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Tax Meat to Reduce Methane Emissions and Global Warming, Say Scientists

Climate
Tax Meat to Reduce Methane Emissions and Global Warming, Say Scientists

By Kristina Chew

You’ve probably heard that methane from cows, sheep, goats and buffalo (that is, ruminant farts) has been linked to global warming. There are 50 percent more cows and similar animals today than half a century ago (3.6 billion) and methane released from their digestive systems is the biggest human-related source of this greenhouse gas.

One way to mitigate climate change would be a tax on meat, a scientific analysis finds. Photo credit: iStockphoto

So, to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases cows and the like produce, we need to tax meat.

That’s what some scientists have recently proposed in an analysis in Nature Climate Change. Only by increasing the price of meat so people consume less can we cut down on the amount of methane emissions and halt the warming of the planet.

As the scientists say:

Influencing human behavior is one of the most challenging aspects of any large-scale policy, and it is unlikely that a large-scale dietary change will happen voluntarily without incentives. Implementing a tax or emission trading scheme on livestock’s greenhouse gas emissions could be an economically sound policy that would modify consumer prices and affect consumption patterns.

Others, including members of the United Nation’s climate science panel, have called on people to eat less meat to cut down on the rate at which the earth is warming. Just like taxes on sugar, fat and soda, a tax on meat is a measure meant to get humans to, like it or not, change their ways.

“Because the Earth’s climate may be near a tipping point to major climate change, multiple approaches are needed for mitigation,” says William Ripple, a study author and a professor in Oregon State University’s College of Forestry.

Such a tax, if anyone ever did propose it, would likely cause a huge outcry. You can already hear multinational hamburger and chicken wing purveyors complaining that a meat tax would unfairly penalize them and consumers, as they’d have to charge higher prices.

While a more short-lived greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (CO2), methane is about 30 times more potent in heating up the Earth. Livestock account for 14.5 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Cattle-raising alone contributes 65 percent of the livestock sector’s greenhouse gas emissions. They could be cut by 30 percent if farmers used improved techniques in feeding (such as better quality feed), health, husbandry and manure management.

The number of livestock need to be reduced not only to cut methane emissions but also to cut CO2 emissions. The latter have been in part on the rise as more and more forests have been cut down to clear land for cattle to graze on.

The livestock sector supports thousands of people worldwide and proposals for a meat tax and for reducing the number of cattle are not going to be welcome. Nick Allen of Eblex, which represents beef and lamb producers in England, calls a meat tax a “simplistic and blunt suggestion that will inevitably see a rise in consumer prices” and says that livestock have become the “easy scapegoat for emissions.”

It’s fair to say that Allen is correct on both points. But the fact is that the Earth’s temperature is increasing at an accelerated rate. Meat consumption is up in many parts of the world including in the highly populated countries of China and India. It has declined very slightly in the U.S. as more people forego eating so much meat or even cut it out of their diets entirely.

With greenhouse gas emissions from sheep and cattle 19 to 48 times greater than beans or grains per pound of food produced, something that sounds as outlandish as a tax on meat may actually be not only common sense but necessary if we are going to be serious about fighting climate change.

Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE and FOOD pages for more related news on this topic.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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