right now. Cars and power stations are much easier to talk about, and get the lions share of the attention.

    As for the statement

    “Most credible science in matters of human nutrition strongly argue that meat is a necessary part of the human diet. Following a vegan diet is extremely difficult to achieve as requires a great deal of attention to modify.”

    It isn’t extremely difficult at all, and there are a number of top athletes who are vegan (Carl Lewis being one example). A few things like b12 aren’t found naturally in non-animal sources, and supplements but these are added to a large range of vegetarian products and supplements are available. I took a multivitamin and a b12 tablet this morning in fact. Most things are easily found in a balanced non-animal diet. Vegetarianism is even easier, and is the chosen diet of hundreds of millions of people.

    If the human body is “designed” (ick) for anything, it is a largely plant based diet.

  14. If the human body is “designed” (ick) for anything, it is a largely plant based diet.

    Oh really, so our fangs and jaw strength were just a quirk of evolution? Surely you jest, professor.

    I suggest we/you could speak to a qualified nutritionist about doing away with meat and lets see what they say. As I said the science is on my side of the argument and you are being a denialist.

    I’m quite happy to choose a qualified nutritionist seeking his/her professional advice along with provide peer reviewed lit on the topic. We could bet the fee if you like. And tablets are hardly a substitute for a well balanced diet.

    So, what do we do, when some of the largest forcings are things that very few are willing to talk about right now. Cars and power stations are much easier to talk about, and get the lions share of the attention.

    Here’s a suggestion. I have read that about 3-4% of greenhouse gases are the result of coal fires in open cut mines all around the world spewing out Co2 at a rate of knots. Get a campaign going to raise the money and put them out.

    Reforestation on a big scale is a very cost effective way to mitigate that could even be done through with voluntary donations. One economist has suggested that we could possibly reforest/mitigate our way out of the problem through a contribution scheme created through donation drives.

    lastly 14 nuclear plants would effectively negate our problem.

  15. Jc Says:
    Oh really, so our fangs and jaw strength were just a quirk of evolution? Surely you jest, professor.

    Our “fangs and jaw strength” are truly pathetic compared to carnivores, you know, the real meat eaters. Compare and contrast to the size of fangs and strength in the jaws of your average domesticated dog, which is probably averages about 1/3-1/4 the weight of its human owner.

    If you are going to argue that we are natural meat eaters, you will have to come up with a much better argument than that. Given your track record, I am not holding my breath.

    The main reason we can have meat in the diet is because we cook it, which makes it far easier to digest. We are not so good at digesting raw meat.

    (I am not against meat in the diet, but we do need to consider the environmental cost.)

  16. Given your track record, I am not holding my breath.

    Judging by your own history Wart and the hate site you hang around I’m not surprised you’re trying to now make the case that humans were always vegans. Is that what Delusionatoid is now trying to peddle as science is it? I guess the 6,000 year old earth theory is coming up next as I’m sure between you, shiny and Mergatroid Delagardo a case could be made for it. Just blame Roger Bate if it all goes wrong like Shiny usually does.LOL.

    Our “fangs and jaw strength” are truly pathetic compared to carnivores, you know, the real meat eaters. Compare and contrast to the size of fangs and strength in the jaws of your average domesticated dog, which is probably averages about 1/3-1/4 the weight of its human owner.

    Okay so are now you’re suggesting meat was never in the human diet, genius?

    If you are going to argue that we are natural meat eaters, you will have to come up with a much better argument than that.

    Okay, so we learned to eat meat when Walmart and the supermarkets arrived in town, right? Is Delusionatoid now blaming big tobacco and Roger Bate as well?

    The main reason we can have meat in the diet is because we cook it, which makes it far easier to digest. We are not so good at digesting raw meat.

    Okay, so now you’re suggesting that we are meat eaters then?

    (I am not against meat in the diet, but we do need to consider the environmental cost.)

    Wart, personally I couldn’t care if you ate aluminum cladding every day for breakfast.

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  18. I am a lacto-vegetarian that thinks the cattle numbers of Australia will never be a real problem in terms of the capacity as methane emitters,and thus climate change destructive species.There are many good reason to lower the consumption of meat and diary,as there will be good reasons for reducing cattle numbers generally,but I still think, the science isn’t completely in,in a manner of real evaluations and including problem solving evaluations.For reasons of animal cruelty most cattle in Australia do not actually get asked to work,but are bred to achieve a particular matter of diet.It will be well known to all both horses and cattle were used to push water and pull heavy weights in the past in this country and others.Herefords are not a lazy breed,nor are others,by noticing that many growers have gone into lean beef production.Which means out in the paddocks they move quite a bit.I think as a alternative to come to conclusions about how damaging cattle breeding in the matter of methane producing breeding animals,science must also direct itself to thinking maybe cattle sheep and goats could do a lot of work,that hasn’t even been asserted in the sense,of seeing that is possible by conceptual matters and animal behaviour inputs into work design and technologies.Strange indeed that cattle and sheep are copping the blame game whilst camels donkeys and pigs host themselves anew on much flora indeed sometimes fauna,and no amount of comparison of damage is simply correlated.That is flora loss and species destruction of comparing various free ranging species.More like the theme park news Australians are feed by the repositories of wisdom ,the annual view of what was in the newspaper this day last year,…new virgins to the theme park arise even in the guise of Professors! So can one seriously think ,that these debates are having any impact on farmers!?Accept boring them shiteless!?How many useful and intelligent physically active jobs could be created ,if man and his beasts,were walking or working the calorific burn that is necessary for both species,or the many species of animals,and human types.Poor Palestinian farmers seem odd to be seen with one or two animals walking long distances,but,except for the constant war these farmers and their animals are probably having the required calorific burn.Much could be learnt by simply noting that.Then add lightweight carriers like pushbike wheels and tires,and comfortable fittings to the least stressed part of animals at various ages,and off we go with a motor to plant some trees for rock wallabies,and maybe some lightweight concrete stuff for artificial rocks,and then pick up some manicured blackberries,for human consumptions,whilst controlling them by a electrical prod.Drop the native bees off to do some work ,introduced ones cannot.Leave some seed of a native type,near some seed eating birds so they may spread the seed.Uncle snake slithering through the grass points out a trail where some plant species would do well.We leave some sort of diary product behind for some ill scavengers,of a whey based type.Some get jobs as professors,whilst others wonder if in fact,they have imaginations!

  19. Now free from imagination,I say that the night is not the day,and temperature ranges across the year,would suggest that dewpoint would have some measurable quantity of water that would possible reduce methane as problem emitter.Planting trees that pull the moisture down has been already well researched and given the thumbs up by conservation minded people.But designing dew ponds both natural and artificial are only ruminated on.Technologies like large screens seen at the cricket or lambasting us as advertising are not seen where the abundance of moisture occurs.And that doesnt have to be places where the clouds hang around the peaks.A well known fact of electricity is buried in all the problems,a sharp point like seen on barbed wire can flash out,as in arc or the basics of negative ion production into a night to draw down moisture in of a day that maybe very dry but not the night.Think what one could do by inspiring enthusiasm for electric fences in new 3D constructions into the vertical.!?A wire construct,plexiglass and even a frequency modulator doing what many trees do, but for the sake man has made the bloody things,or women.I have from New Zealand a Venetian Blind motor..dont forget love…that the real meaning of anodic and cathodic forces is sort of heat to liquid etc.!? We have Australians who have played around with Tesla devices and blown smoke rings,and that could still be an option in blowing away soot.Tesla insights as minor dialogue can clean the beasties too.Think of your canine friends and establish the fact,the average dog is a moron,eats poops and barks,and does nothing,cattle and sheep often end up in their gut,and the sheep also keep many unwanted flora down.GGGGGRRRRR.Will Roos!?

  20. Phillip is the happy camper who usually posts at anon lefty. Please be gentle with Phillip as he suffers from cognitive spatial deficiency syndrome brought on by the obvious lack of protein in his diet. The illness manifests itself and appears to non medical people as a chronic inability to recognize grammatical spacing between written words. His neurologist is currently advising Phillip to take a course of experimental drugs normally trialled on bi-polar sufferers. Here’s hoping he does well in the trial tests especially too for those grappling with his comments.

  21. In the context of climate change water vapour is a feedback not a forcing, with an atmospheric lifetime of hours to days, and so it is not possible to calculate it’s 100 year radiative forcing in the same way that one can do for long-lived greenhouse gases such as CO2, CH4, N2O etc.

    At best you can estimate its instantaneous forcing, as described here.

  22. Barry Brooks,

    My post was mostly a comment on the difficulty in changing the lifestyles of the majority of people in the developed world, irrespective of whether we face dire consequences from the GHG’s produced by that lifestyle.

    Also I wasn’t implying that you had gone into the AGW business for the money. It was more a comment on the fact that it would be difficult for an institution that has climate change in its name to demonstrate impartiality on the subject.

    How much funding do you suppose you could scare up if the research you generated indicated that “climate change” was the result of natural variation and humans played a very minor role in the climate system?

    People tend to find what they are looking for, especially when their next meal depends upon it.

  23. I see JC resorts to his usual abusive distortions. Nowhere did I say that humans are vegans. Not even close.

    Dude, we have been cooking meat for an awful lot longer than Walmart has been around. I suppose real men like you only eat it raw? Try it for a week and see how well your digestive tract deals with it.

  24. Professor,

    Great site, and much needed, although I have a quibble.

    This piece about the contribution of cows and sheep to Australia’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions seems more that a little unfair to Garnaut.

    You have succeeded in convincing at least one poster here that Garnaut has really gone to great lengths to gloss over agriculture’s the contribution of GHG emmissions.

    Georgedarroch (post no. 10) says:

    “It is infuriating how some of the largest forcings are left from reports,
    and the Garnaut one it seems is no different.”

    Before George, and others, get too infuriated, I’d urge them to do what they always should – rather than relying on second-hand interpretations, go to the original sources.

    Having read the Garnaut draft report myself, along with other output from Garnaut, I was more than a little surprised at your depiction of it.

    On revisiting Garnaut, I found my first impressions were right – Garnaut is quite up-front about the role of agriculture as a major GHG emitter, not just in the draft report but in, for example issues paper #1 released on January 18.

    I’d also point out that to call gas emitted by cows and sheep “Australia’s largest current contribution to climate change” really does depend on how the other sources of GHGs are disaggregated.

    It seems to be in conflict with, for example, the fact that 53.5% of Australia’s CO2-equivalent emission in 2005 came from the stationary energy production while 16.8 per cent came from agriculture (AGO data in table 2.1 in the issues paper) and only about two thirds of that’s from enteric fermentation.

    OK, it’s an issue to be dealt with, and a serious one, but casting unwarranted aspersions on Garnaut, who seems to me to be a genuine straight shooter, isn’t going to help the process.

    Gaz.

  25. Here are a few comments that I have on this article.

    It is essential that we reduce emissions from agriculture and forestry, with one of the biggest culprits being enteric emissions from livestock (methane from cows and sheep burping and farting). Australia has more emissions from livestock than it does from passenger cars. Enteric emissions are not the only livestock related emissions that we need to worry about. There are also about 50 Mt CO2-e per year from land clearing in Australia’s greenhouse accounts, and almost all of this is from clearing land for cattle. Emissions not included in Australia’s greenhouse accounts also include emissions from degradation of grazelands, through cattle grazing, especially overgrazing. The CRC for greenhouse gas accounting has estimated that destocking 94.8 Mha of rangelands in WA would sequester between 290 and 1170 Mt CO2-e. Under the Kyoto protocol, Australia’s greenhouse accounts do not include emissions from rangeland management and forest management (i.e degradation). This also means that logging old growth forests does not have any emissions associated with it in Australia’s greenhouse accounts.

    The other forms of emissions from livestock are an argument why the best way to reduce emissions from livestock is to reduce the amount of cattle and sheep.

    It is hard to determine what the Garnaut Review’s response to these issues will be but I don’t think Garnaut is going to gloss over them. Someone asked Garnaut in the July Sydney forum why there wasn’t much about agriculture and forestry in the Garnaut Review Draft Report and Garnaut replied that the chapter on land use and agriculture was not included because it wasn’t finished yet. There is some stuff on agriculture and forestry mentioned in Garnaut’s “Submissions Report”, which is now on the Garnaut Review website.

    I am not convinced that we should be using 20 year global warming potentials (GWPs) to account for methane rather than 100 year global warming potentials. There is an argument for using 20 GWPs because we are near some dangerous tipping points. There is also an argument for using 100 year or longer GWPs because if we want to stabilise greenhouse gases at less than 350 ppm CO2-e then we want to reduce long lived greenhouse gases as much as possible. Also, shorter GWPs favour the present generation and the next one while longer GWPs favour later generations, which raises some interesting ethical questions.

    At the moment we are at something like 380-390 ppm CO2 and 450-460 ppm CO2-e. If we dramatically reduced methane emissions then greenhouse gas concentrations would approach carbon dioxide concentrations. Maybe we should be thinking about both stabilisation targets and greenhouse concentrations that we should not exceed. I would argue that both of these should be less that 450 ppm CO2-e. This would suggest that when we are exceeding the maximum (like now) then shorter term GWPs are more important, while if we go under the maximum, then longer term GWPs become more important.

  26. Jovial Monk. Methane is CH4, carbon dioxide is CO2. When cattle turn CO2 into CH4 they
    don’t add any new carbon to the carbon cycle, but they make a hell of a difference.

    Think about diving into a swimming pool. The water resists with a certain
    force. Now change the water to ice. You haven’t changed the number of hydrogens
    or oxygens, but the resistance has dramatically altered. The ratio of methane
    to co2 has changed dramatically over the last 200 years and this change of ratio
    can have a massive warming impact — even if you don’t add any new carbon.

  27. “Eating soy patties and washing it down with soy milk with a fine tofu parfait afterwards. (Yeccch!)”

    Typical attitude :( Veg diet is nothing like this, unless you don’t know how to cook. Put simply, just cook what you normally cook; just don’t put dead animals in your food. Easy :)

  28. Barry, further to your comment at #11…

    Over at the deltoid thread that links to BraveNewClimate I posed the question:

    “Anyone willing to guess how long it takes a troll to use the vested interest/career security cannard to impute a lack of objectivity on Barry’s part?”

    To which Lance replied:

    “Let’s see, he is the director of “The Research Institute for Climate Change and Sustainability”. Do you suppose he is likely to have a bias on whether climate change is occurring and whether we need to make large scale changes to facilitate sustainability?”

    I initially thought to respond myself, but then decided that it would be best not to put words in your mouth. It seems (according to the denialist realm) that all climate scientists are in it for the fistsful of money – perhaps you assuage Lance’s fears that this is not the case in your circumstance.

    I’m sure that Lance, as a suspended physics postgrad, has the capacity to discern real scientific motives from commercial ones if they are explained to him…

  29. The methane that is released from ruminant animals is belched throughout the day. As it is lighter than air, it rises into our atmosphere and is then dispersed.

    Some farm practices aggregate stock from time to time and I am wondering if it were feasable to take advantage of that timing situation and turn a negative into a positive. Dairy cows come to the milking shed twice a day to be milked. They arrive early and hang around after the performance when they are led back to their paddock to graze.

    During this time they are chewing on their cud and presumably releasing methane along the way. If they were housed in a structure that was shaped like an inverted funnel, then would not the methane rise to the peak of this structure from whence it could be collected and used in its gaseous state to burn in say an automobile or heating system. That way what is already being produced is actually turned into something useful and as was pointed out by Prof. Brooks, reduces the high potential warming intrinsic to methane to a lesser heat generating potential in CO2.

    If this were successful, then we could go one step further and turn the methane gas into methanol and this would be a perfectly adequate fuel for our automobiles. We may need some governing in cars propelled by methanol because that is the fuel dragsters use!

    Anyway, by doing this sort of wild thing we may do two things. Allow the continued practice of growing cows and extracting milk, but turning their “harmful” waste into fuel which we then use for what is an even more harmful activity, burning fossil fuels to propel ourselves.

    This approach would cut down on our use of fossil fuels, an extra bonus. Before we get too excited with this however, I think the figures may turn out that this will yield so little fuel that the cost of the infrastructure may take a very long time to recover. That is where our tax dollars should go – at directing this sort of re-tooling for a sustainable future.

  30. Peter Wood, no-one is saying that we should switch
    attention from CO2 to methane. The way Hansen puts it is that if
    we don’t control CO2 we are toast and it doesn’t matter a damn
    what we do with methane or other trace gases, but if we do manage
    to control CO2, then we are still likely to be toast if we don’t also
    control the trace gases like methane. The way I put it is that
    we have to learn to walk and peel bananas at the same time.

    For the full Hansen detail see.

    http://pubs.giss.nasa.gov/docs/2007/2007_Hansen_etal_2.pdf

    Rajendra Pauchauri, Head of IPCC is giving a guest lecture on
    “The impact of meat production and consumption on climate change”
    in London on 8th of September.

  31. Pingback: Professor Barry Brook on Livestock - and a whole bunch of comments. | Whirled Peas

  32. “In the context of climate change water vapour is a feedback not a forcing, with an atmospheric lifetime of hours to days, and so it is not possible to calculate it’s 100 year radiative forcing in the same way that one can do for long-lived greenhouse gases such as CO2, CH4, N2O etc.”

    @24 thank you but if we can’t calculate WV’s forcing, how do we know the change in total forcings ?
    Do we assume WV’s forcing is constant, increasing or decreasing over the past 100 years ?

  33. Demesure #41. There are about 4 satellites these days which measure
    the energy hitting their top surface (entering the
    system) and the energy hitting the bottom (leaving the system). The
    difference is the net forcing. If more arrives than leaves, then
    the planet will get hotter. The first of these was launched back
    in 1983 (ERBS). The details are tricky, but the principle is simple.

  34. @42
    Geoff, thank you but doesn’t address my question about individual forcings due to water vapor change (if it has changed), deforestation… What has been hypothesized about WV forcing ?

    (BTW, do satellites have the accuracy to detect the total forcing over the past 25 years and do you know this accuracy ?).

  35. re: #38
    Take a look back at #9, i.e., what people are actually doing already.

    The problem with the structure is that grass-fed cows should naturally spend most of their time in pasture, so you’d only capture a small percentage of the CH4 that way. Of course, every bit helps, but I really have my doubts [and I grew up on a farm that had cows].

    Breeding for lower CH4 seems at least a possibilty: domestic animals area usually pretty far away from their distant ancestors, and nobody has been trying to breed lower-CH4 ruminants until just recently.

    Here in California, the UC Davis folks do a lot of work on ag + climate change, or as they say, sustainable farm-to-fork

  36. #41 Demesure says:

    @24 thank you but if we can’t calculate WV’s forcing, how do we know the change in total forcings ?

    Barry didn’t say you can’t calculate the forcing for water vapour, he just said you couldn’t do it in the same way you would for long-lived greenhouse gases.

    Why don’t you read the latest IPCC report? There are, literally, hundreds of references to water vapour in it. It’s obviously a significant and complex issue that many scientists have spent years studying.

    It seems to me that the important point is that water vapour is primarily not a forcing but part of a very complex system of feedback effects. One message of the IPCC report is that the big task of climate scientists is to continue to narrow down the confidence interval around the estimates of how much those feedback efects will magnify the temperature change caused by the inital forcing.

    These definitions from the IPCC report might be helpful:

    Climate feedback – An interaction mechanism between processes in
    the climate system is called a climate feedback when the result of
    an initial process triggers changes in a second process that in turn
    influences the initial one. A positive feedback intensifies the original
    process, and a negative feedback reduces it.

    External forcing – External forcing refers to a forcing agent outside
    the climate system causing a change in the climate system. Volcanic
    eruptions, solar variations and anthropogenic changes in the
    composition of the atmosphere and land use change are external
    forcings.

  37. Re #44, #39, #9 I agree with you John that by processing the manure of farm animals will help extract some extra value from the cellulose which is being broken down and as has been pointed out there are large farms in California where manure CH4 capture is happening.

    However, belching from farm animals happens 24/7 and maybe systems to capture at least some of this may be worthwhile trying out, especially where those animals may by farming practices be sequestered beneath architecture for some of their lives. I used the example of dairy cattle which spend around 4 hours a day near the milking shed. If this was extended to say 8 hours, then this would represent a 30% capture of their emissions and at 200 litres a day for a cow that is no small amount.

    In europe, where they bring their stock indoors for the winter so that they don’t freeze to death, they are held indoors for several months at a time. Theoretically the housing for these could be altered in a way to capture the CH4 if it is possible.

    Other farmed animals including pigs spend all of their days indoors and it may be feasable to redesign their enclosures to capture the methane they give off. Chickens also spend their entire lives in batteries but I am not sure they emit methane as they are not ruminant animals.

    All I am suggesting is that by engineering enclosures around existing farm practices may make a difference. Covering and capturing the methane emitted above manure disposal sites eg on Dairy farms may be the simplest and cost-effective method of converting this emission into something usable and saleable. If you throw in some additional heat from a renewable source you would increase the yield of this scheme even if you don’t go in for the highly engineered solutions they have in California.

  38. Is it just me or does anybody else find all these ideas to
    save and use cattle methane more than a bit strange? Here we have 2
    products: beef, which causes about 5000 plus bowel cancer cases
    each year in Australia and a fair proportion of 40,000 heart operations, and dairy products which uses 9 times more
    water than fruit and
    veg combined and also more than rice and more than cotton. The
    production of these products also turns out to be a major climate
    forcing, a major cause of biodiversity loss, and a major competitor
    with the world’s poor for food, yet people want
    to use more resources (ie., build bigger sheds — what from?)
    and more energy to keep on producing this product. WHY?

    Because it tastes good? Is that all there is?

  39. I see JC has picked out just one of many cyclical mental neuralgias I have.Good on him! Although I wouldn’t mind a supply of Deprenyl,which could help most of us Australians,who played in the sun,and saved our eyes,whilst getting Brain Fry! That’s why I should be wearing prescription glasses,because the brain fry entered my eyes hemispheres.I thank the Prof. and others here for their due diligence and tolerance to all and sundry.Can I make the point,again though,that the day is not the night,and the summer at day and night is profoundly different as it is easily experienced and measured,and thus nothing exceptional is made in this point by raising it whilst seasons and day and night can be measured.Now surely an argument can then be put,that measurements of temperature increases, I assume happen in a manner that allows for day night variations and seasonal differences,but why or,indeed,how is it possible to assume that if across a year, from the same locational measuring matters wether space based or ground,can actually really determine the correlates that become assumed proofs by the temperatures recorded!? That is, I think I am trying to point out,with temperature differentials at a point of time across a year from particular measuring locations,will not be indicating even if in close proximity what is actually occurring across the landscape as geology and ecology,or even the oceans as bodies of water and as the particular zonal activities ,as could be represented as tides!? Obviously a large forest and adjacent paddocks perhaps may be in a circumstance of undulation,which then means the way wind and rain,indeed sun shadow plays across a day,may have some sort of effect crossing into both the next day and night.So,if that be the case,has there been any research on how these temperature matters at base or ground level are being determined in the accumulative effects across a year!? [Australian} I am making this observation,on the basis of a problem that I am going through.Reliant on tank water,this year has up till now been very cold,and I have been wearing my beanie for now 5 or 6 months perhaps 7,the tank is almost out of water,and this farm building is on the edge of forested areas on the Dorrigo Plateau at postcode 2453.Winter drought is now obvious,and cattle are being feed silage,before about two months ago the grasses were lasting and growing fairly intensively,the chill factor of the wind seems the great difference to last year.If you are measuring temperatures from space,and the wind has just got up and howling,the difference across a 24 hour period is not going to show either wind variables or ground state variables of ecological change,although this doesn’t mean a large climatic effect has taken place,as can be observed by honeybee production coming out of locations nearby.The wattle is now going back from its initial bloom state.I think,if there is a question here,that is answerable,there is also some suggestions to attempt a more thorough understanding.And bees and wattles could be a ground base to see if what is happening above is part of the carbon dioxide problems.As a guess,most people out our way who can think about this are not so sure that these problems of climate change are what has been suggested.I find myself,just wanting particularities that are not defined by the abstraction of mathematical calculus,but more by observation supported by any clear year to year evidence.Obviously measuring Plateau changes,are not going to be as clear as elsewhere,yet the predictive process of climate change must be able to determine some variations.The Blicks River has had temperatures in winter below , as in 10 degrees centigrade.This is all a wonder.Its alright being concerned about what the world is doing,but it seems much harder to say that these incremental changes are actually now a process.A woman on the radio was comparing the tidal changes that now put the temperature ranges of N.S.W. towns in the category of Brisbane,the same Brisbane which has had one of its coldest winters,and Grafton nearby in terms of temperatures variables across twenty years,measured by an ABC volunteer is smack on average.So inland Grafton,average temperatures,whilst the coastal belt is warming up and going south,and Brissy people are discovering my problem!Temperature measures dont seem to be able to indicate immediately this strange set of non correlating measures.I doubt a useful mathematical calculus and model could explain this.I am open to being persuaded,because if the problem does exist ,it is well hidden as phenomena .

  40. It produces methane, Australia’s largest but also most under-appreciated contribution to climate change over the next few decades.

    As long as Australia’s grass-fed beef cattle production does not increase, then neither should the amount of methane in the atmosphere that is attributable to it. This is because the amount of methane should be in steady state because its half-life in the atmosphere is about 8 years. In that case the greenhouse effect from this methane is not changing (while our CO2 is still accumulating).

    This doesn’t mean that the methane up there is insignificant, just that as long as its rate of generation is constant and has been constant for a while, then the amount in the atmosphere from Australian grass-fed beef cattle is also constant.

    I haven’t got the figures off-hand but I would guess that it’s possible that methane already emitted by Australia is currently producing more greenhouse forcing than is produced by the carbon dioxide already emitted by Australia. The difference is that the rate of growth of greenhouse forcing by CO2 is much greater than the rate of growth of greenhouse forcing by CH4.

    Of course, the logical conclusion from all this is that we should stop the growth of greenhouse forcing by CO2 (and reduce it) and bring down the relatively steady level of greenhouse forcing by CH4. e.g. halving the rate of generation of CH4 by Australian grass-fed beef cattle would, after a few half-lifetimes, bring down the level of CH4 in the atmosphere attributable to it by close to half.

  41. Chris O’Neill – I couldn’t agree more, with all of the above.

    Except that the catch with agricultural methane growth rates is that demand for beef in nations such as China is increasing rapidly, which could quite likely spark a growth in Australia’s cattle industry to meet the export demand.

  42. I appreciate your task Barry,and not wanting to again go over ground already covered,I am a bit ,however still tedious in attitude towards both methane and CO2 .And I have noticed some here are thinking similarly ,in that reference to day and night has occurred other than by myself.I visit DavidIcke.com and KeeleyNet.com regularly and,find sometimes some details here and there ,a problem in determining what are the real evidences ,in whatever form, of determining Global Warming,and, I have been reading about this stuff in Magazines like New Scientist and now the Net,but it doesn’t really solve the nagging doubt about,should one just accept a whole series of mathematical expressions and then model,over the reality that is difficult to even understand as cloud watching!?Icke,is a bit harder on climate changers than Keeley,and I know exactly why!I am just a little bit more personal,because I haven’t been in front of the TV as personality.David does a good job in what he points out.Long ago through a local newspaper,I suggested pollen counts,in weather forecast times for those suffering from those type conditions associated..like hay fever etc.I have a record of achievement,without anyone knowing much about it at all.And ,anyone who doubts that,is in for some difficulty.I would like you to look at what Goddard has to say about,certain matters of theoretical circumstance found in the reasons why the climate change matter is real for some.A suggested 12 years for certain gases in the atmosphere to break down would suggest,Australia Science in on track with Bio-char,and some other research being developed.From a dietary point of view,increasing the herds seems dimwitted,but then again,it might be in Australia’s interests to insure a high level of scientific input continues into animal health and welfare,other than decided the problem of animal emissions cannot be stopped.I think our micro-biology research has been really slowed down and become almost useless.I see stuff like silage ,and matters of rubbish micro-organisms not given a longer research term,a problem in how we access possibilities.If bacterias can be found floating in the atmosphere,and micro-organism a plenty everywhere,we are not harnessing what is easily categorized to ensure multiple solutions to problems emerge.That is the range of bacteria that interact with carbon dioxide in various forms,eg.methane, are not becoming a everyday understanding so their lives as organisms meet intelligent questions from farmers etc.The marijuana plant can slurp up enormous amounts of piggy infested waters,and even piggies as solution to cattle emissions,isnt considered until someone breaks into a new realm of their already digested knowledge.At a bacterial level piggies,bovinity and Marijuana may have something more usefully common that just plain old shit,man!?But even giving new uses for pigs and marijuana requires design acceptance,by some roads of income increase,maintainance or alternative.If the marketplace determines a increase in herd numbers,then ,if Australians dont want to interfere with that,it means being able to put it to use.Practical science,built on theoretical limitations seems where the philosophical realities are now leading.It therefore means matter above ground,wether trees or structures permanent or mobile,natural or constructed also need developing at point of emissions.Robotics in flight with infra red or gaseous nose sensitivity could fly and spray dispersal liquid.All those matters are coming down in price,excellent robotic development occurs in Australian Education,and surely can be modified.Let those who do not think Robotics could snuff the emissions,first think about robotics!?

  43. Sorry Barry,back again.The ABC Queensland Brisbane right at this time is going on about resilience of farmers,with a host of apparent academic type guests.Strange, the ABC is what I find it most of the time in its need to make pertinent public statements.Actually I think generally our farmers are pretty resilient,even when coming up with mental disorders.And large scale farming ,maybe a slow process of change happening,but I am not sure its the farmers conservatism,drought banking equipment understandings,or phoney assessments by even Agricultural Depts.Recently again the agronomists have been in a fight with the N.S.W. government.This ABC programme is relating to your concerns and the seeming problem of dependence on the so-called fossil fuels.Here I would like to point out some energy use options ,as far as I know haven’t been tried in a exhaustive results sense on farm in cropping preparation and harvesting,and I generally refer you to what is a type of rocketry..the Dyna Jet type ,which has been recently again in part applied to motorising pushbikes.The Dyna Jet can be scaled up and down in size,and Queensland acadeics fully understand the principle in airborne configuration.But what if it was applied to minimum till,and there was a real attempt to use farm based fuels,and options of lighting up the equipment again by the utilisation of the pneumatic bridge or bicycle tyre!?This experiment can be done fairly cheaply and quickly,getting the right engineered form is more the prospective experimenter knowing their equipment and paddocks.With more lift or lighter again equipment passovers ,over the paddock,may not mean the tractor motor needs to do all the hard fossil burning work.In wet or dry may mean healthier soil in long run.Bicycle tyres on equipment would seem a obvious experiment if they meet requirements an add a specific degree of certainty and flexibility.In Web Surfing I have found even large engineered configuration carrying many people,but not all perspiring athletically.Once again this is in the realm of Student type income and farmer type encouragement…Government monies are available for these type solutions from a number of Departments and maybe even sponsors.Partial solutions are viable if they only replace the forseeable problem,it is silly in some ways to not recognise incremental adjustments are just carrying forward tested results elsewhere!Much moneyis tied up in assets,why say they cannot be modified over time to do more and reduce the more costly inputs like the fossil of a fuel!?The Venturi system now on many harvesters,I claim as originating from my pen to the Don Dorrigo Gazette,hopefully,if no-one accepts that,some will get round to looking at this system that soft lands the cropped seed,and compare it in someway to any other types of Venturi systems,and reset its purpose.Perhaps at the same time it could let some liquid element separated from the seed to slowly drip into the fuel to be used.Or its cooling and heating potential perks up the imagination of someone who could say loudly”‘Its essentially a super cooler in the making”!And so it is,without any stupidity in design even creating a bums rush of disappointment.

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