Fossil fuels might be the most widely discussed when it comes to climate change, however, animal agriculture is one of the biggest contributors.

Pat and Sharon O’Toole, the ranchers extolling cattle in the Aug. 11 Salt Lake Tribune, (“If you like birds and fish, hug a cow”) got it wrong.

While they claim multiple benefits for wildlife from ranching and irrigated agriculture, cattle decimate riparian areas that wildlife depend on in the arid west. Further, beef production is a major contributor to water pollution.

Most importantly, meat production is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. Animal agriculture produces greenhouse gases (GHG) methane and nitrous oxide. Methane’s impact on global warming is 28 times higher than carbon dioxide. Nitrous oxide has a global warming effect 265 times that of CO2. Livestock’s Long Shadow report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 18 percent of worldwide GHG emissions are due to livestock.

Whenever climate change is discussed, fossil fuels top the list. Oil, natural gas and coal are major sources of human-caused GHG emissions. But domesticated animals raised for food account for at least half of all human-caused GHGs.

Replacing livestock products with better alternatives would be the best strategy for reversing climate change. In fact, this approach would have far more rapid effects on GHG emissions, and thus on the rate the climate is warming, than replacing fossil fuels with renewables.

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