Perspectives on Cow Farts
In the last few years we have seen an escalation of straw men and red herrings in our political discourse. The internet erupted in dire predictions and side splitting derision a few years ago when an FAQ intended to explain the Green New Deal was released perhaps prematurely. The response to net-zero as a goal instead of elimination of emissions was cited as; “we aren’t sure we can get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast.” This opened the door to an unfortunate amount of division, and dredging up of misinformation on a grand scale.
From the copy I’ve seen what the GND resolution actually said about agriculture is:
(G) working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible, including—
(i) by supporting family farming;
(ii) by investing in sustainable farming and land use practices that increase
soil health; and
(iii) by building a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food;
Rational consideration of the above statement and more importantly any policy proposals that flow from it requires a deeper understanding of the facts than many of us have at this point. Frequent repetitions by intellectuals and celebrities does not make distortions the grounds for helpful policy or programs. While it is true that current industrial agricultural practices contribute inordinate amounts of air and water pollution, we have proven technology that can feed our growing population with healthy nourishing food, while restoring our ecosystem.
When the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization published findings in 2006 that cattle production was responsible for more greenhouse emissions than the transportation sector, every foe of meat pounced on that and began trumpeting it and publishing supporting explanations. When this was retracted in 2010 as reported in the Telegraph, the news did not spread nearly so fast or far. As a result you still find many people who believe that bovine emissions are by nature a major source of greenhouse gasses.
There are a growing number of fans of sustainable and regenerative farming who understand that isn’t necessarily so, especially on a total system basis. The wise use of rangelands or the actively managed / multi-species intensive use of perennial pastures not only reduces or eliminates harmful emissions, but the carbon sequestration observed yields a net positive outcome. The experience of experienced farmers is now being supported by academic research. It may or may not be enough carbon sequestration to counter other sources, but it helps.
Policies and initiatives supported by experience and sound science can level the playing field and enable sustainable family farms, regenerating the ecosystem, not destroying it. We can provide nourishment for our growing population with known technology. The dictates of central planning by bureaucrats have failed time and time again. What we need is for the community of the faithful to be a catalyst for the stewardship of creation to enable feeding of all the people.
By: Darrel Smith, with research assistance by Anna Leonard