Ground Zero for Climate: The Cow!
The climate crisis is pitting the climate activists against the farmer. But why are they picking on the poor cow?
Behind the scenes, far from the world most of us care about, a battle has been raging. One about as close to our every day realities as Cher’s latest argument with the botox doctor. While we are battling with the cost of living REALITY, back to school chaos, train’s too shy to come out to play and politics that is about as interesting as the last episode of Neighbours, you could be excused for thinking that the latest climate battle over ‘the future of the cow’(!) is perhaps a little parochial. After all, when the chips are down and you feel as broke as the British treasury there’s nothing like a Big Mac to cheer you up.
“You can take my house, my wife and my favourite Chevy Impala, but touch my right to beef in a bun and you cross a line!”
But, maybe there is more to this biodiversity shindig than first meets the eye. Climate scientists have for a while been advocating the benefits of rewilding/wilding/nature restoration/nature recovery/conservation/biodoiversity/why-in-Tyson-Fury’s-name-can’t-they-come-up-with-ONE-name-for-this-latest-shitstorm-catastrophe!! One smart Alec has advocated that we banish the name ‘rewilding’ because it might be a bit radical and sexy for the average farmer?? Putting aside the fact that the word ‘wild’ is exactly what we need to get the average joe’s juices fired up for a movement about putting a tree in the backyard.
After all, planting trees and restoring nature isn’t exactly up there with choosing Netflix or Paramount +. Given that around 80% of the population in the US and the UK now live in cities that means they worry about transport, friends, clothes and which restaurant to choose. Not which tree to plant or which farm animal to blame for all the climate wildfire, pestilence and general bedlam.
Surely we can save the planet without blaming the whole climate shit-show on the cow!
And why should we care about climate activists battling farmers to help them restore nature? Shouldn’t farmers just focus on making enough food so we can eat? Well, maybe not. According to Our World in Data half of the world’s habitable land is used for agriculture and more than three-quarters of this is used for livestock production, despite meat and dairy making up a much smaller share of the world’s protein and calorie supply.
The expansion of agriculture has been one of humanity’s largest impacts on the environment - along with fossil fuel production, transport, industrial processes and cows farting. Farming has transformed habitats and is one of the greatest pressures for biodiversity: of the 28,000 species evaluated to be threatened with extinction on the IUCN Red List, agriculture is listed as a threat for 24,000 of them. Ouch.
Apparently we can reduce these impacts – both through dietary changes, by substituting some meat with plant-based alternatives and through technology advances. Crop yields have increased significantly in recent decades, meaning we have spared a lot of land from agricultural production: globally, some argue that to produce the same amount of crops as in 1961, we need only 30% of the farmland.
Reducing methane emissions is seen as the biggest opportunity for slowing global heating by 2040. About a third of human-caused methane emissions come from livestock, mostly from beef and dairy cattle, produced in the digestive process that allows ruminants (hoofed animals including cows, sheep and goats with four-part stomachs) to absorb plants.
Cows and other farm animals produce about 14% of human-induced climate emissions, and it is methane from their burps, farts and poops that is seen as both the biggest concern and best opportunity for tackling global heating. Which takes us full circle back to how we deal with our fanatical inability to solve the climate crisis without taking out these four legged beauties?
“Cutting methane is the biggest opportunity to slow warming between now and 2040” according to Durwood Zaelke, a lead reviewer for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And the UN wants a shift away from outsized meat and dairy industries, especially in high-income countries. Yet, production continues to rise.
Added to this, the climate doomsters, er scientists, have latched onto the importance of biodiversity in saving the climate crisis. Apparently loads of different plants and trees and wild animals remove carbon (do they eat it?), stop flooding (thanks to a nifty little bio device called the beaver) and give us the medicine that we will need to survive the climate crisis when it all goes south.
They argue that to survive we have to wild 30% of our land. The more fanatical biodiversity junkies are pushing for 50% of land. It seems they might have pulled out their calculators and picked the most obvious route - taking aim at the world's largest landholders. As a result they are now firing both barrels at farmers and their chosen media pin up ‘the cow’. Not the pig because it is too cute and presumably not the sheep because it doesn’t fart quite as much.
As a result climate activists, having moved on from chaining themselves to anything that moves, are now taking it out on farmers. If you have ever met a farmer you will know that they are quite a hardy/stubborn/survivalist race and as a result you could argue that the climate activists have a rats chance in hell of changing anything. Particularly in England where thanks to Jeremy Clarkson everyone wants to own a farm like everyone in America wants to own Tesla - or is it twitter?
Could it be that climate scientists are aiming at the wrong target?
While, no doubt, farmers could do more to help with the climate crisis, perhaps we should change the argument and focus on the 30% of land to rewild coming from sources other than the farmland that gives us McDonald’s. We could instead focus on the land available in our billions of gardens, verges, parks, public lands and industrial sites. Maybe we should think about rewilding smaller-scale spaces first. You know, the fun, consumer-friendly, mass market stuff.
And we could use the word ‘safari’ rather than the dozens of others conjured up for our nature action. After all, who wouldn’t want to go on a safari every day? Maybe even in our back yards. God forbid, it might become a consumer trend - forget the iPhone, lean into the latest safari garden or park? Think of all the Insta selfie possibilities.
Let’s stop kicking cows and farmers and burgers. Maybe we should wild our own backyard first, whatever that might be, and set an example for others to follow that might not include exterminating their livelihood and annihilating our vital food source. An approach that protects us all - even the lowly cow!
The Letts Journal is a reader-funded publication. Your support keeps it open and free for all, as not everyone can afford to pay for news. If you can, please subscribe today.
Keep up to date with the Letts Journal’s latest news stories and updates on twitter.
Love the cows!