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# Carbon footprint calculations for meat production?

Hi --

This is my first post at this forum. I come as someone who does not know much about the issues of concern to Azimuth, but in principle I am interested to learn more and help out if I can.

I'm not a vegetarian myself, so I do not mean for this discussion to be carry political or moral overtones, but I am curious about getting some good information on the impact of meat and dairy production on AGW, e.g., estimates of an individual's carbon footprint due to meat and dairy consumption. Possibly this would make a good article for Azimuth. Can anyone point me to decent studies on this general sort of thing? (And please excuse any naivete inherent to the question. Have I chosen the right category for this discussion?)

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1.

Hi, welcome to the forum.

I don't have any special knowledge about your question. David McKay talks a bit about the energy usage in food (albeit in a very estimate-y way):

chapter of "Without hot air"

But farming may cause carbon dioxide emissions through other effects. Ther's bound to be some info out there, but I'm not sure where.

I think that either "general" or" questions" is the right category for this.

Comment Source:Hi, welcome to the forum. I don't have any special knowledge about your question. David McKay talks a bit about the energy usage in food (albeit in a very estimate-y way): [chapter of "Without hot air"](http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/withouthotair/c13/page_76.shtml) But farming may cause carbon dioxide emissions through other effects. Ther's bound to be some info out there, but I'm not sure where. I think that either "general" or" questions" is the right category for this.
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2.
Thanks, David. That chapter by McKay was the type of thing I was hoping would be out there. It would be interesting if there are others who have conducted independent calculations and arrived at roughly the same numbers.
Comment Source:Thanks, David. That chapter by McKay was the type of thing I was hoping would be out there. It would be interesting if there are others who have conducted independent calculations and arrived at roughly the same numbers.
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3.
edited November 2010

Hi, Todd!

This topic would make a great article for Azimuth. Please write it!

Since methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, about 72 times as powerful per unit mass, though it stays around much less long. Since cows burp copiously, they apparently emit 75% of all methane emitted by animals on this planet. There are apparently about 1.5 billion cows, each of which contributes to global warming roughly as much as a car. Of course that depends on things like how much you drive your car, and what you feed your cow - I think people have been pondering the latter issue. It would be great to learn more about all this stuff and include this information: not all meat is created equal.

I've moved this discussion to "Azimuth Project: Questions", 'cause it's a question about or for the Azimuth Project.

Comment Source:Hi, Todd! This topic would make a great article for Azimuth. Please write it! Since methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, about [72 times as powerful per unit mass](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming_potential), though it [stays around much less long](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming_potential#Values). Since [cows burp copiously](http://www.scienceline.org/2007/03/env_knight_ipcccows/), they apparently emit 75% of all methane emitted by animals on this planet. There are apparently about [1.5 billion cows](http://animals.howstuffworks.com/mammals/methane-cow.htm), each of which contributes to global warming roughly as much as a car. Of course that depends on things like how much you drive your car, and what you feed your cow - I think people have been pondering the latter issue. It would be great to learn more about all this stuff and include this information: not all meat is created equal. I've moved this discussion to "Azimuth Project: Questions", 'cause it's a question about or for the Azimuth Project.
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4.

Cows apparently produce 37% of anthropogenic methane. And feeding them oregano can reduce the amount greatly.

Comment Source:Cows apparently produce 37% of anthropogenic methane. And [feeding them oregano](http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100907113135.htm) can reduce the amount greatly.
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5.

Robert May in the freely accessible paper Ecological science and tomorrow's world notes that as hunter-gatherers:

humans spent about 0.1 of a calorie to put 1 calorie into their mouths. By around 1900, although roughly half the workforce in developed countries were still to be found on the farm (in the UK, ahead of the wave, the proportion was declining to around 35%), advances in agricultural science meant it took 1 calorie to put 1 calorie on the table. Today the ratio, in developing countries, is more like 10:1, or more. And this 100-fold energy increase compared with earlier ages is supplied mainly by burning fossil fuels.

I'm looking for a lecture that Robert May (Baron May of Oxford) gave as retiring President of the Royal Society in 2005. Any sightings welcome.

Comment Source:Robert May in the freely accessible paper [_Ecological science and tomorrow's world_](http:\\rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/365/1537/41.full.pdf) notes that as hunter-gatherers: > humans spent about 0.1 of a calorie to put 1 calorie into their mouths. By around 1900, although roughly half the workforce in developed countries were still to be found on the farm (in the UK, ahead of the wave, the proportion was declining to around 35%), advances in agricultural science meant it took 1 calorie to put 1 calorie on the table. Today the ratio, in developing countries, is more like 10:1, or more. And this 100-fold energy increase compared with earlier ages is supplied mainly by burning fossil fuels. I'm looking for a lecture that Robert May (Baron May of Oxford) gave as retiring President of the Royal Society in 2005. Any sightings welcome.
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6.

On the subject of fossil fuels in farming, I've come across the statement that on average 1 calorie of "food" has used 6 calories of fossil fuel energy in its creation. Unfortunately no detailed source is given.

Comment Source:On the subject of fossil fuels in farming, I've come across the statement that on average 1 calorie of "food" has used 6 calories of fossil fuel energy in its creation. Unfortunately no detailed source is given.
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7.
edited February 2011

I think there are a few papers out there on the subject and they all fall in the ~5:1 to ~10:1 range. Here's a link to one that has a nice graph on the subject (page 41).

Comment Source:I think there are a few papers out there on the subject and they all fall in the ~5:1 to ~10:1 range. [Here's a link](http://css.snre.umich.edu/css_doc/CSS00-04.pdf) to one that has a nice graph on the subject (page 41).
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8.

Also see Without+the+Hot+Air#personal_balance_sheets_4 the 3rd diagram which shows that cows burping methane is part of the problem but its just 1/8 of the total GHG emmisions so yes methane is a more agressive greenhouse gas, but as part of the emissions problem energy use in MacKays diagram by 75% is currently what we need to focus on

Also if have a chance to look at Recommmended reading theree is a book by V Smil called "Energy in nature and society" which efficiency of animal food production on p.299

Comment Source:Also see [[Without+the+Hot+Air#personal_balance_sheets_4]] the 3rd diagram which shows that cows burping methane is part of the problem but its just 1/8 of the total GHG emmisions so yes methane is a more agressive [[greenhouse gas]], but as part of the emissions problem energy use in MacKays diagram by 75% is currently what we need to focus on Also if have a chance to look at [[Recommmended reading]] theree is a book by V Smil called "Energy in nature and society" which efficiency of animal food production on p.299
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9.

I just read some of the above comments now! I added a new section Carbon footprint of livestock production to our Carbon footprint page, and I'll add some of this information to it.

Comment Source:I just read some of the above comments now! I added a new section [Carbon footprint of livestock production](http://www.azimuthproject.org/azimuth/show/Carbon+footprint#Livestock) to our [[Carbon footprint]] page, and I'll add some of this information to it.
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10.

Walter Blackstock gave a link here but for me the link was broken. So I've refreshed it here:

Robert M. May, Ecological science and tomorrow’s world Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B (2010) 365, 41–47

Comment Source:Walter Blackstock gave a link [here](http://www.math.ntnu.no/~stacey/Mathforge/Azimuth/comments.php?DiscussionID=150&Focus=666#Comment_666) but for me the link was broken. So I've refreshed it here: Robert M. May, [Ecological science and tomorrow’s world](http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/365/1537/41.full.pdf) *Phil. Trans. R. Soc.* **B** (2010) 365, 41–47
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11.

Comment Source:I have added a link to May's paper to [[Extinction]].
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12.

I'm getting quite interested in the subject of food return on energy investted so if someone has further references about the "EROEI" of food production I would be grateful.

I'm going to take a closer look at Roflwaffle's link from above but the graph there already raises an issue. If you cook food, the energy spent for cooking will be counted too, but on the other hand, cooked food is easier to digest, so you need to eat less of it (at least that's what I though, I should check).

I'm also interested in the period of the 1:1 ratio, at the time there was not so much machinery. Were a lot of animals used as workforce? Were farmers obliged to work harder for higher classes? But obviously, at a 1:1 ratio it's not easy to keep alive as a farmer... Furthermore, population grew due to agriculture, so there must have been a surplus in energy due to the move from hunting-gathering to farming.

I'd like to find out, so all references are welcome.

Comment Source:I'm getting quite interested in the subject of food return on energy investted so if someone has further references about the "EROEI" of food production I would be grateful. I'm going to take a closer look at Roflwaffle's link from above but the graph there already raises an issue. If you cook food, the energy spent for cooking will be counted too, but on the other hand, cooked food is easier to digest, so you need to eat less of it (at least that's what I though, I should check). I'm also interested in the period of the 1:1 ratio, at the time there was not so much machinery. Were a lot of animals used as workforce? Were farmers obliged to work harder for higher classes? But obviously, at a 1:1 ratio it's not easy to keep alive as a farmer... Furthermore, population grew due to agriculture, so there must have been a surplus in energy due to the move from hunting-gathering to farming. I'd like to find out, so all references are welcome.
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13.

beef production in Mackay but u must add the transport costs in ch15 pp91ff

Comment Source:[beef production in Mackay](http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/withouthotair/c13/page_77.shtml) but u must add the transport costs in ch15 pp91ff
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14.
edited May 2011

Thanks! That's an obvious place where I should have looked first. (btw, I'm also interested in the historical perspective)

He often writes quite funny:

Take the steep hills and mountains of Wales, for example. Could the land be used for anything other than grazing? Either these rocky pasturelands are used to sustain sheep, or they are not used to help feed humans. You can think of these natural green slopes as maintenance-free biofuel plantations, and the sheep as automated self-replicating biofuel- harvesting machines. The energy losses between sunlight and mutton are substantial, but there is probably no better way of capturing solar power in such places.

in addition, the sheep are automated lawnmowers! ;-)

Comment Source:Thanks! That's an obvious place where I should have looked first. (btw, I'm also interested in the historical perspective) He often writes quite funny: > Take the steep hills and mountains of Wales, for example. Could the land be used for anything other than grazing? Either these rocky pasturelands are used to sustain sheep, or they are not used to help feed humans. You can think of these natural green slopes as maintenance-free biofuel plantations, and the sheep as automated self-replicating biofuel- harvesting machines. The energy losses between sunlight and mutton are substantial, but there is probably no better way of capturing solar power in such places. in addition, the sheep are automated lawnmowers! ;-)
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15.

:-)

Comment Source::-)