Cow Farming and Its Impact on the Climate

There is another world and economy out there which we do not see or hear much from other than when we talk politics and then we wonder why views may be different than ours.

Michael Smith has been adding an agricultural dimension to the Bear which I think we need to understand. Years back, I did a post which I caught some grief on because some thought I was in support of certain beliefs. In reality, there was a larger picture to what I wrote back then and it failed to be seen because of my using an example of how some will react to their beliefs. The problem still exists for small beef and pork farmers being crowded out

This particular post is by “Brandi Buzzard Frobose,” who authors an agriculture blog called “Buzzard’s Beat, Chronicles of a Kansas cowgirl.” I am going to let you follow the link and get a bit more on her background. Commenter, farmer, and sometime Agriculture Economics’ writer Michael Smith recommended I take a look at Brandi Buzzard – Frobose’s blog Buzzard’s Beat to get another view on farming.

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A Burger Won’t Negate an Airplane , Brandi Buzzard, Buzzard’s Beat

It appears there are many other bad habits the population has which has a greater environmental impact.

Over the past decade, my bovine friends have started to receive a bad rap for releasing their bodily fumes into the air (apparently they are the only animals on the planet that belch – shame!). Many people have even gone so far as to blame our planet’s changing climate on cows, in an attempt to create a scapegoat for their own drastically impactful behavior.

So, indulge me for a moment while we talk about climate change, population growth and cows. Over the last 100+ years, the global temperature has increased by ~0.74°C. Global sea level has risen by 17 cm during the 20th century, in part because of the melting of snow and ice from many mountains and in the polar regions.* Clearly, the planet is getting a wee bit warmer and our climate is changing. Now let’s think about what has happened in the past 100 years:

1920

  • U.S. population – 107 million
  • World population – 1.8 billion
  • Cars on American roads – ~7 million
  • Number of flights in the U.S.– First commercial flight wasn’t until 1926 and air travel wasn’t common until 1950s but we’ll use 5,000 for 1920 as a benchmark even though that is vastly overshooting it.
  • Number of cows in the U.S. – 12.5 million

2020

  • U.S. population – 331 million – 209% increase
  • World population – 7.75 billion – 330% increase
  • Cars on American roads – 269 million – 3,742% increase
  • Number of flights in the U.S. – 16.1+ million – 321,000% INCREASE
  • Number of cows in the U.S. – 41.1 million – 228% increase

Look at the increase in the number of cars in the U.S over past 100 years. Look at the number of planes now in commission. The average coast-to-coast round-trip flight from New York to San Fran produces 2-3 tons of carbon dioxide per person. PER PERSON. With about 300 seats on a coast-to-coast flight, that’s roughly 600-900 tons of CO2 from one round-trip flight. Mind-blowing, honestly. If you combine all 16 million U.S. flights’ GHG emissions with the GHG emissions from 269 million cars, you’d have accounted for 29% of all U.S. GHG emissions.

Do you know what percentage of GHG cows are responsible for? Two percent.

That’s right, a measly 2% of all GHG emissions are attributed to cattle and all of agriculture (the sector that feeds 331 million people) is only 9%.** How cool is that . . . that our food production process is so efficient that we feed 331 million people with that low of a climate impact?!

In regards to food production, let’s keep our wits about us and remember that ALL FOOD HAS AN ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT. Bread, green beans, beef, ice cream, carrots, the Impossible Burger – all of these things have an environmental impact, and some deliver a more powerful caloric punch than others.

For example: plain old iceberg lettuce – you know the kind that is mostly water and has no caloric value? That lettuce takes a tremendous amount of water to grow and can only be grown in certain regions of the U.S., it then has to be transported across the nation where it is largely thrown in the trash*** or used as a delivery vessel for bacon, ranch, croutons, carrots and cheese.

Conversely, cattle take human non-edible foods (stuff that we are too picky to eat, like bruised apples or potato tops) and turn it into high-quality protein. Cattle are raised for beef in all 50 states, so it doesn’t have be transported from one side of the country to the other. Additionally, beef is one of the least wasted foods and delivers a much more nutrition-packed meal than lettuce. It’s a good or excellent source of 10 different nutrients such as protein, zinc, iron and B-vitamins. It’s not really fair to compare iceberg lettuce to beef. 

Here’s the real story: do not sit on your soapbox and tell me that cows are responsible for climate change. I will not hear it. Do not attempt to tell me that eating less meat will somehow miraculously offset the miles driven by cars, flights across the U.S., electronic use and consumerism. That’s bull hockey.

* www.eea.europa.eu/themes/climate/faq/how-is-climate-changing-and-how-has-it-changed-in-the-past

** EPA. 2018. Inventory of U. S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2016. U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D. C.

*** To my lettuce-growing friends, I apologize. I mean you no harm, I’m just speaking facts.

This work reflects my private, personal opinions and does not represent the views of my employer. 

Brandi Buzzard – Buzzads’ Beat