Did you know that all cows are carbon neutral? That all the fuss about forcing farmers into an emissions trading scheme is stuff and nonsense? You do now, thanks to the sterling efforts of the Carbon Sense Coalition, an Australian organisation. They issued a press release yesterday, news of which reached me via the Royal Society‘s daily news alert:
News release: Farm lobbies abandon farmers. The Carbon Sense Coalition today accused the big farming lobby groups, government departments, politicians and Ministers representing agriculture of ignoring science and abandoning farmers to unjustified carbon taxation.
Ignoring science, eh? I went in search of what they might be on about…
[Warning: do not read while drinking – extreme beverage/screen interface risk]
The text of the Coalition’s release, written by chairman Viv Forbes is here (PDF). This seems to be the basis of his argument:
â€œIn the farm sector carbon balance, apart from any fossil fuel used, it is a zero sum game, and all farm animals have ZERO NET CARBON EMISSIONS. Grazing animals have not yet learned to live on coal or diesel fuel, and they cannot create carbon out of rocks, soil or water. Therefore they must extract it, via grasses and grains, from that marvellous gas of life in our atmosphere, carbon dioxide. All foods and organic matter represent carbon that has been sequestered by life processes into living matter. The carbon is simply recycled at ZERO COST.â€ [ Mr Forbes’ capitals].
This revelation is based on an earlier pronouncement, titled “All cows are green” which includes the following passage:
In fact all farm animals should get a carbon credit, because they sequester part of the carbon extracted from the air in bones, meat, milk and wool. Much of this carbon then gets transferred to the bones and flesh of the growing human population, and eventually gets sequestered in sewerage (often, unfortunately, on the sea floor), bones in the coffins, and soil in the cemeteries. This is a proven process which provides more secure and far cheaper carbon sequestration than some of the billion dollar schemes being investigated.
I don’t know what I can add. I prostrate myself before this remarkable wisdom. However, since that missive sallied forth in April, Mr Forbes has clearly learned a thing or two because he correctly intuits that one or two people may point out that a chunk of the carbon emerges from cows as methane. The latest statement therefore includes a footnote for doubters:
â€œBut,â€ they will claim, â€œruminants emit methane, which is responsible for 16% of greenhouse emissions.â€ Putting aside for a moment the likelihood that this figure is correct (who measures the methane seeping from swamps, escaping from the Black Sea, and being released from the huge methane hydrate deposits on the continental shelves?), the fact is that methane is a natural product, it gets quickly oxidised in the atmosphere to its cousin CO2 and water, and the methane content of the atmosphere is falling, not rising. Besides, are we going to tax the wild herds of wildebeests, moose and caribou?
Classic crank stuff. Wrong in principle, wrong in detail, and almost as funny as some of Ken Ring‘s writings on the subject of climate change.
But wait! There’s more. I dig further into the background of what I will henceforth refer to as the Carbon Nonsense Coalition, and who should I find in the list of members? Why, it’s Ken Ring himself! Is he perhaps providing scientific advice for the Nonsense Coalition? But it gets better…
The molecules of carbon that make up their flesh, wool, hide, burps and farts is not fossil carbon. It was sequestered from their pasture rarely longer than a year and most within a few days before their release back into the atmosphere.Although somewhat modified by human influence they are part of the 97% of the main cycle of carbon dioxide that makes the living world go round. Not the 3% that the global warmers say are tipping the World, towards an omnivore driven armageddon.
You’ve got to hand it to the old bugger. He’s got a neat turn of phrase. “Omnivore driven armageddon.” Try saying that after two pints of milk. Meanwhile, Muriel’s own thoughts lead me to another luminary, “agricultural tutor and consultant” Robin Grieve, in an opinion column in Straight Furrow (a farming paper). He provides some numbers:
A milking cow each day eats 7kgs of carbon in the grass. 25kgs of CO2 were removed from the atmosphere to produce that carbon â€“ CO2 is 28% carbon.
Each day, she emits, as a byproduct, 300 to 500gms of methane. Methane breaks down to CO2 and water after eight to 10 years, so the methane a cow emits does not add to the methane in the atmosphere, it simply replaces it. The methane becomes CO2, which becomes grass which the cow eats. It all goes around and around, so there should be no tax to pay.
Even if we follow the Kyoto Rules and assign a value to methane emissions of 20 times CO2 then the 300 to 500gms of methane equate to 6 to 10kgs CO2. The cow has removed 25kgs of CO2 from the atmosphere and emits 6 to 10kgs CO2 equivalents in methane. She is in credit between 15 – 19kgs.
And then, to bring the whole thing round to a sort of cranky full circle, underneath are two comments from the great and the good of the NZ Climate “Science” Coalition. Owen McShane, that experienced judge of quality science, offers his congratulations to Mr Grieve, as does Chris de Freitas, who goes so far as to say:
“Robin, You are quite correct.”
Oh dear. Here’s one major flaw in the argument. The global warming potential (GWP) of methane is 25 (AR4) not 20. Doesn’t affect Robin’s numbers too badly. But that’s over a long timescale – 100 years. Unfortunately, if you look at the GWP of methane over shorter timescales, say 20 years, it’s actually 72. It’s a fearsomely efficient greenhouse gas. So Daisy’s half a kilo of daily methane is equivalent over her lifetime to the impact of 36kg of CO2. On policy relevant timescales, Daisy is in deficit to the tune of 11kgs a day. And that’s before you take into account the effect of her urine and manure. It doesn’t all magically go into the soil…
Meanwhile, I suspect that this argument is going to find a fertile furrow in certain sectors of the agricultural establishment. Anybody care to help me nip it in the bud? All arguments gratefully received…