Humans' beef with livestock: a warmer planet

Humans’ beef with livestock: a warmer planet. American meat eaters are responsible for 1.5 more tons of carbon dioxide per person than vegetarians every year. By Brad Knickerbocker. Christian Science Monitor.

The livestock industry likes to laugh this one off. What’s so funny?







  1. kt Avatar

    It’s good to see more and more writing about the horrible damage to the planet from livestock.
    As the article states, it’s “not just the well-known and frequently joked-about flatulence and manure … Land-use changes, especially deforestation to expand pastures …”.

    A big part of how BLM spends federal fire funds is aimed at deforestation in one form or another: thinning, prescribed burns that in arid lands often make site conditions hotter, drier, and weedier – to try to eke out more grass for forage for public lands welfare cattle and sheep.

    BLM has a Westwide EIS waiting in the wings (we keep hearing that the Final is going to be released any day) that is going to greatly expand such “treatments” – especially in Nevada, Idaho, Oregon and Utah. What do these states have in common? Pinyon and juniper, and weedy sagebrush. And way too many cows on public lands.

    The EIS is a “Vegetation Treatment” Weed EIS that will expand the amount and kinds of herbicides used (to make chemical companies richer by killing weeds that cows and the BLM “treatments” cause). The Draft EIS had accompanying it a separate Report that detailed all kinds of methods of deforestation of trees and thinning, too, of that nasty “evergreen” — sagebrush. AND part of what they want to do is to increase use of chemical herbicides like Tebuthiuron to kill trees and sagebrush — so more cows can graze = more methane can be produced.


    Bottom line: BLM is gearing up to expand its global-warming promoting cattle grazing and woody vegetation deforestation – by a MILLION acres or so a year. It’s new RMPs (like the Pocatello RMP Ralph has had some posts about) are chock full of trying to impose constraints on woody vegetation communities that will enable “treatments”.

    When’s Bush gonna sign an Executive Order making federal agencies reveal the Global Warming footprint of their public land “management” activities – INSTEAD of EOs to put political hacks in each agency to oversee “economic” impacts to industry of agency actions? Oh, never mind. Well, then when is Congress going to do something like rein in federal agency practices?

  2. Sean Sheehan Avatar
    Sean Sheehan

    The use of greenhouse gas emmissions(methane) by livestock, to advocate against meat eating or grazing livestock is such a faulty one that it always has me acting the devil’s advocate. Ecological destruction caused by public lands, and private lands, livestock grazing are the reasons to persue removal of livestock from public lands. Less than 5% of US livestock ever graze public lands.

    Using methane as means to address livestock as a source of global warming gasses is faulty without referancing some information about the past. First we need accurate estimates of the pre-industrial biomass of rumminants on the planet, including livestock. Second a comparison with the worlds current biomass of rumminants including livestock. It might not be too supprising to find that actual biomass of ruminants has declined, not only with the loss of wildlands habitat, but with the increase of row crop aggriculture reducing the amount of land used by domestic livestock. This debate also risks having wildlife put up with livestock in the global warming debate. like the argument, still used, that the Appalchian forests are responsible for the east’s air pollution. Compared to the methane staging for release in the thawing permafrost of the north, ruminants methane production is inconsequential.

    We need to get livestock off public lands to heal damaged ecosystems and protect the planets biodiversity. We need to deal with global warming for the same reasons. Linking these issues in ways they really don’t relate doesn’t move us forward in solving either problem.

  3. TPageCO Avatar

    To be more accurate, it’s not eating meat that adds greater CO2, it’s eating meat that is produced, shipped and packaged using lots of energy. I’m guessing that shooting an elk two miles from my house, packing it out on my back, cutting it, and putting it in my freezer generates much less CO2 than most agricultural processes that put non-meat food on the table, (not to mention all the side benefits that come from wild truly organic meat). Humans evolved as omnivores from the arctic to the deserts- I’ve yet to see a convincing argument that vegetarianism is beneficial to human health or the planet. It’s the mass production of meat products to feed several billion people that is the real culprit.

    As for BLM lands and livestock practices – as bad as they are, the reality is that only a very tiny fraction of worldwide meat products come from USFS or BLM lands. While I support changing grazing practices on these lands, it won’t do much to slow down the amt of CO2 going into the atmosphere.

  4. kt Avatar

    Livestock Grazing = Desertification and often Deforestation = A hotter, drier, warmer planet.

    And a primary driver of these processes across hundreds of millions of acres of grazed public lands in the West is domestic livestock grazing.

    Cows must be considered as a big part of the Global Warming picture. And, save for the political tentacles of the public lands livestock industry (less than 22,000 welfare rancher and corporation public permittees and lessees) – something that should be a No Brainer for Congress to end — today!

  5. be Avatar

    there are also questions concerning the efficiency of the enteric fermentation produced by the consumption of many of the exotic species our public lands are artificiall planted with to feed the industry –

    additionally – it takes a LOT more fuel to truck the beasts out into the country, blade the roads, fences, weed eradication etc. than other means.

    additionally – public lands grazing is the only means of producing livestock which is uniquely inefficient when it comes to gathering the methane and other GH gases. With feedlots (which i dislike as well) there are ways of collecting the gases and manure, anaerobically ‘digesting’ them and burning them as fuel thus reducing the warming emissions.

    additionally – the global warming consideration elevates an awareness of (in)efficiencies of production which should be uniquely pounced upon in every instance. to reject the common threads which unite biodiversity, GW, innefficient use of energy, sustainability etc. and to address each of these issues in their own instance is to artificially marginalize the issues rather than the idea that ‘kt’ is artificially combining them. the issues are more diffusive and inter-related than it may seem and we’re dealing with many interests who would like the implications to remain marginal (corporate elite are jumping on gore’s bandwagon – does anyone believe out of the kindness of their heart or some new enlightenment? they’re leaping for the stearing wheel).

    the GW issue is beginning a wind of consciousness that many should erect sails to catch. the inefficiency of production has widespread implications for many interests. we can act to expand the implications of the inevitable shift – or we can think marginally and get marginal solutions. it’d be nice to cap car emissions – it’d be better to get a widespread carbon-equivelency tax…

    people and politicians need to be aware that global warming isn’t just a tail-pipe phenominon.

  6. kt Avatar

    Yes, BE brings up the fences. Fences that cost us taxpayers $6000 a mile. And how much energy does it take to make that fence steel? First, the junk metal is boated off to China. Then, it is processed (coal fired power???) back into some metal form, then boated back here, then semi-trucked around, then hauled to the public lands, then new roading created in the process of building the fence so the cows can more intensively graze – ie. desertify the landscape and warm the planet.
    Here’s just one small part of what Idaho Boise BLM has recently done this winter with fencing:

    “35 miles of proposed new fence locations” … Nice bulldozer in the photo, too. And the landscape – it will likely look the same as in the photo — after a year or 2 of grazing resumes …


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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