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  • Aaryan Doshi

Bessie the USACO cow Has a Methane Problem!

Bessie the USACO cow Has a Methane Problem image: adobe firefly

If you are familiar with USACO, you will know who Bessie is. Bessie the cow is the omnipresent character around which all USACO problems are framed. Turns out, apart from providing fodder to USACO participants to test their computing skills, Bessie also has a methane problem which hurts our climate.

Livestock, such as cattle (i.e. Bessie and her friends), emit methane through enteric fermentation, a process that takes place during digestion and releases the methane gas straight into the atmosphere.

Because of its high absorption properties, methane has a greater potential to harm the environment than carbon dioxide. It traps and absorbs more infrared radiation in the Earth's atmosphere. This results in methane contributing more to the greenhouse effect than CO2, as the video highlights. The US EPA measures the amount of energy that a ton of gas emissions will absorb over time in relation to a ton of carbon dioxide emissions using a concept called global warming potential, or GWP. Methane has a 21-fold greater potential for global warming over a century than carbon dioxide, making it worse than CO2 by this metric, as the video states. Compared to CO2, which remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, methane only lasts for 12 years. But the planet is warming up quickly, and the next several years will be crucial to containing global warming. In this regard, methane's high global warming potential (GWP) will severely undermine any attempts in the coming years to moderate global warming. Apart from livestock, methane is also buried in permafrost. But when the earth's temperature rises, these permafrost deposits more methane into the atmosphere, which raises the planet's temperature further—creating a vicious cycle.

As we grapple to tame the heating earth’s rising temperatures, the destructive potential of methane’s heat absorption quality makes the battle increasingly harder resulting in tough choices for humanity when it comes to altering dietary habits to protect our planet.


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