Green activists are sure that cows spoil the climate

10:54 04.10.2023 •

Image: AI Art Generator

More and more articles in the West, particularly in the United States, state that ‘cows are ruining the environment.’ It seems that somebody wants to deprive Americans and Europeans of normal food in the form of meat if they prefer it. They often began to impose “new food” in the form of worms and grasshoppers through the press and advertisements. Where this trend would lead the West and its people? Just see, how they explain this strange turn…

Human activity has negatively impacted the planet and has played a significant role in the extinction of several wild animals and plants. According to a study, “The world’s 7.6 billion people represent just 0.01 percent of all living things… Yet since the dawn of civilization, humanity has caused the loss of 83 percent of all wild mammals and half of plants, while livestock kept by humans abounds.” Many people and scientists are now working toward halting the irreversible damage being caused by humanity, writes a green activist Erika Schelby from New Mexico, the author of ‘Liberating the Future from the Past? Liberating the Past from the Future?’ (Lava Gate Press, 2013), which was shortlisted for the International Essay Prize Contest by the Berlin-based cultural magazine Lettre International.

Historically, the United States has a poor record as a champion of biodiversity. In the 1990s, when then-President Bill Clinton signed the foundational Convention of  Biological Diversity, it was not ratified by the required two-thirds Senate majority. So, when President Joe Biden entered the Oval Office and launched the so-called 30×30 plan and the “America the Beautiful Initiative,” there was some skepticism. Both programs set the ambitious goal of conserving 30 percent of U.S. land and waters by 2030.

The United Nations Biodiversity Conference that took place in December 2022 in Montreal (COP15) — in which the United States participated informally — ended with the adoption of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) by 188 nations. According to the UN Environment Program, “The plan includes concrete measures to halt and reverse nature loss, including putting 30 percent of the planet and 30 percent of degraded ecosystems under protection by 2030.” Dubbed the “30 by 30 goal,” the agreement hopes to stem the ongoing extinction crisis; about 1 million species are at risk of disappearing forever.

All this represents a tall order with conflicting conditions and goals. While the world’s remaining wilderness areas are steadily shrinking, COP15 urgently seeks to protect 30 percent of nature by 2030.

Research has shown that livestock grazing and overgrazing are the major causes of desertification, soil carbon loss, lower water holding capacity, loss of species, and eradication of native plants. In addition to this, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), heat-trapping methane emissions saw the fourth-largest increase on record in 2022, with human activity like landfill and livestock being sources for the increase in these emissions. Grazing cattle are a major source of emissions in the United States.

As a pathway to the 30×30 goal, our valuable public lands require a completely different approach. They need our help reducing habitat fragmentation and environmental degradation and maintaining species biodiversity. One way to achieve this is to ensure that wildlife populations can move freely to adapt and thrive. The establishment of wildlife corridors would aid the movement of animals and ensure that gene flow and seed distribution functions are unrestricted.

Chris Bugbee, a wildlife conservationist at the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, said, “There’s no place for cows in these Western ecosystems. It never was a good idea to open up millions of acres to grazing. And especially now, with drought and climate change advancing, it’s a really, really bad idea.”

Still, ranching is a deeply rooted part of the American identity. Countless stories, myths, and movies about cattle, proud cattlemen, and rugged cowboys exist. Ranching is well established, is part of the American tradition, has friends in high places, and has maintained cooperation with federal agencies over many years. Any change to limiting these practices now is likely to be met with resistance from the ranchers who forget that raising cattle on public land is a privilege and not a right.

While a complete end to grazing on public lands seems complicated to achieve given the political support the cattle ranchers enjoy, the meat industry is already being forced to reduce their herd sizes owing to the challenges posed by adverse climate impacts like the Western megadrought and rising feed costs. That alone will constrict livestock quantities for years to come. Consumers may find beef in lower quantities and at higher prices at the grocery store.

So, will these factors lead to Americans eating less meat? After all, according to an analysis done by Statista in 2018 — based on data provided by the OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook (Edition 2021) — Americans are the biggest human carnivores on the planet, devouring an average of 219 pounds (99 kg) of meat every year. Australia and Argentina follow in second and third place, respectively. This is despite the fact that beef has the highest carbon footprint: Only 44 grams of beef produces the same amount of greenhouse gas as 50 onions.

Ranching may be forced to change under the iron laws of climate breakdown. The number of animals raised may become much smaller. Beef could soon be a far more expensive food, something that will be indulged in every now and then.

To avoid this story from repeating itself and affecting the availability of beef in the future, people need to make tough choices about what is more important for them: Tolerating subsidized and destructive beef production on “our” public lands or giving active support to the initiative of keeping 30 percent of the country protected.


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