Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How Livestock Exacerbate the Drought

With severe drought gripping much of the Mid-West and West, the federal government is promising relief from this “natural disaster” for agricultural producers.  Soon federal funds will be flowing for “disaster relief” in the farm belt.  Already farmers are permitted to graze and hay Conservation Reserve Program lands which are supposed to be, among other things, left un-grazed to provide wildlife [forage and] cover. But in a drought, the government typically relaxes that restriction—at a time when wildlife most needs the grass to remain un-grazed for both food and cover to hide from predators.

However, there is good evidence to suggest that the drought conditions in the Mid-West and West are not “natural disasters”.  This so-called natural disaster due to climate change is largely precipitated by human activities.

The irony of all these efforts to financially assist farmers and ranchers is that they are among the main culprits responsible for the climate-induced drought conditions now affecting their bottom line.

According to the UN FAO report “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” 18% of the world’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions in CO2 equivalent is from livestock production—more than all global transportation combined. Yes, that is right. More than all the cars, trains, trucks, airplanes, and boats combined.  Part of the reason for this astounding figure is that livestock, cattle in particular, release tremendous amounts of methane. Methane is many times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.

A World Watch paper puts the contribution of livestock even higher—at more than 50% of all GHG emissions in CO2 equivalent arguing that livestock respiration should be included in any calculation of GHG emissions.

In either case, the point is that livestock production is a major contributor to GHG emissions and one of the easiest to eliminate since there is no physical or biological necessity for humans to consume meat or milk products.

Providing assistance to Mid-Western farmers makes matters worse because a good portion of the grain grown in the “farm belt” is used to feed livestock. Very little of our rich agricultural lands actually grows food for direct human consumption; rather a large proportion is fed to cattle.

So a positive feedback mechanism is in place. The more meat and milk products we consume, the more corn and soybeans that are grown to feed livestock. The more livestock we sustain, the more greenhouse gases [are] released into the atmosphere, contributing to even more climate change and warming.

I don’t expect any politician, especially in an election year, to say to America’s farm belt that they are culpable for the weather/climate changes that threaten their own livelihood.  But the threat goes far beyond the loss of feeder corn and potentially higher beef prices. Climate change could affect agricultural production everywhere, including the food that everyone depends upon—whether they eat meat or consume milk products.

Perhaps one of the best ways to both sustain the financial viability of the Ag sector as well as reduce global greenhouse gas emissions would be to buy out farm[s] and ranches rather than maintain Ag production.  For the same amount of money (billions of dollars) we are spending annually on price supports, Ag disaster relief, Conservation Reserve Program, and numerous  other agricultural support programs, we could buy up millions of acres of Ag land and permanently retire them from production.

These lands could be restored and dedicated to other public benefits like protection of watersheds, wildlife habitat, and public recreation. We have done this in the past. During the 1930s Dust Bowl days, the US government purchased millions of acres from willing sellers throughout the Great Plains. These lands are now part of our national grasslands administered by the Forest Service, as well as national wildlife refuges overseen by the Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management holdings.

At the same time as we would reduce environmental degradation resulting from Ag production, a retirement of Ag land would increase the financial security of the remaining farmers and ranchers since over production in many years results in low product prices.

Finally, to the degree that this Ag land retirement results in less cattle and other livestock production, we may see some reduction in Greenhouse Gas emissions.

George Wuerthner is the Ecological Projects Director for the Foundation for Deep Ecology and has published 35 books, including soon to be released Energy: Overdevelopment and the Delusion of Endless Growth. 

COMING IN SEPTEMBER

A Special Memorial Issue of CounterPunch

Featuring recollections of Alexander Cockburn from Jeffrey St. Clair, Peter Linebaugh, Paul Craig Roberts, Noam Chomsky, Perry Anderson, Becky Grant, Dennis Kucinich, Michael Neumann, Susannah Hecht, P. Sainath, Ben Tripp, Alison Weir, James Ridgeway, JoAnn Wypijewski, John Strausbaugh, Pierre Sprey, Conn Hallinan, James Wolcott, Laura Flanders, Ken Silverstein, Tariq Ali and many others …

Subscribe to CounterPunch Today to Reserve Your Copy

More articles by:

George Wuerthner has published 36 books including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy. He serves on the board of the Western Watersheds Project.

May 24, 2018
Jeff Warner – Victor Rothman
Why the Emerging Apartheid State in Israel-Palestine is Not Sustainable
Kenn Orphan
Life, the Sea and Big Oil
James Luchte
Europe Stares Into the Abys, Confronting the American Occupant in the Room
Richard Hardigan
Palestinians’ Great March of Return: What You Need to Know
Howard Lisnoff
So Far: Fascism Lite
Matthew Vernon Whalan
Norman Finkelstein on Bernie Sanders, Gaza, and the Mainstream Treatment
Daniel Warner
J’accuse All Baby Boomers
Alfred W. McCoy
Beyond Golden Shower Diplomacy
Jonah Raskin
Rachel Kushner, Foe of Prisons, and Her New Novel, “The Mars Room”
George Wuerthner
Myths About Wildfires, Logging and Forests
Binoy Kampmark
Tom Wolfe the Parajournalist
Dean Baker
The Marx Ratio: Not Clear Karl Would be Happy
May 23, 2018
Nick Pemberton
Maduro’s Win: A Bright Spot in Dark Times
Ben Debney
A Faustian Bargain with the Climate Crisis
Deepak Tripathi
A Bloody Hot Summer in Gaza: Parallels With Sharpeville, Soweto and Jallianwala Bagh
Josh White
Strange Recollections of Old Labour
Farhang Jahanpour
Pompeo’s Outrageous Speech on Iran
CJ Hopkins
The Simulation of Democracy
Lawrence Davidson
In Our Age of State Crimes
Dave Lindorff
The Trump White House is a Chaotic Clown Car Filled with Bozos Who Think They’re Brilliant
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Domination of West Virginia
Ty Salandy
The British Royal Wedding, Empire and Colonialism
Laura Flanders
Life or Death to the FCC?
Gary Leupp
Dawn of an Era of Mutual Indignation?
Katalina Khoury
The Notion of Patriarchal White Supremacy Vs. Womanhood
Nicole Rosmarino
The Grassroots Environmental Activist of the Year: Christine Canaly
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
“Michael Inside:” The Prison System in Ireland 
May 22, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Broken Dreams and Lost Lives: Israel, Gaza and the Hamas Card
Kathy Kelly
Scourging Yemen
Andrew Levine
November’s “Revolution” Will Not Be Televised
Ted Rall
#MeToo is a Cultural Workaround to a Legal Failure
Gary Leupp
Question for Discussion: Is Russia an Adversary Nation?
Binoy Kampmark
Unsettling the Summits: John Bolton’s Libya Solution
Doug Johnson
As Andrea Horwath Surges, Undecided Voters Threaten to Upend Doug Ford’s Hopes in Canada’s Most Populated Province
Kenneth Surin
Malaysia’s Surprising Election Results
Dana Cook
Canada’s ‘Superwoman’: Margot Kidder
Dean Baker
The Trade Deficit With China: Up Sharply, for Those Who Care
John Feffer
Playing Trump for Peace How the Korean Peninsula Could Become a Bright Spot in a World Gone Mad
Peter Gelderloos
Decades in Prison for Protesting Trump?
Thomas Knapp
Yes, Virginia, There is a Deep State
Andrew Stewart
What the Providence Teachers’ Union Needs for a Win
Jimmy Centeno
Mexico’s First Presidential Debate: All against One
May 21, 2018
Ron Jacobs
Gina Haspell: She’s Certainly Qualified for the Job
Uri Avnery
The Day of Shame
Amitai Ben-Abba
Israel’s New Ideology of Genocide
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail