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The environment's got beef with burps

2 min read
Wenqian Zeng, Junior ESG Investment Analyst02 May 2024

Recently I took advantage of the rare winter sun in the UK by taking a long stroll in the beautiful Surrey countryside. Amongst the rolling green hills, I saw cows grazing peacefully, providing me with a dose of rural charm (and milk and cheese!). What did not cross my mind in this serene environment was the amounts of methane being emitted around me.

When you think about climate change, you probably think about giant smokestacks or traffic on the M25. But how about a field full of cows, or even, a field of burping cows?

Contrary to common belief, most of the methane gas that a cow emits is released by burping rather than breaking wind. The International Energy Agency has reported that agriculture is the largest source of methane emissions. And the main culprit? Cow burps.

Astonishingly, there is about one cow to five persons in the world. That’s a lot of burps! The reason being that cows have a specialised stomach that helps them break down plant material which produces methane as a byproduct.

Methane, the silent villain, is a greenhouse gas that is 25 times better at trapping heat than its famous counterpart, carbon dioxide. It is so potent that it is often considered better to burn the natural gas, which releases carbon, than let it escape into the atmosphere! Thankfully, methane is relatively short-lived, breaking down in the atmosphere in 12 years.

Now, let’s not put all the blame on cows. Oil and gas operations, as well as landfill waste, are also significant contributors of methane leaks.

Scientists and global leaders have been struggling to solve the methane “cownundrum”.

More than 150 countries have joined the voluntary Global Methane Pledge, aiming to reduce global levels by at least 30% by the end of the decade, and it sure was a hot topic in COP 28.

Several solutions have been invented, from adding seaweed to cow feed and burp-catching cow masks, to cutting-edge technologies such as new satellites designed to detect and monitor methane leaks.

Next time I walk in the countryside, I'll be sure to keep my affection of these gas giants at bay.

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