Saturday, January 26, 2008

Greenhouse gases, meat consumption and the Amazon

The Sunday NY Times has a good story on the global environmental burden of meat production, an issue that's been covered here on and off over the past couple years. Meat production, particularly beef, is responsible for a large proportion of the world's greenhouse gas emissions due to the energy required to grow animal feed, the clearing of land for feed crops, N2O emissions from fertilizer application and both N2O and CH4 emissions from the animals themselves. The graph at right shows the consistent rise in per capita consumption in the Americas and Asia over the past 45 years. Meat production and consumption is expected to continue to rise due to rising demand in China and other parts of Asia.

The demand for animal feed, coupled the demand for biofuels, is being felt most of all in the Amazon, the one large area of "unused" and potentially productive farmland left on the planet. The rate of Amazonian deforestation increased in the last few months, and may increase further in the rainy months to come, when most illegal cutting usually occurs.


John Mashey said...

n USA as a whole and Iowa, as an example, the usage of corn is:

This happened via corn subsidies, which don't even help farmers as much as they help intermediaries, i.e., overproduction of corn makes prices paid to farmers go down. Field corn, of course, is not usually eaten directly by humans.

[There's a good discussion in the engaging book "The Omnivore's Dilemma".]

Despite the many reasons to not love corn ethanol, I'd *much* rather take existing corn acreage and move more of to ethanol (hopefully cellulosic) or soy biodiesel, and LESS:

a) High-fructose corn syrup, a wonderful contributor to obesity and diabetes.

b) Beef from CAFO feedlots, which really exist because grain is cheap.

c) Grain dumped on developing economies' agricultural systems. [Although, with Peak Oil, that at least will stop.]

Simon Donner said...

Pollan's book nicely summarizes of the how and why of our corn-fed lives.

The US Dept of Agriculture data we used in an upcoming study has feed at 65% of non-ethanol corn use (ethanol is up around 20% overall) or 54% overall. Exports make up another ~20% and much of that is also used as feed.