Updated: Sep 14, 2022
While billowing smoke emanating from industrial complexes and trucks belching diesel emissions might be what people most closely associate with air pollution, they certainly aren’t the only culprits. Since it’s Clean Air Month, we wanted to put the spotlight on some sources of air pollution that might surprise you.
Today, we want to focus on the impact of agricultural operations like corporate animal farms on air quality and fill you in on these six quick facts about the problem:
Believe it or not, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has said that the production of livestock accounts for nearly 15 percent of global greenhouse gases. But that’s the conservative estimate: Other groups such as Worldwatch Institute have said it could be as high as 51 percent (more than all the vehicles in the world).
The air pollution problem from animal farms is two-fold: In addition to harmful gases, the decomposition of farm waste also produces airborne particulate matter – one of the most harmful types of air pollution because of its ability to deeply penetrate and irritate the lungs.
Actually, researchers now estimate that emissions from farms “outweigh all other human sources of fine-particulate matter” in not only the United States but also Europe, Russia, and China. How many harmful gases are caused by livestock farms? Literally hundreds – with ammonia being among the most harmful. In fact, a whopping 80 percent of ammonia emissions in the United States comes from animal waste.
And all that ammonia spurs bacteria, which mingles with other air pollutants to form nitric acid. That nitric acid then builds up in the atmosphere, causing damaging acid rain.
But alas, ammonia isn’t the only problematic gas originating from livestock production: It’s estimated that animal farms account for as much as 9 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. Experts estimate they also make up as much as 40 percent of global methane emissions and 65 percent of nitrous oxide emissions.
But all that carbon can’t be blamed just on animal waste – it also comes from transportation-related to those operations. Consider the trucks needed to transport the meat to the market, for one.
Now that we know all this, it’s important to remember: When you opt for vegetarian and vegan meals instead of meat-heavy ones, you’re playing a small role in reducing the demand for those products, and, in turn, air pollution.
Editor’s Note: For advice on how to cut out meat from your diet, check out these helpful tips.