Essay on Gas Effects on Environment

It is universally recognized by anyone who has been paying attention, that the agriculture structure has seen a rapid and drastic change in both developed and developing countries. There are many contributing factors to these changes such as the growth in population and income, economic development, market deregulation, technological changes, and shifts in taste to name a few. With drastic changes, come drastic effects, these changes have not only affected the business side of agriculture but have caused critical environmental and public health impacts that have been costing both locally and globally. Moreover, livestock farming in the 21st century has had significant impacts on the functioning of ecosystems. An illustration of these effects includes the recent outbreaks of SARS and influenza. Moreover, the intensification of cattle farm activities has contributed significantly to the deteriorating environment in many developing countries.

In this essay, we will analyze the complex relationship between cattle farming and the environment (ecosystem) by studying case studies and other anecdotal evidence. The main problem with studying and exploring this sensitive subject in the developed countries is due to the lack of any systematic regulatory supervision of agroindustry activities. Therefore, we will have to rely completely on the dearth of studies that have examined the scope and extent of industrialization of livestock, and its effects on the ecosystem and natural resources. 

Gas Effects on the Environment

By analyzing the recent reports from FAO, we have come to understand that for decades, livestock production has been a critical cause of global environmental problems. The evidence suggests that land degradation, water pollution, global warming, and loss of biodiversity are the results of the negative effects of cattle farming. Cattle farming has been estimated to contribute approximately 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally, more than that of vehicle transportation. Before the 21st-century, livestock production utilized methodologies that fostered diverse ecosystems and habitats which were species-rich with high conservation value. While this was the case, in the 21st-century livestock production is responsible for the excess of greenhouse gases such as reactive nitrogen oxide, ammonia, methane, and carbon dioxide. 

How does livestock contribute to greenhouse gases emissions? Based on the most recent data available, livestock contributes a critical amount of nitrogen oxide annually, a gas that jump-starts and escalates the process of acidification and nitrification. 65 percent of anthropogenic nitrous oxide comes directly from the manure treatment of cattle and is 320 times stronger than carbon dioxide. The effects of nitrogen oxide, acidification and nitrification, affect soil and water through aerobic and anaerobic decomposition processes. Moreover, there have been similar effects on grasslands and heathlands. (Leip et al., 2011) Data finds the increase in nitrogen oxide in soil and water to negatively affect biodiversity from a genetic, species, and ecosystem standpoint. (Leip et al., 2011) Certain greenhouse gases such as nitrogen oxide negatively impact the soil. This is evident with nitrogen oxide and its formation of ground-level ozone that’s proven to damage vegetation and other materials. There is compelling evidence that suggests nitrogen oxide has been harmful to sensitive ecosystems such as lakes and forests. This happens when nitrogen oxide mixes with water, oxygen and other materials in the atmosphere and form acid rains. 

Similarly, there has been a global increase in carbon dioxide emissions, and livestock farming has played a vital role in it. In the process of livestock production evolving, the livestock sector has undergone a complex process of technical and geographical changes. To elaborate, the increasing demand for meat has led to the demand for land for feed crop production and expansions of grasslands. Therefore, livestock production has had a direct influence as the leading force behind deforestation. This is evident in the Amazon, as 70 percent of its forests has been degraded due to overgrazing and use as pasture and feed crops. Studies show, deforestation through livestock farming has been responsible for 20 percent of the global carbon dioxide emission. (Lee et al., 2017) Equally important, deforestation for livestock has been critical to the decomposition rates of organic carbon in soil and vegetation. These carbon emissions have led to the extinction of different species and ecosystems.

In addition, carbon dioxide has escalated the global warming process by increasing global temperature. When carbon dioxide floats up in the atmosphere, it traps sunlight and solar radiation that has bounced off the earth’s surface. Naturally, earth’s pollution escapes back into space. Unfortunately, due to the excessive concentration of carbon dioxide and methane in the sky, it gets stuck, and as a result, increase the planet’s temperature. California, which has 50 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions coming from livestock, is a great example. California has been experiencing a rapid climate change that has resulted in droughts and increased temperatures. 

In relation to nitrogen emission and air quality, there are more environmental complications that stem from the ammonia gas. Ammonia is a compound that is formed by a mixture of nitrogen and hydrogen (NH3). In this case, ammonia comes from the manure of housed poultry, pigs and ruminant livestock. The increase in ammonia emission is due to the excessive levels of nitrogenous fertilizers from the livestock feces and urine. The evidence suggests 95 percent of the global ammonia emissions come from cattle farming. (Leip et al., 2011) When there are elevated concentrations of ammonia, water streams become contaminated thereafter contributing to the acidification of ecosystems and acid rains.

The final gas the prevailing animal concentration emits is methane. Methane is the most harmful gas for the environment out of all the gases. Livestock generates more than 37 percent of anthropogenic methane, most of it comes from enteric fermentation by ruminants. On a global scale, livestock generates approximately 80–100 million tons of methane. 54 million tons of methane comes from dairy cows and other cattle. (Lee et al., 2017). Even though methane’s effects on the ground level are relatively moderate, it is the highest global warming ranking greenhouse gas.

Fertilizer’s Effect on the Environment

Livestock has played a vital role in the contamination of the global water supply. Data suggests that 8 percent of the global water supply has been contaminated by pollutants. For the most part, these pollutants are antibiotics, fertilizers and pesticides, hormones, sediments from eroding pastures, and chemicals. Even though it is challenging to get global figures, it is estimated the United States’ livestock feed crop is responsible for 50 percent of the country’s antibiotic use, 37 percent of pesticide use, and 1/3 of nitrogen and phosphorus in freshwater resources. 

As livestock demand increased, the livestock sector had to invent innovative ways of keeping its cattle nourished. With the inventions of the Haber-Bosch process, chemical fertilizers have become ubiquitous. These chemical fertilizers are made either by producing ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen, or through organic fertilizers created from horse manure, or bat guano. The outcome of these fertilizers has been a significant improvement in the production of agriculture. Unfortunately, the use of fertilizers comes at a significant cost to our environment. Once the nitrogen is in the ground system, the ammonium ions and gets distributed. This event is the cause of a disruption in the pH balance of the ground system, which as a result affects plant growth. As mentioned in the Gas Effects of Environment section, when the pH of the soil is high enough, ammonia becomes a volatile gas. This gas subsequently gets released into the atmosphere and ultimately becomes ammonia (acidic) rain. (Litterman et al., 2003, Trautmann, 1998).

Similarly, the increase in phosphate fertilizers has caused problems in the environment as well. Phosphate fertilizers are known for leaving an accumulation of phosphorus in the ground system. As a result, the elevated concentration of phosphate flow away into water sources such as lakes, streams, rivers, etc. The toxic effects become noticeable once they are in the water sources due to the eutrophication process. (Litterman et al., 2003, Karr et al., 2003, Trautmann, 1998). Once in the water, these nutrients completely disrupt the aquatic systems and escalate the growth of aquatic weeds and algae. The issue with these organisms is that, once they die, they reduce oxygen for other aquatic organisms thus ruining their ecosystems. (Litterman et al., 2003).



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