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Earth Talk: Is methane from farms and ranches good for our environment? Kidscontent | Kidscontent

Earth Talk: Is methane from farms and ranches good for our environment? Kidscontent | Kidscontent

Dear EarthTalk – Is encouraging dairy farmers to capture methane from their livestock manure beneficial for the planet or detrimental?

Phil Onorato from Pittsburgh

Methane capture is a promising technology that uses the decomposition process of livestock byproducts such as cow and hog manure, to produce electricity. It helps to eliminate existing, and for the moment, essential evils, such as climate-warming methane from cattle or pigs. It works by exposing livestock waste to bacteria and enzymes, which break down the methane into natural gas that can then be pumped into generators.

Large farms and livestock operations can use this technology to turn their cattle and/or pigs from a climate disaster methane, which is more powerful than carbon dioxide, into at least a producer or generator of renewable energy.

One advantage to this method of producing natural gas, is that it is renewable as long as the cows or pigs continue to urinate. Another advantage is that methane can be captured using existing technologies. Both traditional natural gas and methane fuel use the same infrastructure.

Methane capture has a downside, at least for environmentalists. It perpetuates the fossil fuel-oriented status quo and further incentivizes factory farm business models instead of a shift towards true zero-emission renewables such as solar, wind, and geothermal. The factory farm business model has had a devastating impact on the environment, from North Carolina pig waste overflows to Midwest waterways poisoned by livestock waste to California drought due to cattle ranches demanding more water to quench their cattle thirst.

Proponents of using methane emission to offset methane production from livestock argue that their method of producing energy is as zero-emission as solar and wind. The livestock trade would not have been necessary to start the process of methane capture. Carbon offsets don’t reduce methane emissions; they simply compensate. In a sense they are taking Peter to pay Paul.

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Both sides of the issue are pushing for policy. California’s state government has been balancing its farm-based economy with a desire to create a more sustainable future by encouraging methane capture. Their opponents include advocacy groups like Food and Water Watch and Southern Environmental Law Center, as well as the Natural Resources Defense Council and Food and Water Watch.

Although methane capture is controversial, it is worth investigating. Solutions that work today have some advantages over those that are possible in the distant future. Future planning will require far more ambitious solutions than temporary ones.

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