Flat White

Never mind the cow farts, watch that muesli

3 July 2018

7:39 PM

3 July 2018

7:39 PM

It was only going to be a matter of time before the early, nationwide record-breaking chill of June had the Climate Activists getting shrill because their model isn’t working. First, the Northern Hemisphere came to a long frozen halt last winter and now we have Mackay and Townsville reaching just five degrees in early June.

With global temperatures from non-compromised atmospheric temperature measuring stations being so recalcitrant in toeing the official global warming line, it is the ruminant animals that we raise for food, fertilisers, tools, clothing, shelter and medical/pharmacological resources now in the crosshairs. After millions of years spent utilising everything we can from such animals which, translated by animal husbandry, has gradually turned them into the most efficient manufacturing units of what humans need that we have to this day.

The mind boggles at the synthetic and external energy inputs required to replace everything we need and utilise from such animal resource units.

Ruminants (plus camelids and some macropods) expel gas created by the longer digestive processes required by their digestive systems to break down tough plant fibre. As herbivores they convert such tough plant fibre to food for themselves and their physiological needs and then we humans inherit this – meats rich in amino acids, Vitamin B 12, cholesterol, dairy (supporting billions of babies), hides/leather, fibre, serum, hormones, organ tissues, bones for tools, manure, blood and bone for fertilisers and so on.

Yep, we have identified that these animals belch methane. We also know many humans fart methane. Not sure when the climate activists are going to start running behind people with a lighter to see if their farts are also culprits (which will light up as a blue flame if composed of hydrogen and/or methane). Should make a good Bend Over (vs Stand Up) Comedy act! But then this whole activism against greenhouse gases that nourish plant growth is a black comedy performed by fools and jesters in front of the gullible.

Let’s look at the methane emitting culprits. Starting from the biggest: Giraffes, all the camelids, deer species, yaks, goats, elk, moose, ibex, muskox, the ovines (sheep, to most people), wildebeest, bovines (cattle/water buffalo/bison) – even squirrels and beavers – and humans.

There has been major human manipulation in the herd sizes of these animals. We have wiped out mammoths (those would have been big belches). We almost wiped out 70 million or so North American bison and the gardeners of the prairie are now in mere thousands. We depleted the herds of wild grazers and replaced them with more easily domesticated sheep and cattle because of all the resources they bring with them but – the total ruminant biomass has remained largely the same across aeons given population fluctuations due to Ice Age effects and long droughts.

Where else does methane come from? Swamps and wetlands remain the biggest but then we are draining most of those via irrigation and urbanisation. Then there is rice agriculture and landfill next followed by wildfires and deliberate biomass burn off. We have termites in their mounds, rotting timbers and our house frames. And, of course, the big one, oceans which belch out methane from ocean floor vents and from critters such as clam and worms.

Research from Cardiff University from just last year suggests that the methane emissions from these creatures in the Baltic Sea emit the methane equivalent of 20,000 dairy cows as well as the most warming of all the gases (outside of water vapour), nitrous oxide. The Baltic Sea represents one per cent of global oceans so the implications for global emissions of these gases from oysters, clams, mussels, other bivalves and sea worms is pretty confronting. Especially when considering that cattle and sheep production provides many other anthropological and landscape resources.

If our climate activists looked beyond their Paris Agreement research funding and their calls to limit animals that humans depend upon for so much they may give some thought to the natural order of things which always have a feedback loop. Let’s talk about methane. In the top 30 centimetres of soil live little anaerobic prokaryotes called methanotrophs.

These have been around a long time – probably from when our planet was one heaving, bubbling hot and steamy swamp. They breakfast, lunch and dine on methane by oxidising it and breaking it down into soil carbon and ultimately releasing oxygen. They are an integral part of the methane cycle that has been part of our planet’s history (refer research by Professor Ralf Conrad at Max Planck Institute). Now agricultural inputs are inhibiting them, breaking the loop, and atmospheric methane is rising along with that of nitrous oxide – the real baddy. So why is this happening?

The culprit is what everyone considers the benign human dietary alternative of vegetarianism and veganism; especially cereals. After two years of cropping previously virgin grassland or open woodland for growing cereal or oil grains – which are soil nutrient robbers – farmers need to start spreading NKP fertilisers to keep their crops producing.

This clumsy procedure delivers too much nitrogen to soils. Nitrogen inhibits methanotrophs so, take them out of the methane cycle, and its atmospheric levels will rise. The effects of synthetic fertilisers can go further with unutilised nitrogen being converted to nitrous oxide which has a warming effect of 300 per cent against methane at 27 per cent.

Media promotes those touting plant/vegetable/ fruit based diets as the ethical diet for humans. Nothing could be further from the truth as these diets destroy soil and habitats. They also fly in the face of the current ‘loving who you are’ meme. Self-acceptance – be that whether you are overweight or underweight; black, white or brindle; Christian, Muslim or whatever; heterosexual or homosexual or not sure – Is the new ‘go-to’ mantra. So why not accept that as Homo sapiens descended from Homo habilis and Homo erectus we are hunter-gatherers and that the ‘hunter’ bit gave us advantages like greater brain power built by ingesting cholesterol earned at little personal physiological cost from the efforts of animals such as the grazers we hunted and killed for all the resources they offered? This underwrote our success as a species.

We are not primarily plant eaters. Before to one of our worst inventions, cereal agriculture, we lived mainly off animals augmented by some greens, fruit, nuts and tubers – when they were in season and nearby.

Let’s revisit this whole cattle-causing-global-warming beat-up. Cattle produce less gas if they graze on what they are designed to eat which are pasture and shrub species. Feeding grain diets which, in a natural environment are a small percentage of their feed intake, will make their various stomachs work harder to break down tough cellulose of cereal husks/bran giving them what we would call dyspepsia and with it increased methane.

There are now estimates that 70 per cent of total grain production goes straight to intensive animal farming to speed up finishing animals to desired slaughter weights. If the grazers and foragers were kept to their landscapes they would not be as dyspeptic thus reducing their GHG production. But, with numbers approach eight billion and knowing humans can produce methane perhaps, we should measure our own contribution.

So put that in your muesli bowl, climate activists, ruminate while chewing slowly and, later, test your own flatulence.

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