It is annoying when some people complain that cattle are a huge contributor to global warming because of their methane “emissions.”
Of course, that observation usually leads to the call for people to reduce or eliminate their beef consumption, which would mean the world would need less cattle and the planet would thus be saved.
Fair enough. Cattle apparently produce one-quarter of America’s methane gas. That’s some impressive tooting. But no matter how many millions of cattle are blowing however many tons of methane into the atmosphere, the world’s human population is approaching 8 billion. Lots of us produce methane, too — not to mention carbon dioxide every time we exhale. How many people should we eliminate to fight that?
A bit more seriously, if cattle really do produce so much of methane, then the more logical question to ask is how to get them to produce less of it. Along this line, there is some interesting research going on to see whether adding seaweed to the diet of cattle herds can reduce this methane output.
The Associated Press reported that a front line for this work is in New England. The Atlantic coast has a lot of seaweed, and researchers are going to include some of it in cattle feed for herds in Maine and New Hampshire during the next two years to see what happens.
A marine scientist said the research may provide clues to what kind of seaweed reduces cattle emissions, apparently by cutting the production of methane in the animals’ intestines. They also will try to find out if the seaweed provides any health benefits to cattle, and whether there are any cost savings for farmers.
There are obvious hurdles to this idea. Grain producers are sure to disapprove. And if anything ever comes of this, inland cattle will need something besides coastal seaweed.
It would be easy to make fun of seaweed and cattle emissions, but that ignores the larger point of this research. If the last few years are any indicator, the planet indeed is warming. Earth’s current occupants owe it to their great-grandchildren to figure out ways to reverse this trend.
Climate-change activists continually issue gloom-and-doom predictions about what’s going to happen by the end of the 21st century. They may well be right. But the truth is, nobody knows what’s going to happen in 80 years. There simply are too many variables over too long a period of time.
The global-warning deniers don’t help matters much. It makes sense that decades of rising production of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases will raise the temperature.
But what makes the most sense is to have a little faith in the future. We are smart enough to solve this dilemma —not to mention our many other problems.
The human species is remarkably creative. We figured out how to produce more food for the rising global population. We made a hand-held supercomputer available for anybody who wants one. And when people fretted that we were about to run out of oil, we made technologies like fracking less expensive.
If indeed we have contributed to global warming, we also can solve it. So instead of being condemned to a mandatory subsistence on Brussels sprouts and broccoli; instead of making impossible proposals like converting America to 100% renewable energy production in a decade; and instead of trying to spend trillions to make every building in America energy-efficient, let’s do the research to find out what works. And then let’s get after it.
There was a great fuss earlier this year about the ambitions of the Green New Deal. But great change will come incrementally, through small ideas like reducing cattle methane. After all, you can’t get much greener than seaweed.