Yup, that’s right, cow farts. In particular, today’s post is about the amount of methane gas coming out of these tasty creatures and a new study from the Ohio State University bent on lowering that number. But first, an explanation of cow farts.
Cow farts are potent and potentially destructive to the environment because of the way they digest food. Cows and other animals like them – goats, sheep, buffalo, to name a few – are capable of eating just about any type of plant matter and converting it to useful energy. This is possible because of a staged digestive track, where the food sits around for a while and ferments before heading deeper into the bowels.
Fermentation is basically bacteria doing their thing. They eat up sugars and put out gas. And while a lot of fermentation is responsible for tasty treats like San Francisco sourdough, kosher pickles, sauerkraut and beer, these little buggers produce methane as a by-product.
Well, actually, not all of them.
The new study appearing in Science and written by Mark Morrison details the finding of a new strain of bacteria responsible for similar digestion of plant matter in the Australian Tammar wallaby. For whatever reason, these critters put out 80% less methane per unit of digestible energy than their cousins living in livestock.
And while it may not seem like a big deal, there are a lot of cow farts out in the world. As people continue to consume more and more meat, the livestock population of the planet is exploding. Right now, there are 1.3 billion cows in the world alone. Livestock in general produces 139.8 units of TgCO2 equivalent in the U.S. alone; roughly 20% of all human methane production and second only to natural gas systems.
(TgCO2 stands for teragram carbon dioxide equivalent, a unit used to compare different types of gases and their impact on the environment in the same terms. This way, we can compare cow farts to cars, rather than only being able to compare them to goat farts.)
That’s a lot of cow farts.
But let’s keep it in perspective. The U.S. also produces 5,637.9 units of TgCO2 equivalent every year as well by burning fossil fuels, which is quite a bit more than 140. So while figuring out a way to get the bacteria’s cousins to take more of an active role in livestock digestion in order to reduce methane emissions will make a dent, it won’t be a rock hitting a Kia, it will be a pebble hitting tank.
I said cow farts seven times.
Make that eight.