By Keith Roulston
One of the problems facing our modern world is that too much of the media is controlled by the hands of people living in urban areas. As such, important issues are being shaped in ways that are in the short-term interest, but long-term disadvantage of urbanites.
Last fall, for instance, 30,000 climate leaders and politicians met in Egypt for the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) to discuss climate change. One of the hot topics at the meeting was that cows are the new coal, that cattle are the biggest contribution to climate change. This from thousands of people who attended the meeting by flying on hundreds of flights from around the world.
But cattle are a tidy answer for urbanites when it comes to the reasons for climate change, even if the livestock numbers were not changing dramatically. As of January 1, 2021, Canadian farmers held 11.1 million cattle and calves on their farms. Meanwhile Canadians owned 26.2 million cars and trucks in 2021, up 1.9 per cent over 2020.
Now even as our car and truck numbers have grown, their efficiency has increased as far as the use of fuel in vehicles:1.7 per cent per year between 2010 and 2020 reduced CO2.
Governments are also promoting use of electrical vehicles to reduce pollution from transportation, but the move is still years from making a significant difference. It’s far easier to blame cattle for its effect on climate change. One reporter covering COP27 said cattle are responsible for 16.5 to 28 per cent of greenhouse gases (GHG) while another story claimed the number was 33 per cent.
The real numbers, according to Prof. Claudia Wagner-Riddle at the University of Guelph, indicates that agriculture accounts for eight per cent of GHGs with livestock accounting for about four per cent. For that, we eat and prosper.
Yes, ruminants emit methane as they eat grass and digest it, and methane is a gas more dangerous to causing climate change than carbon-dioxide — about 28 times as bad by some estimates. But that grass is inedible by humans, and further, cattle improve the soil that grass is growing on, helping it to absorb more carbon dioxide long term.
But the urban viewpoint is not steady. People deplore the hunting of elephants for the ivory in their tusks (as do I), yet if we care only about the generation of methane, we should be happy if elephants are eliminated. Some scientists say the methane an elephant emits in one day would be enough to power a car for 32 km.
About the time COP 27 was held, it was deer hunting season in our county. I suspect most urbanites would not be thrilled as dozens of white-tailed deer were shot over a two-week period. Yet these deer generate methane, just like cattle.
Some estimates are that up to 75 million of wild buffalo roamed the North America’s plains before Europeans’ arrival, all of them eating grass, all of them creating methane.
Around 40 percent of the world’s methane emissions come from natural sources. Three quarters of these natural emissions are created in wetlands, where the water-logged soils and the plant and animal species that have evolved to live in them create an oxygen-poor environment that encourages methane production. Of course urbanites are getting rid of huge amounts of lowlands through housing development.
So, solving the global warming issue is far more complicated than just reducing the number of cattle, or all livestock on farms. Getting rid of cattle doesn’t solve the problem that we continue to pave over Ontario’s best food-producing land and leave people to wonder from where their children will get food. We need to really think about solving global warming.◊