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ScienceNostalgia101

On oxygen consumption/CO2 exhalation by animals

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Posted (edited)

When downplaying climate change, people often invoke the fact that CO2 is given off not just by fossil fuels but by breathing as well.

 

When celebrating others' deaths, people like to say "well, [insert person whose death is being celebrated here] was a waste of oxygen while they were alive anyway."

 

I don't mean to imply the above come from the same people; in fact, I have no specific example in mind of anyone I can confirm for a fact has definitively said both.

 

My point is that people seem to be under the impression that the consumption of oxygen to replace with carbon dioxide due also to respiration, rather than just combustion, is significant even among human beings in particular, let alone among animals.

 

I get the impression that, among human beings, it's a small fraction of total carbon dioxide emissions, and that vehicles give off much more if only by the fact that they are so much heavier and require so much more energy to move than, let's say, a bicycle. Otherwise comparisons between countries on CO2 emissions per capita would be a moot point. But what about the animal kingdom as a whole?

 

Presumably, prior to humanity's arrival on the scene, the animal kingdom evolved to exhale enough CO2 to provide adequate concentrations thereof for the photosynthesis of plants and phytoplankton. We have increased this concentration, sure, but the threshold often talked about is a "doubling" of CO2 emissions... suggesting that, prior to our arrival, animals accounted for an amount comparable to that which we have since added.

 

So why, then, couldn't hunting be considered a means of climate control? I don't just mean culling of overpopulated species, (though that obviously has its place) but also hunting of predator and prey alike, at proportional rates, such that we reduce the population of every other species on Earth to a fraction of what it was before, while still keeping the ratios intact? (Ie. Half as many foxes, half as many rabbits, etc...?) Would that not create a massive reduction in atmospheric CO2?

 

As well, if we ate the creatures we hunted in lieu of farming livestock; or burned the fatty tissue we removed to create lean cuts of meat in lieu of burning fossil fuels; would that not also help reduce CO2 emissions even further?

Edited by ScienceNostalgia101
Another point I forgot to mention

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Yeah, they once used animal fats as fuel for lamps.
You want to go back to that instead of using electricity ?

What about reducing human population also ?
I find it ironic that AGW will make life difficult, or impossible, for a sizeable fraction of human and animal populations, and your solution is to 'cull' a sizeable fraction of human and animal populations.
Doesn't that defeat the purpose of combatting AGW ?

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Posted (edited)
53 minutes ago, MigL said:

Yeah, they once used animal fats as fuel for lamps.
You want to go back to that instead of using electricity ?

What about reducing human population also ?
I find it ironic that AGW will make life difficult, or impossible, for a sizeable fraction of human and animal populations, and your solution is to 'cull' a sizeable fraction of human and animal populations.
Doesn't that defeat the purpose of combatting AGW ?

No. AGW wouldn't just reduce population, but would also cause human suffering in the process. Conversely, the fewer people are born, the higher the quality of life per person, if only for having more natural resources per person, let alone lesser effects on pollution.

 

But the question of how to get there is still a valid one. The non-coercive market tactic that is the enormous cost of raising a child has slowed birth rates very gradually, but not quickly enough to stop global warming. If we were to force the latter, it would be considered dishonourable to resort to such a coercive tactic.

 

On top of that, a lot of people see reduced birth rates as a short-sighted solution to the problem anyway; what happens in a few decades' time when Gen Xers retire and there aren't enough tax dollars from newly employed workers born in the 2020s to keep them alive? We could let in more immigrants to stem the tide, but what will that do for countries into which no one born elsewhere wants to set foot? 

 

At least with animals, the solution is clearer, because they didn't have grandparents to look after. Either hunters already killed them all, or other animals did.

 

A flood is harmful to a person because once the flood arrives, they're living in filth. Animals were living in filth anyway so they had less to live for. For human beings, the day they killed each other in the aftermath of a hurricane was the most important day of their lives. For animals, it was Tuesday.

 

As such, the alleviation of human suffering should take priority over an animal's life, which would've been taken by another animal if it wasn't by us.

 

People have backyard fireplaces even though they have indoor lights. I'm sure having some of their light and heat be provided by burning animal fats wouldn't be too unthinkable anyway. (Personally, I kind of like that barbecue scent it creates.)

Edited by ScienceNostalgia101

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5 hours ago, ScienceNostalgia101 said:

But what about the animal kingdom as a whole?

The animal kingdom is a rather small fraction of the global carbon cycle. Most is produced by microbial actions. I.e. most CO2 of an organism is not produced by active respiration but when the body is rotting (i.e. degraded to CO2). This includes inorganic processes, such as fires. While an animal is alive in nature, they often contribute to carbon sinking, studies have shown that in certain habitats grazing reduces the carbon emission of an area, by shifting above ground carbon (i.e. vegetation) to soil as dung where only part got emitted as CO2 and a significant proportion was basically buried. Conversely, the agricultural use of livestock, especially ruminants in industrial settings, increase CO2 production. Moreover, killing animals and thereby disruption ecological processes have shown to convert ecosystems from net carbon sinks to carbon emitters.

So almost any way you dice it the human factor remains the most disruptive element.

 

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Posted (edited)

CO2 was drawn out of the atmosphere by plants, to become the food that human (and animal) metabolism turns back into CO2 - that part tends to balance, ie human respiration is returning CO2 to the atmosphere, not adding to it. However the energy used in farming, processing, transporting and packaging food is adding CO2 to the atmosphere to the extent that they rely on fossil fuels.

Global average emissions are about 5 metric tons of CO2 per person per year - far more than respiration which is less than 0.4 metric tons per year. A more average Australian than me makes about 18 tons per year - it is humanity's biggest waste stream by a very large margin.

Edited by Ken Fabian

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