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Carbon dioxide emissions shouldn’t be the main focus for agriculture

Most of our focus on tackling climate change has been on the carbon dioxide emissions generated when we burn carbon dioxide in our electricity and transport industries.  Given this concern, it is unsurprising that scientists and campaigners have also turned their attention to the carbon dioxide emissions generated by agriculture.

However, a new report in the journal Nature suggests that we should shift our attention to two often overlooked greenhouse gases generated by agriculture – methane and nitrous oxide. According to lead study author Hanqin Tian of Auburn University, the potential of global warming due to methane is 28 times higher than than of CO2. Additionally, a nitrous oxide global warming is 265 times more likely than CO2 in the course of a century.

While living plants and animals are often regarded as a “carbon sink” – absorbing more carbon dioxide than they generate – the way we currently farm means that they are net generators of both methane and nitrous oxide.  This means that industrial agriculture is a net contributor to global warming, and that we need to reconfigure both the way we farm and the way we consume… especially cutting the volumes of meat and dairy consumed in developed countries.

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