Time to Be in the Kitchen!
Sharon Salisbury O’Toole
“Pastoralists—we think we can eliminate this category entirely.”
Pat and I couldn’t believe we had heard correctly. We were attending a meeting in Washington D.C. sponsored by the USDA in advance of the 2015 COP25 climate talks in Paris. The speaker was expounding on causes of global climate change. Pat spoke up. “I’m a pastoralist, and I don’t agree. Grazing is a solution, and you are talking about the food, livelihoods, and culture for people all over the world.”
This was the first we realized that agriculture, and livestock production in particular, was becoming a serious target for anti-ag activists. The elimination of animal protein, especially beef, has long been part of the vegan agenda. They represent three percent of consumers, but have an outsized presence in food and climate discussions. Their health argument was not successful, but suddenly they claim that eliminating hamburgers, chicken, and even eggs and milk will provide the planet’s salvation from global warming.
Pat serves as a Board member for the Solutions from the Land organization, which
brings farmers, ranchers and foresters together to find landscape-based solutions. (Solutions from the Land.org) Our colleagues there have attended many of the COP climate meetings. The “Congress of Parties” gatherings are sponsored by the United Nations (UN) in order to address climate change—its consequences, and strategies to slow or reverse the rise in temperatures, severe storms, flooding, effects on health and other concerns.
“You need to be there,” we were told, “because no one is speaking up for livestock production.”
If you’re not at the table, the saying goes, you’re on the menu. And now, we must be in the kitchen!
COP26 is an attempt by most governments around the world to contain rising average temperatures to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit), using 1850 (pre-industrialization) as a baseline. We are already at about a 1.1 degree increase. Sometimes extreme weather—hurricanes, flooding, drought, derechos—are a result. While one can argue specifics—where is this taking place, how is it measured, etc.—we are all experiencing the results.
Part of our ranching operation lies in Colorado’s Moffat County, which is one of the world’s “hot spots.” Northwest Colorado’s temperatures have increased 2 C or more already. In Moffat County, it is 2.1 C. We are seeing, on the ground, in our lives, extreme drought which stresses vegetation, wildlife, livestock and people. You can call it “Global Weirding” but it is affecting us, without doubt. We have redoubled efforts to develop water to replace failing springs.
We have no snow on the ground today, early December, at 7,000 feet, and no snow in the forecast.
At issue is the true impact of each sector contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. It’s not often reported that methane, produced by those prodigiously belching cows, has a more immediate effect, but it dissipates after 10 years. Fossil fuels—oil, gas and coal—emit CO2, which lasts one hundred years in the atmosphere. The waste sector is a big contributor, along with deforestation. Fluorinated gases last for centuries.
Lots of statistics, which add up to more than 100 percent, are thrown around. Early figures put out by the United Nations attributed 32 percent to agriculture, which, it turns out, includes the fuel sector from fertilizer to delivery trucks.
“Frank Mitloehner, professor and air quality expert at the University of California at Davis, says that while it’s true cattle are the number 1 agricultural source of GHGs globally, it’s a different story in the U.S. Research suggests on a global scale, cattle account for 14.5% of emissions. In the U.S., however, ruminants account for just 4% of all GHGs and beef cattle are responsible for just 2% of direct emissions.” (Drovers.com)
At the gathering, which resembled a cross between a World’s Fair and the Denver Stock Show, we spoke with farmers from all over the world, who are feeling attacked and unappreciated. The anti-cow drumbeat, both subtle and overt, is just the most aggressive part of this messaging. The human population is growing, demanding resources from energy to water to food. Fifty percent more food production will be needed in the coming decades. With attacks on livestock and farming, and the havoc caused in production systems from climate change, we are not on track to feed the planet.
Past COPs have failed to engage agriculturalists as part of the solution. Most discussions center around ag’s impacts, but little attention is paid to the need to grow food and fiber. It is crucial that the conversations come around to sustainable production, and the important role that producers, especially pastoralists, can play to improve natural resource health.
“In the years to come we will need ranchers, loggers, farmers, and irrigators as teachers, mentors, and critics.” Wendell Berry