For most people, climate change is about the fossil fuels we burn to generate electricity, heat our buildings and fuel our transport. But these activities are not the only ones that contribute to climate change. Nor is the carbon dioxide that they produce the only greenhouse gas we need to worry about.
A new paper in the journal Nature concludes that we should also focus on modern land use practices, and that we should be concerned about the methane and nitrous oxide that these activities generate. Lead scientist Hanqin Tian explains:
“Apart from CO₂, there are two other main greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, methane (CH₄) and nitrous oxide (N₂O). In fact, they are both more potent greenhouse gases than CO₂. The global warming potential of methane and nitrous oxide is 28 and 265 times greater than that of CO₂, respectively.
“The human emissions of these gases are largely associated with food production. Methane is produced by ruminants (livestock), rice cultivation, landfills and manure, among others… Nitrous oxide emissions are associated with excessive use of fertilisers and burning plant and animal waste.”
The problem is that governments are even less likely to intervene to curb these emissions than they are to curb carbon emissions. This is because the most damaging practices are essential to providing food in regions of the world where malnutrition and undernourishment remain a problem.