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A New Cud to Chew
How a Seaweed Diet Could Save the Planet

Methane is carbon dioxide’s much more potent greenhouse gas cousin, and while its life-cycle in our atmosphere is considerably shorter than CO2, it traps thirty times more heat. Methane is especially problematic in the agricultural industry, where it makes up the majority of GHG emissions. Belching cows are one of the biggest sources of agricultural methane, but researchers have discovered a surprising potential solution to the problem: introduce seaweed into the bovine diet. Australia’s ABC News reports:

Professor of aquaculture at James Cook University in Townsville, Rocky De Nys, has been working with the CSIRO studying the effects seaweed can have on cow’s methane production. They discovered adding a small amount of dried seaweed to a cow’s diet can reduce the amount of methane a cow produces by up to 99 per cent. “We started with 20 species [of seaweed] and we very quickly narrowed that down to one really stand out species of red seaweed,” Professor De Nys said. […]

“We have results already with whole sheep; we know that if asparagopsis is fed to sheep at 2 per cent of their diet, they produce between 50 and 70 percent less methane over a 72-day period continuously, so there is already a well-established precedent…When the seaweed is harvested it is dried, and it can be added as a sprinkle essentially to the diet, just as you would add a mixture of herbs and spices to the chicken,” he said.

Reducing methane emissions from cows by 99 percent would be a huge step forward for efforts to mitigate climate change. Belching bovines may sound like a funny problem to have, but it’s quite serious, and the fact that it could be addressed with such a simple, low-tech solution like a change in diet is very encouraging.

It’s of course too early to anoint this as the solution to our agricultural emissions woes, but the fact that it’s already been seen to work in sheep suggests it could be more than just a flash in the pan. Moreover, even if—for whatever reason—this turns out to be unscalable or unworkable, it’s representative of the diligent work being done by scientists all over the planet on tackling the challenge of climate change.

The new issues of the 21st century will need to be met by creative problem solving, and when it comes to climate change, we’re already seeing green shoots on that front.

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  • Fat_Man

    Junk science squared. Nonsense on stilts. Not even wrong.

    • Rick Johnson

      Australia’s CSIRO isn’t a scientific organisation. It’s a taxpayer funded Green religious promoters

  • Proud Skeptic

    While I see no problem with introducing a little seaweed into animal diets, I think this thing is silly. There are much more significant conversations to be had on this topic…starting with establishing beyond a reasonable doubt that it is, in fact a real problem.

  • CaliforniaStark

    “while its life-cycle in our atmosphere is considerably shorter than CO2, it traps thirty times more heat.”

    Methane’s life-cycle is only 10-12 years. To say something that disappears in little more than a decade is going to doom the planet is a little much.

    Up until a few years ago, the vast majority of studies indicated that methane levels were actually falling. Recently, several questionable studies have claimed that methane level are rising. Some of the initial claims appeared to been meant as attacks on fracking, but the oil and gas industry immediately responded that their methane emission had actual gone down. Then agriculture got targeted.

    To show how little we actually know about methane in the atmosphere, and its source, recent studies have found that a major source of methane release are vents in the oceans. Rather than advocating a seaweed diet for cows, maybe TAI should advocate draining the oceans so the vents can be plugged. Then all the sea weed can be gathered and feed to the cows.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3853160/Scientists-500-U-S-seabed-vents-powerful-greenhouse-gas.html

  • JR

    While this seems a bit silly to me. but if feeding cows a little seaweed makes them fart less, I’m all for it. What’s the harm?

    • Jim__L

      Very good point.

      Also, tinkering with the microbes in cows’ internal biomes has the potential to help a lot.

  • Rick Johnson

    Hmmm . . . interesting. Methane traps five times more heat that plant food, but isn’t the byproduct of the fuel that drives the industrial revolution. Yet the Greens are more concerned with shutting down our carbon based industries, not our methane based industries.
    It’s almost like the Greens real agenda is to de-industrialise humanity and send us back to the caves, rather than to ‘save the planet’ from ‘dangerous global warming’.
    If that was true, then surely the smart people at TAI would see through this scam and not dutifully fall in line with the Greens’ propaganda!

    • CaliforniaStark

      Your mixing apples and apples. When methane breaks down after 10-12 years, the byproduct is carbon and water. The amount of CO2 that results is about less than half that produced by coal, which is why, as TAI has pointed out, the replacement of coal by natural gas as an energy source has been a major reason for the about 12% reduction of carbon emission in the U.S. recently.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Global Warming is BS. Doing anything which raises the price of food, in order to cater to environmentalist lies, is a stupid boondoggle and an additional burden on Modern Civilization which is under attack in so many ways.

  • seattleoutcast

    Can cows digest seaweed? We already give them food that they are not evolutionarily designed to eat. Maybe their poor diet is responsible for the methane. I wonder if that idea is even included in their conversation.

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