A group of scientists aren’t waiting for the world to follow Al Gore’s lead by going vegan to save the planet. Instead, they want to tax meat in order to reduce livestock methane emissions, a potent short-term contributor to climate change. The 3.6 billion ruminants on the earth, mostly sheep, cattle and goats, that have increased in population by 50 percent over the last five decades are responsible for 14.5 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. The proposed tax is expected to reduce demand for their meat and therefore help to slow global warming.

Image © memm74

The scientists proposed the tax in the journal Nature Climate Change, where they argue that not enough attention has been paid to methane emissions in global climate talks, since so much of the focus has been placed on cutting carbon pollution. “We clearly need to reduce the burning of fossil fuels to cut CO2 emissions. But that addresses only part of the problem. We also need to reduce non-CO2 greenhouse gases to lessen the likelihood of us crossing this climatic threshold,” said co-author William Ripple, a professor in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University.

Another benefit to reducing ruminant meat production includes avoiding CO2 emissions when forests are cleared for cattle farms. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 84 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2011 came from carbon dioxide, 9 percent from methane, 5 percent from nitrous oxide and 2 percent from fluorinated gases. While methane is more short-lived in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, it is 30 times more potent as a contributor to climate change.

“Influencing human behaviour 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,” the scientists say. “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.”

+ Nature Climate Change Commentary: Ruminants, Climate Change and Climate Policy

Via The Guardian

Lead image via David Oliver