Part II: A Seaweed Solution to Climate Change

When gargantuan herds of animals move about naturally, they eat a bit, urinate and defecate, get scared away by predators, and then move on. Think about the movement inherent in that process. In order for life to thrive, there is always that same kind of movement. Earthquakes below our feet help redistribute valuable minerals. The wind helps move pollen through the air. The ocean currents distribute matter in the same way. Without this constant circulation of that which we need to survive at the most fundamental level, life wouldn’t spread or procreate as easily, and it would be less likely to survive.

That’s why scientist Allan Savory believes one solution is to increase the number of cattle we raise instead of eliminating, but manage them as nature intended. Instead of caging them into a single area, we need to let them eat, fertilize the land through urination and defecation, and then move them to another area in order to emulate the effect that predators have on their natural movements before mankind was around to interfere with them.

Researchers in Australia had a different idea. Instead of changing our eating habits or attempting to mimic natural migration patterns, perhaps we should try to curb methane emissions by changing the cattle’s diet. Other studies have even indicated–though inconclusively–that introducing seaweed into this diet could drastically reduce emissions by perhaps as much as 99 percent.

The seaweed won’t just reduce the methane that the cows contribute to the atmosphere. It could make them healthier, keep them stronger for longer, slash the amount of dietary sustenance they require, and perhaps even make them grow bigger. All of this would be welcome news to farmers who rely on cattle as a part of their own means of survival since it would be cheaper to raise this invaluable food source.

We won’t know for a while, but there could be a huge downside to this solution: instead of methane, the cows might emit bromoform produced during the digestion of seaweed. This substance contributes to ozone decay, something we’ve finally got under control.

In the meantime, if you’d like to try to reduce your carbon footprint but you’re not ready to give up a steak or burgers, then you still have a few options. Not all meat sources were created equally. For example, you won’t impact the environment quite as much if you eat baby lamb or mutton (although your conscience might hurt a bit). That’s because they don’t burp–yes, burp–as much methane into the atmosphere as cows do. If you can survive on fish, then you’ll be doing your part as well.