(p. A1) ITHACA, Neb. — In what’s been dubbed the “methane barn” at a University of Nebraska-Lincoln agricultural research center near here, sensitive electronic equipment monitors and logs the amount of gas belched out by a herd of yearling steers.
Yes, Andrea Watson and her fellow UNL scientists are studying cow burps. She has already heard all the jokes.
“My brother especially thinks it’s funny I had to get a Ph.D. to study cow manure and cow burps,” she said.
But this work is really quite serious. If it can help reduce the beef industry’s global environmental hoofprint, it could one day help save the planet.
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Consider that in a year, the average cow belches out 220 pounds of greenhouse gas. According to United Nations figures, if the world’s beef and dairy cattle were their own country, they would be the third-largest emitter, after only China and the United States.
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(p. A9) “Trying to blame the cow industry for any of this is BS,” said Jay Wolf, an Albion, Nebraska, cattle rancher who definitely is familiar with real BS. “We have reduced the herd by one-third. When other sources reduce by one-third, come talk to me.”
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Climate experts are increasingly recognizing that in the decades-long battle ahead, reducing methane emissions from all sources is crucial to helping the planet buy time and avoid catastrophe. Cattle can play a big role in that, said Joe Rudek, lead senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund.
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(p. A11) In North America, livestock are responsible for 28% of all methane emissions, with an additional 41% from the oil and gas industry (mostly through leaks) and 21% from landfills. In all, a hefty 25% of today’s warming globally is driven by methane.
Rudek said if methane emissions across all industries worldwide can be cut by 30% by 2050, it would be enough to avoid a half degree of warming.
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(Note: the online version of the story was updated November 4, 2021, and has the title “The State of Beef: Much-maligned cattle now have chance to be part of climate solution.”)