According to a report issued by the United Nations, cattle-rearing generates more global warming greenhouse gases than transportation. Factory farming is a major producer of four toxic greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ammonia. And while we are bombarded with talk of the need to purchase fuel efficient vehicles and appliances, we rarely hear how reducing our consumption of meat will help to slow the process of global warming more than any Toyota car or Energy Star washing machine.
The livestock industry accounts for 37% of all anthropogenic, or human caused, methane gas. 18% of the greenhouse gas effect is caused by methane, making it the second most prevalent greenhouse gas (carbon dioxide is the most prevalent). Ruminants, or cud-chewing animals such as cows, sheep, and goats, emit methane gas when they belch. Each cow produces between 200 and 400 quarts of methane each day. Methane gas is twenty one times more powerful than carbon dioxide as far as its ability to pollute the atmosphere.
The good news about methane gas is that it cycles out of the atmosphere in just eight years. Carbon dioxide takes more than a century to cycle out of the atmosphere. This means that a reduction in the amount of methane gas produced could lead to a quicker cooling of the Earth.
Nitrous oxide is another greenhouse gas, and by-product, of the animal agriculture industry. Nitrous oxide is three hundred times more potent as a global warming gas than carbon dioxide. According to the UN, the meat, egg, and dairy industry account for 65% of worldwide nitrous oxide emissions. Most of these emissions come from the industry's process of handling dry manure.
In addition to nitrous oxide, livestock manure produces 65-80% of U.S. ammonia emissions. Ammonia is a significant contributor to acid rain. Acid rain is a form of precipitation that is unusually acidic. It has been shown to have deadly effects on plant and animal life. Ammonia can also have negative health effects on humans. Exposure to high concentrations of ammonia can cause burning and tearing to the eyes, Inhaling ammonia can cause respiratory damage including burning and irritation of sensitive lung tissue.
With the United Nations projecting that the global meat production will more than double from 229 million tons in 2000 to 465 million tons in 2050, the effects on global warming from animal agriculture will only grow more severe. Of course, the most obvious solution to such a crisis is to dramatically reduce the global meat production by decreasing the global meat consumption. As far as farming goes, the most efficient way to reduce air pollution from farms is to reduce the size of the farms and increase the number of farms. Most scientists agree that many small farms spread across a country will create less pollution than massive confined animal feeding operations (CAFO's).