October 12, 2018

A Note on Animals and Greenhouse Gases


These are part of the ecology, not against it

The ecological crisis is complex, but here’s one basic rule of thumb: If the land can assimilate the animals and/or crops, if waste doesn’t accumulate, then you’re ecologically sound as far as that goes. But as soon as waste begins to accumulate your practice has become unsound and destructive. This applies to crops just as much as to animals.
Depending on the circumstance and how well organized people are, the scope of the land can be one farm, or several co-operating farms, or a tight-knit community.
Never can it be a civilization, which automatically generates massive accumulations of waste. This is because by definition civilization is based on parasitic cities which mine the vast lands around them.
With that, let’s get to the alleged effects of animals and methane. Nomadic humans herded livestock for thousands of years causing no ecological problems. Wild grazers such as bison and wildebeest used to be far more abundant than today with no problems. Civilizations have destroyed vast swaths of land through sedentary agriculture, not pastoralism. Pastoralism becomes ecologically harmful only when grazing is driven off appropriate intact grasslands by agriculture and other extraction industries and onto inappropriate marginal land. Same as how, in addition to the direct assaults on forests by industrial agriculture and logging, civilization’s industries drive traditional farmers off their appropriate arable lands and into slash-and-burn.
Today there are dire ecological harms including massive greenhouse gas emissions caused by factory farms, CAFOs. These generate tremendous waste accumulations, literal lakes of liquid manure (called “lagoons”), which spew vast plumes of methane along with many directly toxic air pollutants. The system makes only feeble attempts to find farmland where it can spread this manure, and much of the carbon already has vaporized into the atmosphere. Meanwhile CAFOs vomit huge amounts of nitrogen into the air as the highly potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide and into waterways causing massive pollution culminating in the vast Dead Zones of the Gulf of Mexico, the Chesapeake, and many other places around the world.
If we’re focused on the climate crisis, on methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide, there’s our legitimate target in animal agriculture. If on the other hand you object to all animal husbandry, including grass farming, on animal welfare grounds, then be honest enough to own up to that. Don’t lie and say pasture farming is a significant contributor to climate change, because it’s not.
We must go further. A sincere climate focus must indict industrial agriculture as a whole, all of which is massively destructive to the ecology in many ways, including the fact that the sector is the leading emitter of greenhouse gases.
We must go further. We must condemn capitalism as such, productionism as such, the economic civilization as such, since forced climate change and every other ecological assault are inherent to these; they depend upon ecological destruction for their existence to the point that any legitimate definition of them must include destroying the Earth.
Here’s the fact: There is one and only one solution to avert the worst of climate chaos:
Stop emitting; stop destroying sinks; rebuild sinks.
All else is a lie. Most of all, the Big Lie is that anything constructive can be done within the congenitally destructive framework of the economic civilization.
So let’s dispense with the ticky-tack nonsense of attacking small animal farms, many of which are leaders in building the community food movement, as alleged climate destroyers. Only fake activists, members of the de facto climate denier crew, would engage in such a fraud.


  1. The question isn’t if native ruminants caused ecological damage (like the 30-60 million bison in N. America)

    The question also isn’t whether ranchers are destroying the environment.

    The question is, “what would happen if we all ate grass-fed animals”?

    The answer is of course, disaster.

    This is the emphasis vegans claim. There is no question that we can feed our population (and an even larger one) on plant-based foods. There is tremendous doubt whether we can keep meat-eating levels the same and still drive down GHGs, even with a 100% utopian animal ag system.

    So… who decides who gets to eat the meat in substantive quantities? Meat eating is, and has always been, a privilege, compared to vegetables, legumes, and grains. Half the world’s arable land is used for grazing, yet a comparatively smaller % of humans actually eat that meat. This is why I laugh when people call the vegans “privileged”… yeah, quinoa is a real ecological “privilege” compared to a 16oz steak.

    This is where the lab-meat arguments come into play. I’m not for or against it either way because I don’t want to eat flesh from any source. But the grass-fed proponents need to get their story straight. I’m not for crazy vegan activists harassing ranchers either, but I see why they do it.

    I feel you fail to address this point when it comes to these issues, and you know I’m a huge fan of your work. I’m not 100% vegan myself, but being close to one, it is easy to see logical inconsistencies in meat-eating proponents. 9 times out of 10, the person claiming benefit of grass-fed is largely just defending their eating habits.

    Not saying this is you, if I recall you’re largely plant-based as well.

    Hope all is well!

    Comment by Bob — October 26, 2018 @ 11:50 am

    • The question is, “what would happen if we all ate grass-fed animals”?

      I wasn’t asking that question which of course is ridiculous. Of course 7 billion people can’t do that, and I never said they could or should. As you know I’ve written hundreds of times, we could and should transform to agroecology.

      But this would require the dismantling of the economic civilization itself, which also can and should be done, for many reasons beyond the bare fact that H. domesticus will starve and plague itself to death on the existing civilization.

      But obviously the vast mass isn’t going to do any of the things which are possible and desirable. As a mass they have the death wish and they’ll get their wish.

      The vast majority of “vegans” are part of this, just like the climate crocodiles: Totally ignorant, totally smug, and most of all dead set on keeping their fucking cars. In other words, just as 99% of “climate activists”, including all the famous ones, are peas in a pod with ExxonMobil, so 99% of animal rights types are peas in a pod with Smithfield.

      Please tell me what alternative to total ecological destruction is being offered by mainstream vegan/animal groups, who themselves all lasciviously embrace every other part of productionism, capitalism, the economic civilization. Hell, the #1 red flag which always identified them as enemies is the whole vile “We can feed the world on grains!” To translate their Western middle-class poisonist perspective: “We can feed the world [Monsanto slogan; in reality, we can feed those who have money] on [commodity] grains.”

      The whole lot of them are ADM and Monsanto operatives, whether they have the brains to know it or not.

      The point of this piece was to refute the nonsense about grass farming having any significant part of GHGs, and to ask of activists that they be honest about cruelty anger as opposed to climate anger. (Although I’ll add that even if one does think a small grass farm is cruel in the same way a Tyson CAFO is cruel, it still takes cowardice to attack the one and not the other.)

      Hope all is well with you too. How’s the movie going?

      Comment by Russell Bangs — October 26, 2018 @ 2:51 pm

      • Maybe I’m not replying directly to you, but there’s this popular rhetoric these days about how switching to grass-fed would end all our ag-enviro woes… Allan Savory and crew are leaders of this movement.

        But it’s even considered mainstream science now that grass-feeding and finishing an animal actually emits MORE methane than their CAFO counterparts. And obviously, it takes dramatically more land. This clearly isn’t in defense of CAFOs, they have their own share of moral and environmental woes. However, CAFOs have one thing going for them, “efficiency” (of course that word is ultimately a lie, but relatively, it’s true).

        So, if you claim that we need to stop emitting GHGs and rebuild sinks, one must conclude that we must minimize (or eliminate) animal flesh from the diet as much as possible, regardless of source. I’m talking societally here, of course making exceptions for starving children eating goat liver to obtain needed nutrition, etc.

        What’s funny is the mainstream zombie commodity vegan is STILL miles ahead of the Prius driving “ethical omnivore”. This is the irony of this whole thing. Even the most raunchy animal-rights vegan, who could care less about health and the environment, more often than not still comes out as the more ecologically sane human.

        By the way, I’ve tried to eat a junk commodity vegan diet, and it is a bit harder to support the mainstream Monsanto commodity structure than you imply. Most mainstream vegan food actually has quite a bit of consciousness associated with ingredient sourcing etc. (of course, relative given our current position, we both agree on the sham of big organic).

        But MOST vegans that I meet (and I don’t limit my circles ideologically) are indeed eating mostly whole foods, organic, with local veggies. If everyone did THIS, the entirety of structures that you and I both criticize would crumble.

        Besides, most meat-eaters are the same as the car-driving vegans, just with a bit of meat on their plates. This is a net-addition to their GHG emissions. Even a carless rancher would still have more GHGs on his hands than a quinoa-eating vegan.

        Grass-farming CAN, WILL, and DOES have a significant impact on GHGs, and ecology as a whole. Ranch-based (not CAFO) animal ag in America has already led to tremendous loss in wildlands, has basically led to the extinction of wild horses in N. America, wolves, cougars, etc. One big rancher years ago said “cows are a pest on this land”. And to think some people want MORE ranching… the numbers just don’t add up! Cowspiracy and Richard Oppenlander make this point clear.

        When all said and done, the mainstream vegans (of which I am NOT one) are still miles ahead of most conscious omnivores when it comes to ecological protection. Not based on ideology or anything else, but merely because animal flesh and milk is indeed THAT intensive to produce from the land, for any sizable population.

        Comment by Bob — October 27, 2018 @ 9:43 am

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