Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Are Cows the Solution to Decreasing Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

Are cows burping up a greenhouse gas storm? This was the article I came across written by Rebecca Goldin and Cindy Merrick who are writing on the work of Alexander Hristov. Hristov’s research came up with results that cows do indeed emit large amounts of methane into the air. The main argument in this article is that yes, cows are producing a substantial amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Hristov claims to have found a possible solution to reduce these methane emissions from cows by 40%. The problem with this solution is that there is no proof of how these results were found or tested.

I feel Hristov’s results are premature as there was no evidence that this possible solution was tested on a large sample size of cows. In order to convince the public and especially the farmers who raise cattle, to feed their cows this oregano-based food additive, you need to have good statistical evidence to prove to society this solution will be better for our environment. I feel since these statistics are not shown and no numerical results are given in the article, that much more testing needs to be done. This possible solution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by feeding cows an oregano-based food additive is an idea that needs to be further developed before any real conclusions can be made about the affect it may have.

This is a very important topic and many different independent studies attempting to find solutions to the problem of cows supposedly emitting large amounts of methane into the air. There is much debate between researchers, organizations and farmer’s if this really is a problem that needs to be addressed. It is well known by researchers that cows do emit methane into the air and that methane is a major greenhouse gas. What researchers can’t agree on is the amount of methane released and if it is a problem that can be fixed; the numbers seem to vary from study to study. Studies are trying all sorts of possible solutions hoping to get a breakthrough. As Hristov says himself: “Any cut in methane emissions would be beneficial,” which to me seems like they are desperately searching for any possible solution to a problem that may not even be a problem. Researchers must maintain validity of their experiments and make sure they are realistic. As stated in the article, similar decreases in methane production of cows were seen with curry spices, which realistically would not be implemented on a large scale to the farming community, therefore it is not an adequate solution.

The authors do prepare for questions that readers may have about the possible solutions to reducing a cow’s methane production but the problem is they don’t answer them. The authors understand people will want to know how beneficial this solution really is. The answer is unclear and this is another reason for one to believe this is very premature data. In order to get the answer one must enter the murky world of statistics as the author put it and this is where researchers can’t agree, which causes a problem. A recent study found the mathematical equations used to calculate the methane emissions of cows were inaccurate and needed further improvement. They found nine different equations used worldwide to calculate these emissions proving the large variance of numbers. If researchers can’t agree on a proper equation then how can they agree on a possible solution? The authors of this article titled Cows’ Greenhouse Gas Emissions Measured Inaccurately, Study Finds go on to say: “Agriculture needs more accurate estimates based on better science.” More research must go into this problem and an accurate equation must be found before any conclusions are made on possible solutions.

Should cow burping be high on our priority list for decreasing greenhouse gas emissions? The authors do a good job of convincing the reader that cows in fact do produce methane, a greenhouse gas, and that it is a problem we face, but is a solution practical? I feel focusing on cutting greenhouse gas emissions from cows is not where our focus should be. It doesn’t seem reasonable, as many cows get their feed through grazing in open fields so this solution of changing their diet would not necessary be efficient unless you changed the grass content which is not practical. Also, the change in diet may not be accepted by all cattle farmers which mean only a limited amount of cows would be getting this changed diet. With cows emitting only 2 percent, according to this paper, of the total emissions a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would not even be noticed. Therefore, in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions we need to focus on the large contributors to the problem as effects will be seen with a reduction the these emitters. For this reason, this article was unable to convince me that we should focus on looking for a solution to this problem.

I feel studies regarding cows greenhouse gas emissions are at the very beginning stages and if it is considered to be a problem, much more research is needed. The article I found proving that the results of these emissions were measured inaccurately proves much more work is needed before any claims can be made.

Brennan Hutchison


Ellis, Jennifer. "Cows' Greenhouse Gas Emissions Measured Inaccurately, Study Finds." University of Guelph. N.p., 4 Nov 2010. Web. Retrieved on 8 Nov 2010.

Goldin, Rebecca, and Cindy Merrick. "Are cows burping up a greenhouse gas storm?." STATS: take a quantitative leap. Statistical Assessment Service, 5 Nov 2010. Web. Retrieved on 7 Nov 2010. .

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