According to atmospheric physicist Nicholas Cowan, human breath emissions are not “negligible” in warming the world.
According to a study published Wednesday in the journal PLoS One, human breathing contributes to global warming. The authors concluded that the impact of human respiration to climate change has been underestimated and that more research is needed.
The researchers concluded that human breath accounts for 0.05% of the UK’s methane emissions and 0.1% of its nitrous oxide emissions after examining the gas composition in the exhaled breaths of 328 study participants. Both of these gases “have a much higher potential for global warming than carbon dioxide,” according to the study.
“Exhaled human breath can contain small, elevated concentrations of methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), both of which contribute to global warming,” the researchers, led by atmospheric physicist Nicholas Cowan of the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, wrote. “We would urge caution in the assumption that emissions from humans are negligible.”
While Cowan emphasized that the “CO2 contribution in human breath to climate change is essentially zero” since plants absorb nearly all of the carbon dioxide humans expel, the other two gases are released into the sky. During its first 20 years in the atmosphere, methane retains 80 times the amount of heat as carbon dioxide, though this potency diminishes over time.
A careful examination of the diets of the test subjects revealed no evidence that meat eaters produced more of either gas. While everyone in the study exhaled nitrous oxide, just 31% exhaled methane. The researchers were unable to identify why these individuals, referred to as “methane producers” in the report, were more likely to be female and over 30 years old.
The authors of the study emphasized that their study just focused at breath and advocated for greater research into the whole picture of human gas emissions, claiming that it could reveal more about the “impacts of an aging population and shifting diets” on the globe.
Environmentalists have recently concentrated on methane emissions from cows, whose herbivorous diet is broken down by methane-producing bacteria in their numerous stomachs. Policymakers’ focus on the consequent methane-tainted farts and belches has been mocked by climate change deniers.
The United Kingdom has legally committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 78% by 2035 when compared to 1990 levels. Residents have been actively encouraged to cut back on meat consumption in order to meet this objective, with some estimates putting the share of global greenhouse gas emissions from livestock production at 15%. However, the researchers behind Wednesday’s study cautioned that switching to a high-fiber vegetarian diet could result in increased methane and nitrous oxide emissions, a phenomena they dubbed “pollution swapping.”
According to scientists, methane and nitrous oxide present in human exhalations are worse for the environment than carbon dioxide.