Engormix/Dairy Cattle/Technical articles

Global warming - to what extent is the cattle industry responsible?

Published on: 11/25/2021
Author/s : Israel Flamenbaum Ph.D / Cow Cooling Solutions, Ltd. Israel.
The climate issue has been in the headlines lately. This article was written in the week that begins in Glasgow, Scotland, the Climate Conference, with the participation of many world leaders announcing the intention to completely eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas), by 2050. The global dairy industry is in this context and it is also in the headlines, and people point the finger of blame at the meat and milk industry, in that the emission of methane from of bulls and cows, which is considered “violent” greenhouse gas, joins other greenhouse gases (mainly CO2), accumulating in the atmosphere and warming the globe.
There is ample evidence that the earth is in the process of warming. We are exposed in the media to signs of increasing climatic extremes, such as floods, droughts, and extreme heat and cold waves (although a UN committee report does not confirm this). The question is whether this warming is “made by man”, mainly due to the increase in the use of fossil fuels as part of the industrial revolution that has taken place in the last 150 years, and in our case, the expansion of world livestock industry, and the additional emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, or, that the phenomenon is part of natural cyclical activity on earth, where man apparently has little influence over it.
It is worth noting that many of the scientists involved in the field of climate, hold the view that global warming is related to human activity, position that has been adopted by most world leaders, as well as international organizations such as the United Nations. However, other scientists, in Israel and around the world, hold different views to explain this warming, and bring scientific support to this in their lectures and publications. I have recently been exposed to a number of lectures given by Israeli scientists, members of the “Forum for Environmental Rationality”, and also, scientists from various universities around the world, who do not accept the thesis that global warming is mainly due to human activity, and present other theses to explain this trend. Viewing cumulative time of tens of hours, I can admit the truth, I tend to be convinced of positions that negate being humanity main influential for global warming.
In this article, I would like to expose the readers of this network to the “other opinions”, which for various reasons, are not brought to the attention of the media (which I think has already "taken sides"). I write this article, as I see myself as part of the cattle industry and its success is important to me, but mainly, because I feel our industry is under attack, and is required to take steps that could cost it a lot of money, and rising milk production cost may be "rolled over" to consumers, reducing sector's competitiveness.
Well, let's approach the craft:
Given the fact that the earth is warming, then, the questions to be asked are, at what level will this warming reach in the foreseeable future (one degree or eight degrees), is warming uniform for all the globe, or different between regions, and most importantly, what causes the rise, whether this is man-made greenhouse gas emissions, or warming as a result of cyclical changes in nature over millions of years of its existence. In my opinion, these issues are of critical importance to human existence on the globe and within that, among other things, to our cattle industry as well. It is worth noting that scientists who support the view that global warming in recent years is man-made, ignore the fact that CO2 concentration in the atmosphere today, and that predicted by the end of the century, remain much lower than those in many periods when the earth's climate was stable, and allowed normal life on it.
Scientists who support the thesis of human influence on global warming have no scientific proof of their claim, and their opinion is mostly based on complicated mathematical models, which continue to fail, time and time again to predict the future globe temperature (a reason for changes done in UN forecasts in last years), as well as negating all other possibilities. We have to realize that the global climate is a “chaotic” system with so many variables, making it unpredictable. In the more pessimistic scenarios presented by these scientists, the earth’s temperature will rise by around 6 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, beyond what it was before the start of the Industrial Revolution. Such temperatures can lead to serious threats to humanity, to the point of man’s inability to live his life as he would like to live them. Under this scenario, humanity will have to continue what is planned today and invest any amount of money needed, to develop alternative energy sources, which are not dependent on burning fossil fuels (especially solar and wind energies). Since these energy sources are unstable, many resources must also be invested in research on how to store this energy. It should be understood that these are huge investments, money that countries are supposed to take from other important missions. As far as cattle industry (and livestock in general) is concerned, this is the possibility that we will be asked to reduce, and perhaps completely stop, in the long run the cattle raising business, and in the short term, invest large sums of money in developing genetic and nutritional measures, which allow cattle produce with less methane emission.
However, if scientists are right to see global warming as a natural cyclical process, in which man has very little impact, then we are “firing in the wrong direction” and the precious money that the world intends to invest in developing alternative energy sources can be invested in welfare, health and education. According to some scientists who support this view, global warming is part of a cycle that results from activity on the sun and its interactions with the oceans, which make up most of the earth’s surface, leading to intermittent CO2 emissions and absorption between them and the atmosphere. Over millions of years, the world has warmed and cooled, presumably as a result of this interaction. It is worth noting that the main greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is water, with the rest of the greenhouse gases and mainly CO2 constituting less than 5% of it. Based on climatic and geological analyzes collected, using advanced research technologies, it is estimated that the average temperature on earth will rise by 2100 by no more than one or one and a half degrees Celsius, even if we continue in “business as usual”, and even if the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere will be at a level twice that of before the Industrial revolution. The globe warms and cools for millions of years, mostly in the poles and close regions. In actual period of warming It is expected that most warming on the globe will occur in the polar regions and the areas close to them in both hemispheres (in the northern hemisphere, it is northern Europe, North America and Siberia), and much less, if at all, in the tropics. It seems that a rise of one degree and even two or three in the average temperature in the most influenced areas will not affect the lifestyle of the residents at all (and if so, then only for the better, because these are relatively cold areas). The scope of the areas for agricultural production, in this case may increase and contribute to increasing food production for the growing world population.
And now, what if are right those scientists who do not link global warming by man, and that there is no "existential threat" to humanity following the warming above described? We will examine this first for the whole world, and later on, of course, for the cattle industry:
For the whole world, those huge budgets that are currently directed to the development and production of alternative energies, could be directed to other important goals facing humanity. If we can continue to operate as usual, while warming at the levels indicated here, humanity will be able to direct the budgets currently earmarked for the development of alternative energies, to develop and implement heat relief and tackle measures, including subsidizing and assisting the weaker classes to implement air conditioners and other means of protection, as well as by installing heating and cooking means using electricity and gas, as substitutes for wood, coal and dung, for those billions of people in developing countries, since the use of wood, charcoal and dung, seriously harms their health.
As for the cattle industry, it is first and foremost a matter of removing the existential threat to this important sector. At the same time, and similar to the solutions offered to all mankind, countries will be able to allocate budgets to improve cattle housing conditions (most cows in the world currently do not have enough shade and access to water freely), subsidizing installation and operation of cooling systems, as well as investigating management and feeding means, which will allow bulls and cows to better cope with the rise in ambient temperatures. These investments have the potential to increase meat and milk production efficiency, reduce their price to the consumer, and by this, allow weak communities to consume more of these healthy products.
In one of the lectures I was listening to, I heard one of the lecturers saying words that are etched in my memory. He said that, unfortunately, this critical issue for humanity that should be treated purely scientifically, has recently become a tool in political, economic and media strong forces who use it to advance their narrow interests. We must find a way to bring the issue back to scientists and allow for an open and free discussion, because it is most important issue for our future and the future of our future generations.
Author/s :
Dr. Flamenbaum started working with dairy cows in the late sixties, as an herd man and then, in charge of the 150 dairy cows herd in Kibbutz Misgav Am, in the north of Israel. Then he joined the State of Israel, Ministry of agriculture, Extension services in 1977.Since 1977 until 2008 - Serving in different positions, starting as a dairy cattle regional extension officer, head of cattle department and lately, as the director of the division of Animal Husbandry.In April 2008, he retired and dedicated professional activity time as private consultant in Israel and worldwide.
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