Meat to Reverse Climate Change?

Reply Fri 19 Jul, 2019 07:35 pm
This article strikes me as little more than an attempt to greenwash the meat industry during a time when it is suffering from blame for climate change:

Through a process called carbon sequestration, grazing animals help pull excess carbon from the atmosphere and bury it into the soil.

“One of the major roles of plants is to pull carbon out of the atmosphere and they do this best when they are actively growing,” said Allen Williams, a livestock management consultant and leading expert in regenerative agriculture. “When a plant is bitten off by a grazing or browsing animal, it speeds up its rate of photosynthesis to grow back the part that was broken off. Every time it does that, it increases carbon sequestration.”

While it may be true that grass grows faster when it's cut (or bitten off), there is still a bigger picture to contend with. Namely, the CO2/carbon absorbed by (fast-growing) grass doesn't condense into wood, as it would when absorbed by a tree. It does get condensed as meat, but then the meat gets eaten and re-emitted as CO2 once it becomes sewage.

So a forest/grove/orchard/park/urban-forest/road-corridor/etc. filled with trees sequesters carbon better than a pasture of cows. Granted you could make the argument that as long as the herd inhabiting the pasture remains constant (despite being regularly thinned for slaughter), that herd keeps a certain amount of carbon out of the atmosphere, but it is also digesting the grass it eats and emitting it as manure (and, of course, the now infamous 'cow farts').

So a herd of cows on a pasture is more like a factory for converting grass into CO2 and methane, which just happens to be made of carbon; than it is a growing storehouse of condensed, sequestered CO2.

What WOULD make meat more climate-friendly, however, would be to raise the animals not in pastures but under the canopy of a shady grove/orchard of trees. In that case, the manure fertilizes the trees so they sequester more CO2 as wood, while the trees shade the cows, keeping them cooler so they drink and perspire less, which means less groundwater depletion and also less H2O vapor (also a greenhouse gas).

Still, I'm not sure a field shaded by tree canopy can grow grass or other ground covering fast enough to satisfy a herd of cows, especially one that is being thinned regularly for slaughter. And when it comes to feeding livestock with soybeans or other crops, that uses land and water much less efficiently than feeding the soy/corn/beans/etc. directly to humans.

So while meat may remain a special delicacy into the foreseeable future, the more special and thus rare it becomes as a meal option, the better the climate will fare.

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