NASA has not shown that livestock farming in Argentina does not pollute
Currently making the rounds in generalist media outlets of certain repute in Argentina, including La Nación, La Voz del Interior and CNN Argentina, are articles claiming that NASA data has shown that livestock farming in Argentina “does not pollute” the environment. These statements come from a press release issued by the Institute for the Promotion of Argentine Beef (IPCVA), which claims that “The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration has shown that our country’s livestock farming does not pollute the environment.”
This claim is FALSE. The data from NASA show that Argentina is, alongside other countries around the world, one of the countries that absorbs more carbon dioxide (CO2) than it emits. However, the study does not analyse other greenhouse gases (GHG) such as methane – which plays a key role in Argentina due to its high livestock production.
The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration has shown that our country’s livestock farming does not pollute the environment
It is true that Argentina has a negative balance of carbon dioxide emissions – which is to say, it produces less CO2 than its forests can absorb – but the study led by NASA only considers this gas when, in reality, there are several greenhouse gases that cause global warming.
Brendan Byrne, a scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and one of the authors of the paper, explained this to Verificat, insisting that the authors did not take into account the emissions of “methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O)”, which “make up a significant part of the total greenhouse gas emissions of cattle and other ruminants”.
Nor did the study show that this negative balance is due to extensive livestock farming, as the note says, mainly because they did not estimate the absorption contributions that each ecosystem makes in each country, but rather, as Byrne explains, they calculated an overall estimate without distinguishing between different areas. In other words: the study does not say that this negative balance is a result of the pasture lands or other types of carbon sequestration ecosystems.
A major methane emitter
Argentina has a prominent livestock industry. One fact illustrative of this is that it has more cows than people: 54 million in total (versus 44 million). It is one of the largest producers and exporters of beef and veal in the world. Although it is not among the countries that emit the most methane in the world, this gas makes up one-fifth of the country’s total GHG emissions. And of this one-fifth, 70% comes specifically from cattle farming, according to this report by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (CMNUCC) [page 155].
While CO2 is the main greenhouse gas, methane emissions are problematic because, despite their short life expectancy – between 10 and 12 years – they have an 80 times greater capacity to heat the atmosphere than CO2.
Methane emissions correspond to 14.5% of the total annual global anthropogenic GHG emissions, according to the FAO, and are responsible for at least a quarter of the current global warming. It is true that most of them come from farming activities, but methane emissions are also produced in the extraction of fossil fuels and the generation of waste, according to a special report on the topic by the United Nations.