Belching Cows and Global Warming

The temperature fluctuates every day and every season by dozens of degrees. Average temperature has fluctuated many times between ice ages and warming trends over hundreds of thousands of years.

If humans continue their current emissions of greenhouse gasses, the temperature of the earth might increase by a few degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. If humans destroy their modern industrial society and revert to barbarism, the temperature of the earth might increase by a few degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.

Is it conceivable that environmentalists are using global warming as a pretext to denigrate industrial society and socialize vast tracts of the economy? Rousseau managed to condemn technological achievements and promote statism even before industrialization really took off. If it were not for global warming, would environmentalists advocate free markets and praise industrial society, or would they continue to advocate political controls and reduced human use of resources?

Yet people can most effectively deal with changes of weather and other problems when they are free to innovate within a free market — i.e., within the context of private property rights, voluntary association, and economic liberty. The environmentalist “solution,” to put politicians and bureaucrats in control of more of the economy, will waste vast resources and slow the rate of technological innovation. (Gus Van Horn discusses this issue.)

Keith Lockitch explains why some environmentalists blast even “green consumerism:” “the goal of environmentalism is not any alleged benefit to mankind; its goal is to preserve nature untouched — to prevent nature from being altered for human purposes.”

In his October 16 column for the Rocky Mountain News, Vincent Carroll discusses the latest environmentalist attack on human activity:

When an ultra-establishment voice such as the Los Angeles Times devotes a 1,600-word editorial to the perils of “Killer cow emissions,” not as parody but as serious analysis, you know that concern over porterhouse steaks has elbowed its way into the mainstream.

After noting that “livestock are responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide, according to the U.N. — more than all the planes, trains and automobiles on the planet,” the Times slogs through a variety of tactics that might reduce the impact of the methane gas that cattle produce (mostly through belching). It then concludes, however, that none of these measures would be enough.

The only alternative: “eating less meat.” As a result, “the government should not only get out of the business of promoting unhealthful and environmentally destructive foods, it should be actively discouraging them.”

Let’s be clear what the Times is saying: The government should actively discourage eating beef in order to combat global warming.

The Times’s October 15 editorial is worth quoting at greater length:

It’s a silent but deadly source of greenhouse gases that contributes more to global warming than the entire world transportation sector, yet politicians almost never discuss it, and environmental lobbyists and other green activist groups seem unaware of its existence. …

Most of the national debate about global warming centers on carbon dioxide, the world’s most abundant greenhouse gas, and its major sources — fossil fuels. Seldom mentioned is that cows and other ruminants, such as sheep and goats, are walking gas factories that take in fodder and put out methane and nitrous oxide, two greenhouse gases that are far more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Methane, with 21 times the warming potential of CO2, comes from both ends of a cow, but mostly the front. … [I]t’s estimated that a single cow can belch out anywhere from 25 to 130 gallons of methane a day.

Now, I do agree that possible subsidies of beef production should be eliminated. And I’m fine with voluntary efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases through new technology.

But when environmentalists advocate expansive political controls of cows, they risk making themselves laughingstocks. I have no doubt that some environmentalists will continue to push the anti-cow line, though, in part because it fits so beautifully with the animal-rights agenda.

The environmentalist movement wants to tightly control human activity and reduce human energy use. The shame is that, if environmentalists are successful, they will destroy the market dynamism that would otherwise enable the rapid development of technology. In a truly free market, people would be free to produce and trade unshackled by government controls, capable of dramatic advances in energy production (and other fields) well before the year 2100. Does anyone really believe that politicians, bureaucrats, and political moochers are the ones capable of directing technological revolutions? But the path of liberty would enable people to use dramatically more energy and exploit many more resources (eventually off-world as well), and environmentalists can’t have that.

One thought on “Belching Cows and Global Warming

  1. Burgess Laughlin

    “I have no doubt that some environmentalists will continue to push the anti-cow line, though, in part because it fits so beautifully with the animal-rights agenda.”

    As well as the agenda of the “vegan” movement, the movement of individuals who want to rely only on plants — and never on animals — for all of their food, clothing, and other supplies. This means hemp sandals, as well as no foods drawn from animals, including dairy products.

    For strictly medical reasons ( http://www.aristotleadventure.com/anti-itis/ ), I eat no animal products at all. In medical discussion sites, I have to defend myself against the unwanted welcome I receive from vegans.

    To the extent that Environmentalism is a religion for some individuals in the environmentalist movement, veganism is a sort of monastic offshoot wherein virtue arises from abstinence.

    The ecology, so to speak, of aberrant ideologies is fascinating. Like real life-forms, they mutate and adapt to every niche in the (cultural) landscape. Their relationships are often symbiotic, even while they contend for a place in the sun.

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