A just-published analysis of data received from a satellite in 2004 has shown that at least during that year, livestock in the U.S. emitted more methane into the atmosphere than did the oil and gas industry. In their article published in Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, a team of researchers from Harvard University, California Institute of Technology and the University of California studying the data note that such emissions were far higher than was reported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Specifically, the researchers found satellite data showed livestock emitted 13 million tons of methane over the summer in 2004 (the EPA reported 9.7 million tons). They found the satellite data also showed that the combined emissions of the oil and gas industry amounted to 7 million tons (the EPA reported 9.9 million tons).
Unfortunately the sensor on the satellite was unable to show methane amounts after 2004, thus more data is not available. That will, however, change soon as a new satellite with sophisticated atmospheric gas monitoring sensors aboard is set to launch next year. More information on the role that methane plays in changing our climate can be found here.
What about other large mammals, such as bison? If we eliminated cattle ranches out in the western U.S. and let the bison herds restore themselves, would the effect be any different?
> If we eliminated cattle ranches out in the western U.S. and let the bison herds restore themselves,
The latter does not follow from the former.
It was a hypothetical and you avoided answering.
Since it would take centuries for the bison herds to "restore themselves" to anywhere near where commercial cattle farming levels are, it is a valueless question. Yes, if bison herds were the same size as commercial cattle herds are now then they would have the same problem. But they are not, were not and will not ever be that size.
Yes, if bison herds were the same size as commercial cattle herds are now then they would have the same problem. But they are not, were not and will not ever be that size.
Huh? Bison ranged across the plains in herds estimated from a total of 50 million on up. I doubt very much you have anything close to the same number of cattle currently in the same area. You couldn't, cattle are very hard on arid range. The numbers of bison have increased from a few dozen animals in the early 20th century when they were nearly wiped out to roughly 500,000 today, with strictly limited range available to them. Eliminate the cattle and the fences, set them free to roam (look up Buffalo Commons) and their population will increase rapidly. Since they are generally more beneficial to the land than cattle, more of them can survive in the same area.
Actually it does. Grasslands evolved to be grazed, and before there were cattle, there were very large numbers of bison doing that grazing (plus other animals, but we'll just consider bison here) -- estimates run from 30 million to as high as 50 million animals.http://www.fws.gov/bisonrange/timeline.htm [fws.gov]
Total inventory of cattle in the U.S. last year was about 87 million animals.http://agebb.missouri.edu/mkt/bull12c.htm [missouri.edu]
Bison average about twice the mass of domestic cattle, and all males in the wild grew to fullsized bulls (cows and steers do not achieve nearly the same mass as bulls, and the vast majority of modern male cattle are castrated). By weight alone, one bison equals 2 to 3 modern steers or cows. So at their native population, there were more pounds of bison present than there now are of cattle.
Also, cattle are about 5% more efficient than bison, so they need to eat less to support the same mass of animal... and better feed utilization means less wasted as methane.http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1456&context=greatplainsresearch [unl.edu]
So if the object is to reduce methane production, the evidence indicates that we had best stick with the current situation and domestic cattle, rather than returning to the native natural situation of a somewhat larger and less-efficient mass of bison.
Forget mammals, look at termites. 20 million ton per year.
Industrial scale "farms" also concentrate manure etc in such quantities that natural processes have a hard time to break them down properly.
Another thing about industrial farms is the use of corn as feed. It fattens up a cow faster than grass and is cheaper. But a cow is not adapted to eating corn and it causes major issues, including the generation of large amounts of methane. Even a cow fed grass generates methane, all mammals and some insects do, but not as much.
If it's not breaking down, it's not generating methane... But the fact is, manure experiences excellent demand as a base for fertilizer (about half the commercial fertilizer starts life as manure, but there's not enough manure to satisfy this market). It gets either used on the farm or trucked off to a fertilizer plant, like Bandini in Los Angeles. Mountains of it? Yeah, between production and being hauled off... Most people have NO idea how much herbivores eat, let alone how much they shit.