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De Omnibus Dubitandum - Lux Veritas

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Is Beef Production A Major Contributor To Climate Change?

May 20, 2024 @ Manhattan Contrarian

Undoubtedly, by this time in your life you have read a hundred times, or maybe a thousand, that beef production is a “major contributor” to climate change. It’s one of those narratives that has become a continuous drumbeat in the progressive press. Probably, you have had no reason to question it. Without thinking about it, you likely assume that this narrative is probably true.

But there is good reason to think critically about this one. Among the various scare stories used to take further control of your life, this is one of the more important. With the war against fossil fuels, there is at least the pretense that their use can be reduced or eliminated without major effect on your lifestyle — i.e., just replace the energy from fossil fuels with “cheap” electricity from wind and sun. There is no such pretense with the war on beef. The end game is unabashedly to reduce your standard of living by taking away one of the most important and best parts of your diet.

So is it true that beef production is a major contributor to climate change? If you give the subject a moment’s critical thought, you will quickly realize that the proposition is wrong. And you will come to that conclusion even if you fully accept that methane gas in the atmosphere is a major contributor to climate change, and that cattle raised to produce beef emit large amounts of methane gas. There is an obvious logical flaw in the reasoning that is used to accuse beef production of being a major contributor to climate change.

But before getting to that, let’s look at one of my lists of the usual fools (and power-hungry government functionaries) repeating the narrative:

  • From the UN Environmental Program, August 2021: “Methane emissions are driving climate change. . . . A recent assessment from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition found that cutting farming-related methane emissions would be key in the battle against climate change. . . . Methane has accounted for roughly 30 per cent of global warming since pre-industrial times.”
  • From PBS, March 6, 2022: “Livestock production—primarily cows—produce 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The majority of that is in the form of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that is a natural byproduct of how some livestock process food.”
  • From the World Resources Institute, March 7, 2022: “How does beef production cause greenhouse gas emissions? . . . Cows and other ruminant animals (like goats and sheep) emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas, as they digest grasses and plants. This process is called “enteric fermentation,” and it’s the origin of cows’ burps. Methane is also emitted from manure.”
  • From Scientific American, November 7, 2023: “Cattle play a colossal role in climate change: As the single largest agricultural source of methane, a potent planet-warming gas, the world’s 940 million cows spew nearly 10 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions — much of it through belches and droppings.”

There is an endless supply of similar pieces should you have the time to look for them.

But what are these propagandists leaving out? Here’s the missing piece: the methane emitted by cattle comes from the digestion of the grass that they have eaten. But what happens to the grass if the cattle don’t eat it? The answer is, it dies anyway, and decays in the soil by bacterial action. That decay also produces methane. Is the amount of methane produced in this natural process more or less than the amount produced from digestion by cattle? I can’t think of any reason why it would be much different. It might even be more. The propagandists make the error of counting the methane emissions from beef cattle as “human” emissions, but the methane emission from decay of the same grass in the soil as “natural” emissions.

Kevin Killough at Just the News on May 13 has a report on the latest research. The researchers were Dr. Vaughn Holder of Alltech and Dr. Betsey Boughton of Archbold. Granted, these are agribusiness people, so take that into account if you want. The two studied the question of whether methane emissions from a pasture were greater or less depending on whether beef cattle were present on the pasture or not. The research took place at Buck Island Ranch, a wetland pasture about 150 miles outside Miami, Florida. Key result:

The researchers found that 19%-30% of methane emissions were from the cattle, but the rest was from the wetland soils. If the cows are removed, their research shows, it actually increases the amount of methane the wetland ecosystems give off.

Here is part of the explanation provided to Killough by the researchers:

When cattle graze on land, the plants prioritize root growth over the plant matter above the surface. The deeper the roots, the more plants sequester carbon in the soil through the photosynthesis process. Grazing also removes grasses from a pasture, which reduces the dead plant matter that falls to the soil and decomposes, which also produces greenhouse gasses.

That makes perfect sense. And in fact, wasn’t the part about “plant matter that falls to the soil and decomposes” already completely obvious?

Don’t expect the anti-meat activists to back off any time soon. Their real goal is to make your life worse, as punishment for your sins.

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