Cow Farts & Kangaroos
Ross Garnaut, an adviser to the Australian government on climate change matters, is asking people to give up their beef and lamb-based meals and shift to kangaroo meat if they want to help save the planet. According to a new study by the University of New South Wales economist, farming kangaroos instead of sheep or cattle could lower national greenhouse gases in Australia by 3 percent a year. The belching and farting of millions of farm animals is a major contributor to Australia's greenhouse gas emissions, Professor Garnaut noted in his report to the government. Methane from the foregut of cattle and sheep constitutes 11 percent of Australia's total greenhouse emissions, but kangaroos produce negligible amounts of methane.
Removing seven million cattle and 36 million sheep by 2020 and replacing them with 175 million kangaroos, to produce the same amount of meat, could reportedly lower Australia's greenhouse gas emissions significantly. However, the study said changing Australian farming practices would not be easy. Australia, which is one of the world's top wool and beef producers, currently sells only small amounts of kangaroo meat for human consumption. Reportedly kangaroo meat is very healthy and low in fat. An estimated three million wild kangaroos are killed and harvested for meat each year.
Australians eat about a third of the 65 million pounds of roo meat produced annually. Outside of Australia it is considered a delicacy and is exported to dozens of countries. Kangaroo consumption is most popular in Germany, France and Belgium. “Using kangaroos to produce low-emission meat is an option for the Australian rangelands...and could even have global application,” said the study.
This isn't the first time the suggestion to put Skippy on the dinner plate has surfaced. The eat roo recommendation was contained in a report, Paths to a Low-Carbon Future, commissioned by Greenpeace last year. Greenpeace energy campaigner Mark Wakeham urged Aussies to substitute some kangaroo for red meat to help reduce land clearing and the release of methane gas from flatulent cattle and sheep. “It is one of the lifestyle changes we can make,”Mr Wakeham said, “Changing our meat consumption habits is a small way to make an impact.”
Greenpeace report author Dr Mark Diesendorf said reducing beef consumption by 20 per cent and putting wallabies, joeys and boomers on the menu instead would cut 15 megatons of greenhouses gases from the atmosphere by 2020. “Kangaroos do not emit greenhouse gases. They are not hooved animals either so they don't damage the soil,” Dr Diesendorf said.
Australia's greenhouse emissions totals 576 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, or about 1.5 percent of world emissions. But Australia emits 28.1 metric tons of carbon per person, the highest per capita in the developed world and five times more per person than China. This is due to use of coal for electrical power generation. Interestingly, Australia possesses the largest proven reserves of uranium of any nation, some 24% of the world's supply. As a result of intensive exploration in the late 1960s Australia emerged as a potential major source of uranium for the world's nuclear electricity production. At the beginning of the 1970s a series of important discoveries was made, particularly in the Northern Territory, expanding proven reserves. Uranium production continues growing as world demand for pollution free energy continues to rise. Still the Aussies themselves have not embraced nuclear power as a way to clean up their emissions.
There had been a moratorium in Australia for the better part of 20 years in the discussion of everything to do with nuclear power. It started in the early 1980s with the capping of additional uranium mining in Australia, which has been limited to the existing three mines since that period of time. In 2007, a nuclear task force commissioned by Australia's Prime Minister saw “no reason for government and the Australian people to stand in the way of further development of our uranium assets.” As reported by Dr Ziggy Switkowski, head of the Prime Minster's nuclear task force and now Chairman of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization:
There are already 31 countries and 440 reactors out there. It's 15% of the world's electricity, but if you went to the OECD countries 23% of electricity generated comes from nuclear sources, so about half of what they get from coal they now produce with nuclear. So it's kind of interesting when you travel around the world and you discuss with these nuclear-powered countries Australia's thinking, they're a bit perplexed as to why we find it hard to take that step to go all the way to nuclear electricity because for them it's turned out to be clean, efficient, the technology is reliable, it's now off the shelf and most of the historical issues associated with the management of the spent fuel rods etc. are now believed to lend themselves to relatively straightforward engineering solutions.
Noting continuing concerns about the cost and safety of nuclear power Dr. Switkowski concluded, “At the same time, if you plan for a future with some sort of cost for carbon, and then say "What are the alternatives in terms of electricity generation for the baseload?"—because 80% of electricity has to be available all of the time, it cannot be subject to the intermittent nature of the wind blowing or the sun shining —then what alternative do you have other than coal and gas? Well, hydroelectric would be an alternative but it is already fully deployed. The only alternative available to Australia is nuclear power.”
Transportation and power generation accounts for the largest portion of Australian emissions, at 69.6 percent, with agriculture creating 15.6 percent. Of agriculture's share, sheep and cattle produce 10.9 percent of GHG emissions. Despite producing only a small portion of total emissions, some people are clamoring for a switch from domestic animals to kangaroo. The Australian newspaper has a poll asking if Aussies will eat more kangaroo to combat climate change. The Aussies only poll stood at 55% YES and 45% NO at last check. It looks like Australia would rather make a radical change in their meat consumption habits—and let the kangaroo, a national icon, take the hit—than embrace the atom. Where do you stand on the consumption of marsupial meat? I say go nuclear and save the noble kangaroo.