Tackling Climate Change: Livestock Emissions, Clean Power, and Global Agreements
Unreported Livestock Emissions: Overlooking a Major Climate Culprit
The permanent damage can cause extreme fluxes in weather and the rising of the oceans. It is also more difficult to control than carbon due to one of its contributors being cows.
The meat industry is one of the leading causes of climate change. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 39 percent of all greenhouse gases are from livestock (Singh, 2014). Out of the 39 percent of farm animals used for consumption globally, 55 percent is from beef cattle. Per year, a single cow will release between 70 and 120 kilograms of methane, which is an alarming amount (Rohrer, n.d.). Looking at historical trends shows that these emissions will most likely not decrease. Throughout the past 50 years, agriculture has doubled. By the year 2050, methane emissions from agriculture are projected to increase as much as 70 percent (Singh, 2014).
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This issue has been monitored more frequently by governments and scientists around the globe but is mostly ignored by the United States. In 2017, the nation surpassed China as the leading meat producer in the world, with a percentage of 19.63 (Halverson, 2016). During the Obama administration, a bill was passed in 2016 that renewed a provision preventing the Environmental Protection Agency from requiring livestock farmers to report the number of emissions they are producing (2016). This is going against a policy that the United States already has on monitoring emissions.
Out of the 42 sectors within the nation that produce greenhouse gas emissions, the meat industry is the only one not required to have an annual report (Izzo, 2018). Since there is no reporting on livestock emissions, the nation’s total percentage released annually is underestimated by a large amount. The reasoning for not including livestock emissions in an annual report may come from economic concerns. The United States economy is heavily influenced by the meat industry. Studies have shown Americans eat more meat per capita than any other country, which is beneficial to the nation’s economic growth (Halverson, 2016). However, scientists have stated a change in what we eat will produce a quicker and more noticeable impact on stopping climate change over altering the way fossil fuels are used.
Policy Reforms for Climate-Conscious Agriculture and Industry
Due to the fact that the Obama administration did not act upon this issue, President Donald Trump needs to take the initiative. In order to curb climate change in regard to farming and livestock, the Trump administration should make a policy requiring that livestock emissions be counted in the annual reports. This will allow the nation to have an accurate percentage to reference and share with other nations. Along with this addition, the President should incorporate other policies for agriculture. There are a handful of achievable changes farmers can utilize.
For example, what the cows are being fed. The majority of corn farmed in the United States is used for beef cattle. This is an extremely gassy food that is linked to severe digestive problems in the cow. In 2011, manure alone accounted for 16 percent of agriculture emissions (Halverson, 2016). If farmers started feeding their cows hay and mixing the plant alfalfa within, the amount of belching and manure would most likely decrease, which would reduce emissions due to a healthier diet.
Another take could be the amount of land we save for farming. Within the United States, the majority of farmed land is for cow feed. The amount of greenhouse emissions that come from harvesting the corn for the cows is astonishing. More land should be preserved for national parks or land that will not be able to be commercially touched. The issue of cows being related to climate change goes under the radar compared to other issues. More specifically, the concern about power plants and their carbon emissions.
One of the more apparent causes of greenhouse gas emissions is the issue with power plants. These businesses in the United States use roughly 30 percent of coal for their energy production (Negin, n.d.). Coal is a black, carbon-rich rock that was heavily mined up until the 1950s due to natural gas, nuclear power, wind, and solar coming into play. One of the reasons power plant emissions are looked at much more than that of agriculture is due to the number of health concerns. Besides carbon being emitted into the atmosphere, power plants also emit mercury, lead, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and other toxic materials. These can all be linked to severe health concerns like brain damage, heart problems, and cancer.
Clean Power Plan: Health, Economic, and Climate Benefits
Despite these health concerns, President Donald Trump has recently stated that he is determined to bring back the coal industry in the United States. This is one climate change topic former President Barack Obama and current President Donald Trump disagree on. In 2015, the Obama administration announced a policy with a goal of reducing emissions given off by power plants. This plan was called the Clean Power Plan and happened to be the first policy addressing national standards for power plants and their carbon dioxide pollution. The main objective was reducing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants while utilizing a cleaner way to give Americans energy and making this possible for each state to easily achieve (“Overview of Greenhouse Gases,” 2018).
According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, the implementation of this plan would result in climate change benefits of $20 billion, health benefits of $14-$34 billion, and overall net benefits of $26-$45 billion (2018). In regard to health benefits, the Clean Power Plan was also projected to avoid 3,600 premature deaths, 1,700 heart attacks, 90,000 asthma attacks, and 300,000 missed work days and school days (2018). In order to be effective, the regulations would need to work for each state. Therefore, region, population size, and land mass were taken into consideration.
States had the choice to implement these regulations individually or regionally. The plan resulted in three different goals, “A rate-based state goal measured in pounds per megawatt hour (lb/MWh); A mass-based state goal measured in total short tons of CO2; A mass-based state goal with a new source complement measured in total short tons of CO2” (2018, 3). States were asked to start implementing the new regulations during the year 2022 and carry them out until 2029. In 2030, the results would be taken into consideration to see what the next steps would be and if there was any significant reduction in greenhouse and toxic emissions. Due to all the factors stated above, the two different plans the state could pick from were called the emission standards plan and the state measures plan. A description of each is stated below:
“Emission standards plan would include source-specific requirements ensuring all affected power plants within the state meet their required emissions performance rates or state-specific rate-based or mass-based goal. The state measures plan would include a mixture of measures implemented by the state, such as renewable energy standards and programs to improve residential energy efficiency that are not included as federally enforceable components of the plan. The plan may also include federally enforceable source-specific requirements.
Executive Order Rollback: Reversing Climate Progress and Economic Concerns
The state measures, alone or in conjunction with federally enforceable requirements, must result in affected power plants meeting the state’s mass-based goal. The plan must also include a backstop of federally enforceable standards on affected power plants that fully meet the emission guidelines, and that would be triggered if the state measures fail to result in the affected plants achieving the required emissions reductions on schedule. States may use the final model rule, which EPA proposed on August 3, for their backstop” (2018, 2).
Even though this plan was put into action by the Obama administration and was well received by the majority of the government, scientists, and citizens, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that will most likely cause the Clean Power Plan to be repealed. It is projected to be replaced by a much weaker and less desirable policy due to the lobbying of opposition groups and Donald Trump’s support for the coal industry.
The executive order President Donald Trump signed in regard to climate change rescinds a handful of policies put into place by former President Barack Obama. He specifically ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to hold an extensive review of the Clean Power Plan. The goal of this executive order, signed on March 29, 2017, was to loosen the regulations set on the fossil fuel industries. At this point in Trump’s presidency, this was the first declaration targeting climate change efforts. Along with the rollback of Obama-era plans came strict guidelines, which made it more difficult to put regulations on fossil fuels in the future. This included the coal, oil, and natural gas industries. Many believe Trump is blinded by the economy. A statement from the Union of Concerned Scientists states:
“He is so beholden to fossil fuel interests that he’s willing to stand in the way of the economic opportunities provided by a transition to clean energy. And he does not at all understand our deep moral obligation to limit the dangers of climate change for future generations, who will be left to face the consequences of our failure to act” (Negin, n.d., 3)
Balancing Economic Interests and Environmental Accountability
As of 2018, China is listed as the leading greenhouse gas emitter, with the United States close behind (Gillis & Popovich, 2017). Together, both nations account for 40 percent of the globe’s greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, the United States is responsible for a large portion of the dangerous emissions being put into the planet’s atmosphere. The nation should be accountable for these actions, and putting appropriate regulations into place is a moral and ethical obligation. However, Trump’s concern for the economy is more prevalent than his principles. This comes from a concern about the lack of jobs in America and the fact that he is a strong supporter of the coal industry.
The President also believes economic freedoms have been threatened by the power plant regulations put into place by the Obama administration. Therefore, he insists revitalizing the coal industry will help the economy, which will, in turn, benefit the environment. One of his recent speeches to the public states, “You’ve got to make sure you’ve got a strong economy … A strong economy is the best way to protect the environment. Natural gas is important. Coal is important. Nuclear is important” (Lavelle, 2017, p. 1). The economy of the United States is important. However, as of June of this year, the unemployment rate is only 4 percent, which is considered a healthy range.
The President disregarding climate change is an issue, but he is also blatantly ignoring health risks that would be cut if the Clean Power Plan came into effect. As stated in the paragraph above, Americans would see a large reduction in cardiovascular illnesses, respiratory illnesses, cancer, and asthma issues, which have all been linked to power plant emissions. As of now, this policy is not in effect but is pending a challenge in the US Court of Appeals. The termination of the plan also affects the treaties the nation is in. One of the United States current obligations is the Paris climate agreement. Therefore, the 2015 Clean Power Plan should remain a policy in the United States.
Along with the Clean Power Plan being signed by former President Barack Obama in 2015, he also took part in signing the Paris Climate Agreement. This international treaty was aimed at curbing climate change while keeping the global temperature increase below two degrees Celsius and eventually down to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Along with the United States, 174 other countries, plus the European Union, signed the agreement on December 12, 2015. The overall goal was for all participating nations to put their best efforts forward through nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and continue to strengthen these efforts with each passing year (“What Is the Paris Agreement,” n.d.).
Urgent Need to Uphold Climate Commitments and Global Cooperation
The nationally determined contributions consisted of regular reports of participating nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, what implementations each country is taking to curb climate change, and a global stocktake every five years in order to see how far the world has come and to determine if changes were necessary. There is also a list of 12 crucial areas each state needs to pay attention to in order to successfully combat climate change: Long-term temperature goal, global peaking, and climate neutrality, mitigation, sinks and reservoirs, voluntary cooperation within the market and non-market-based approaches, adaptation, loss and damages.
Technology and capacity-building support with financial advisement, climate change education, transparency, global stocktake, and decision making (“What Is the Paris Agreement,” n.d.). Since the United States accounts for a large percentage of the planet’s total greenhouse gas emissions, without the nation’s support, it will be very difficult to keep the global temperature increase below two degrees Celsius. Along with global warming, climate change is projected to condemn tens of thousands of Americans to premature deaths by the year 2100 (Levitz, 2018).
Since Trump announced the nation’s abandonment of the Paris Agreement, other countries have also taken similar actions. Many are calling this the “Trump effect” (Curtin, 2018). Along with the nation, Russia, Brazil, and Turkey have abandoned their own plans in accordance with climate change. Government officials from these three countries have all cited Trump’s withdrawal decision as encouraging their change of heart. All the reasons stated above are just a few examples of why the nation should stay in the Paris climate agreement and the Clean Power Plan of 2015.
There is no benefit to abandoning this international movement. Despite Donald Trump claiming the United States is out of the treaty, the nation cannot officially abandon it until November 4, 2020. This is due to the rigorous withdrawal process. When former president Barack Obama signed the Paris Plan, there was a timeline to which he agreed. In this timeline, it stated that the United States could not officially announce its plan to withdraw until November 4, 2019 (Palmer, 2018). If the President wins his second term and is still in office at that time, he will then need to send a letter to the United Nations secretary general addressing the United States intention to leave the agreement.
A Global Imperative Amid Policy Changes
After notifying the secretary general, there is a one-year waiting period before being officially kicked off the Paris climate plan. Therefore, the official exit was on November 4, 2020 (2018). Even though there is a four-year waiting period before being able to withdraw, the President is taking that time to rescind Obama-era policies, like that of the 2015 Clean Power Plan and many others. It is embarrassing on the international platform for the President to withdraw from a treaty with 174 other signatories. The nation should continue to be a part of the agreement and work towards bettering the planet since the United States is such a large emitter of greenhouse gases.
Even though the United States has rolled back a handful of regulations in regard to climate change, states are taking matters into their own hands. For instance, California and New York will be implementing their own regulations and providing financial support, which is in accordance with the Paris plan. California has been implementing new vehicle emissions standards for mileage, which are higher than the current federal government standards. The former mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, pledged to cover the $15 million the United States owes the United Nations in regard to the Paris accord (Halper, 2018).
This should be a telling sign to President Donald Trump that the Paris Climate Agreement is an important treaty to stay a part of and not a difficult thing to contribute to. Other nations are also going above and beyond the expectations set by the Paris climate agreement as well. India remains on track to achieve their set goals while adding a few more initiatives. The Ministry of Environment and Forests recently released a report regarding India’s efforts to combat climate change. They listed 20 new initiatives the country is undertaking, which will help offset 11 percent of their annual greenhouse gas emissions (“India Steps Up Climate Change Efforts,” n.d.).
The policies former president Barack Obama set into place were important not only for the nation but also for the planet altogether. Even though President Trump is rescinding these approaches to combating climate change, it set a precedent that they are accomplishable. Even though the United States is a powerful nation, it is quickly falling behind on climate change efforts. The nation should revert to the plans from the Obama administration for commonsense health concerns and the various facts scientists around the globe have been stating in regard to climate change.
- Singh, R. (2014). Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/3/a-a0701e.pdf
- Rohrer, J. (n.d.). Livestock’s Methane Emissions: An Overview. National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. Retrieved from https://sustainableagriculture.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Livestocks-Methane-Emissions.pdf
- Halverson, N. (2016). Meat consumption and climate change. Environmental Health Perspectives, 124(11), A197. DOI: 10.1289/ehp.124-A197
- Overview of Greenhouse Gases. (2018). Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/overview-greenhouse-gases
- Lavelle, M. (2017). Trump to U.N.: The U.S. ‘Will Not Pay More than 25 Percent of the Peacekeeping Budget’. InsideClimate News. Retrieved from https://insideclimatenews.org/news/23092017/trump-united-nations-speech-paris-agreement-global-warming
- Gillis, J., & Popovich, N. (2017). The U.S. Is the Biggest Carbon Polluter in History. It Just Walked Away from the Paris Climate Deal. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/06/01/climate/us-biggest-carbon-polluter-in-history-will-it-walk-away-from-the-paris-climate-deal.html
- Levitz, E. (2018). Climate Change Will Get Worse. These Investors Are Betting on It. New York Magazine. Retrieved from https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2018/08/climate-change-will-get-worse-these-investors-are-betting-on-it.html
- What Is the Paris Agreement? (n.d.). United Nations Climate Change. Retrieved from https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/what-is-the-paris-agreement
- Palmer, M. (2018). U.S. Formally Begins to Leave the Paris Climate Agreement. NPR. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2019/11/04/775955864/u-s-formally-begins-to-leave-the-paris-climate-agreement
- Halper, E. (2018). As Trump Abandons Paris, These States Step Up. High Country News. Retrieved from https://www.hcn.org/articles/climate-desk-as-trump-abandons-paris-these-states-stand-up