Cow farts and climate change

A Canadian farmer's discovery may have a far reaching impact on our environment, similar to removing hundreds of millions of cars from the road.

Courtesy of: Bertrand Kulik - flickr.com/photos/bertrandkulik/albums
Courtesy of: Bertrand Kulik - flickr.com/photos/bertrandkulik/albums

Scientists say that methane – a dangerous greenhouse gas released from both ends of a cow – is 23-times more dangerous to the atmosphere than car exhaust. People have been trying to limit the methane cows put out, and seaweed may be the key.

Cows eat, sleep, go for long walks and, just like human beings, they also burp and fart, only a lot more!

Unlike people, they create a large amount of methane (CH4) – a greenhouse gas linked to global warming and climate change. But a new find may change all that.

Almost all animals release methane when they digest food. On average, cows make nearly 1,000 times the amount humans do, according to NASA.


Bacteria – small living organisms that help all animals digest food – make the methane when they breakdown food.

Hot air

The methane gas is released from both ends of the cow, but mostly by burping.

To break it down, let's compare the effects of methane from cows to the carbon dioxide (CO2) from a car.

On average, a cow releases about 100 kg of methane gas every year. That may not sound like a lot, but it has the same effect on the atmosphere as an average year’s worth of driving.


The United States Environmental Protection Agency says that the gas floats up into the atmosphere, "Making the planet warmer and 'thickening the Earth's blanket'." 

The 1.6 billion cows on Earth are responsible for 18 percent of the total greenhouse gases worldwide according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations – that’s more than all cars, trucks, airplanes and ships put together.

An “udderly” unexpected discovery

There’s good news though.

Scientists have been studying ways to reduce the amount of methane that cows produce, and Canadian farmer Joe Dorgan may have found the key.

Dorgan started feeding his cows seaweed as a way of cutting costs on his farm.


In many coastal areas, cows graze on seaweed which has washed up on the beach. (iStock)

He teamed up with Rob Kinley, an agricultural research scientist then at Canada’s Dalhousie University. They found that his cows produced 20 percent less methane on the seaweed diet.

Together they tested other strains of seaweed and discovered that Asparagopsis taxiformis – a type of red-seaweed – reduced the amount of methane from cows to nearly zero.

“It's really a game changer if we can get this out into the market,” Kinley told Canadian broadcaster CBC News.

"Ruminant animals are responsible for roughly 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally, so it's not a small number," said Kinley, using the scientific name for cows and other animals with four stomachs.

"We're talking numbers equivalent to hundreds of millions of cars."

Methane only lasts for about 10 years in the atmosphere, unlike CO2 which can stick around for hundreds of years.

This all means if farmers start feeding their cows with a mix including this seaweed, humanity could score a huge win in the battle against climate change – one fart at a time.

Source: 
TRTWorld and agencies