It’s the Cows?

Have you heard that cows produce more greenhouse gases than cars, and are the cause of 18% of the greenhouse-gas emissions?

I’ve heard that too, on talk radio, and reported all over in the media. I couldn’t keep myself from sneaking a look at the actual report to eyeball the data for myself. I wanted to see if it matched what I’ve been hearing. And yes, doing that sort of thing is one of those quirks that originally led me to become a researcher. My family has learned to live with it.

Guess what?

It isn’t true.

Cows don’t produce more greenhouse gases than cars. And they sure as heck aren’t the cause of 18% of the greenhouse-gas emissions.

First, the report itself claims that livestock production – animal farming – not livestock itself, accounts for 18 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions.

Ah. Animal farming. Not the livestock.

But, says I, it was the cows! I’ve heard that everywhere!

Um, well, not unless cows are running around with flamethrowers and burning down forests to make pastures.

You see, half of the ‘emissions’ the report claims are due to cows/livestock are “carbon dioxide releases associated with human activities, mostly as woodlands are burned around the globe for pastures or to create fields.”

*thoughtful scratching of chin*

Huh. I see. Those emissions come about because farmers burn down woodlands to make pastures, and when they do that it releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide.

That seems to me to be a problem with land management, not cows or livestock per se.

Well, then, surely the other 9% of all greenhouse-gas emissions that are claimed to come from cows really are due to cows, right?

Well… no.

There are some methane emissions from cows, and those should be studied to see if we have a feasible way to reduce them. But what racks up most of that other 9%, when you dig into the report, are “carbon emissions from feed production,” “carbon emissions from livestock processing,” “carbon emissions from refrigerated transport,” “nitrogen emissions from feed-related fertilizer,” “emissions from aquatic sources following chemical fertilizer use…” and a few more – all in this vein.

aHA! Now it’s clear! If those danged cows would just quit driving their tractors to plow, seed and harvest crops, stop motoring around in big ol’ cattle trucks, refuse to deliver hamburgers to MacDonalds and supermarkets in those large refrigerated trucks that we’ve all seen cows drive around, quit producing, buying and using synthetic fertilizers on the crops those industrious heifers are growing to eat, and shake a hoof towards preventing runoff into rivers and lakes from those same fertilizers, why we’d stop global warming!


It ain’t the cows.

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About JAS

Personal trivia, in no particular order: 1. I love cherry jam. Not that sickly sweet insipid jellied syrup that masquerades as jam, but the stuff that's 99% tart cherries you picked off your own trees and simmered to perfection with just a tad of sugar and pectin. 2. I am a mouse magnet. Not to any particular mouse, mind you - just to field mice in general. Just lucky, I guess. 3. I firmly believe that specialization is for insects. Thank you for understanding, Mr. Heinlein. 4. Forty pounds of custom-made velvet finery worn on a 97F afternoon worn whilst riding aside on a fine horse beats a sauna hands down every time for weight loss and dehydration. 5. Once upon a time I was a romantic. Life took care of that.