Science & Technology

How Climate change foreshadows changes in Alberta agriculture. 

Innovative technology such as biodigesters aim to regulate methane emissions.

At the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference, 80 countries including Canada pledged to reduce methane emissions by 30% in 2030.  Alberta, Canada’s largest greenhouse emitter is also Canada’s largest methane producer. 

While the oil and gas industry has the greatest responsibility for the overall methane emitted, agriculture is the second-largest emitter of methane in Canada, being responsible for 29% of total methane emissions in Canada. In order to meet Canada’s methane reduction goals, agriculture will need to address its emissions as well. 

In addition to being emitted through the creation of energy and petroleum systems, methane is emitted from organic waste, which is produced from farm animals such as cows. It is a far more efficient in trapping radiation than carbon dioxide.  

In order to reduce methane emissions in agriculture, new techniques and technologies will be needed such as biodigesters and impermeable covers.  

A  biodigester can convert organic waste, like manure that produces methane to be digested into products that have good benefits. Such products are called digestate and biogas. Digestate can be used as fertilizer, and organic rich compost. Lastly biogas, this can be converted into renewable energy sources. 

The Alberta government is promoting impermeable covers to control methane emissions. The science behind it is quite simple. The cover is a storage for organic waste, preventing any methane or liquids to pass through. 

Other methods to control methane emissions include selectively breeding cows to produce animals that digest their food better and emit less methane as a result. Farmers can also slaughter cows earlier so that they produce less methane over the course of their lifetime.  

The World leading meat exporter Brazil is employing diverse solutions to combat greenhouse gas emissions. An agricultural research corporation called Embrapa based in Brazil plants trees such as eucalyptus in cow pastures. The trees have a high nitrogen content, creating proteins making the feed more nutritious. 

The trees have a positive impact: they speed up the growth rate of the cows, limiting greenhouse gas emissions. 

As the population increases, meat demands will increase, leading to an urgent need for solutions to methane emissions.  Katherine Hayhoe a scientist at Texas Tech University compares the global situation to being on an ambulance.  

“If we are being loaded onto the ambulance, being taken to the hospital for a heart attack, it’s too late to say, ‘oh I’ll join the gym and I’ll eat healthy.’ We have to make those decisions earlier in the same way.” 

 Image by Frauke Feind from Pixabay  

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