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Cows, Carbon, and Climate


The word sends shivers through anyone who pays attention to the climate. We are told that anything that emits carbon causes greenhouse gas.

Specifically, we are told that cows emit carbon (by burping methane), so cows cause greenhouse gas. Right?

I'm not going to answer that question, because it's flawed and misleading.

Cows do burp carbon-containing methane. It's absolutely true.

But NO, they are not the source of that carbon... the carbon is simply passing through them as part of its natural, normal cycle. The carbon inside of the cow came from the food that the cow ate: vegetation, whether that be grass, in grass fed cows, but also grain, in grain fed cows. The carbon came from plants.

Where did plants get the carbon? Plants use sunlight to photosynthesize gaseous carbon into sugars which plants use to create vegetation and grains.

Plants are a renewable resource. More will grow again next year, capturing the carbon that cows are burping this year. It's a cycle that has been going since primeval critters consumed primeval plants. It's not man made. It's natural.

All of the carbon burped by a cow came from plants, and the plants got it from the air.

Next year, new plants will use carbon from the air to make more plant material for cows to eat.

What's more, cows can facilitate carbon sequestration, locking carbon from the air into the soil (in the form of organic matter), when their grazing is managed in a manner that improves the soil.

Want to know something even better? Properly managed cows can reverse desertification, turning dusty wasteland into lush grassland. This is a major opportunity not only for sequestering carbon into the soil, but turning geography that reflects sunlight back into the atmosphere into geography that absorbs sun energy. (Look up Allen Savory's work to learn more.)

In other words, when managed right, cows can decrease atmospheric carbon and cool the planet.

Let's raise a glass of milk to celebrate cows for being climate heros!

"Grass farming" is the term farmers use for managing their grazing lands for optimal grass growth, which sequesters carbon into the soil. It also creates good habitat for wildlife. People who sell grass fed milk and beef tend to be grass farmers.

In contrast, many conventional cattle farmers tend to overgraze their pastures, and fatten beef cattle in paved feed lots. This does nothing to sequester carbon, or improve habitat.

Another reason to buy grass fed!

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