“The cow in the room …” The rest of the quote in this article title is: “Why is no one talking about farming at COP26?” COP26 is the international conference on climate change going on in Glasgow.
Protesters are right to remind the conference full of political leaders that some of the quickest returns for efforts at greenhouse gas emissions reduction can be made by farmers and governments. They could support carbon sequestration and the reduction of other greenhouse gasses (GHGs) by supporting conservation farming and food production.
However, where they (the protesters) get it wrong is to think that getting rid of livestock agriculture and eating processed plants or, worse, lab grown proteins will solve the problem. Small farms worldwide produce a third of the world’s food.
This is gainful work which cannot be easily replaced without threatening the food security of local economies. Yet these same farmers are blamed for some of the climate crisis, but go hungry because they export foodstuffs for a little cash.
Some significant reduction of emissions can happen with changing livestock feedstuffs, for example, by feeding seaweed to cattle to reduce the production of methane in the rumen (stomachs). Other higher tech additives may help as well.
We must keep farmers in the picture and not allow mega corporations that control growing farmland consolidation and the corralling of expensive technology.
Agriculture has been shaped by government subsidies. A recent UN report concluded that almost 90 per cent of the $540 billion in subsidies are given to farmers to destroy nature and fuel the climate crisis (See the Guardian, Nov 9, 2021. “The cow in the room: why is no one talking about farming at Cop26).
Simple technical solutions and manufactured inputs to agriculture will not solve agriculture’s part that I could play in mitigating climate impacts of food production.
Instead, the culture of land use, respect for biodiversity (rather than eliminating the habitat of beneficial plants and animals) and careful /appropriate stewarding the land and soil dedicated to intensive food production can be much of the solution.
About livestock’s role in food and climate, I can remind readers about the marginal land that cannot support intensive agriculture. This is most of the land in agriculture—mostly grazing land. When done properly grazing can be regenerative and have minimal impacts on GHG production.
Let’s see the cow in the room – and the pigs and chickens. But let’s not throw them out with the wrongheaded agri-technologies and cultural practices that should be reformed. As societies we need to keep control of our technologies to benefit all of human kind.
And that goes for wildlife that supports so many Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Clean land and water and stable ecosystems can keep the gene pool we may need to continue to evolve fixes for problems that crop up. Remember wild maize (corn) was the source of certain resistance to pests in domesticated corn.
David Zirnhelt is a member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association and chair of the advisory committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching program which started at Thompson Rivers University in Williams Lake.
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