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.