We are in the midst of a public awakening, of a sort, about climate change with hundreds of thousands of protestors taking to the streets this past Sunday and TV hosts interviewing celebrity guests on the issue as the United Nations prepared to hold its annual summit on the topic.
But few people have been talking about the elephant, or, more appropriately, the cow, in the room. People typically point to the global transportation industry as the largest culprit in climate change. But factory farming is an even larger contributor. Today, about 70 billion animals worldwide, including cows, chickens and pigs, are crammed into Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOS) each year.
How does animal agriculture contribute to climate change? According to a 2006 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. (FAO), animal flatulence and manure are responsible for 18 percent of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, including 37 percent of methane emissions and 65 percent of nitrous oxide emissions. The methane releases from billions of imprisoned animals on factory farms are 70 times more damaging per ton to the earth's atmosphere than CO2. The poor diet and massive amounts of antibiotics given to these animals (to increase input-output "efficiency") exacerbates their digestive difficulties and, hence, their waste and pollution.