I.e 2 cows to the hectare
This is a good question for the cow vs. car pollution debate. First of all, most of a cow’s effect on the environment is due to methane gas, not carbon dioxide – the greenhouse gas absorbed by plant life. Estimations vary, but most seem to vary between 70 and 120 kg of Methane per year per cow. As timeforchange.org adds, though, “the negative effect on the climate of Methane is 23 times higher than the effect of CO2. Therefore the release of about 100 kg Methane per year for each cow is equivalent to about 2’300 kg CO2 per year.” If we take this number to be true – with some caveats that I will get to in a second – then that means you need a whole lot of trees. As Mike McAliney estimates in Arguments for Land Conservation: Documentation and Information Sources for Land Resources Protection (Trust for Public Land, Sacramento, CA, December, 1993), one mature tree can absorb 48 pounds, or about 22 kilograms, of CO2 per year. 2300 kilograms per cow divided by 22 kilograms per tree = about 100 mature trees to offset one cow!
Now, these numbers are finicky because no two cows are the same, and no two trees are, either. Some cows produce more methane than others, and some trees absorb more carbon dioxide than others. Still, cows don’t really create that much pollution. Most of the carbon dioxide they produce, for example, was recently circulating in the environment, and had recently just been converted into the carbon in the plants that they eat. Cars, on the other hand, are producing carbon dioxide from oil that had been lying dormant under the earth for millennia!
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