Speaking of the dreaded carbon footprint of farming, no sooner are we told to plant micro-gardens to calm our climate anxiety than a story blares “Carbon footprint of homegrown food five times greater than those grown conventionally”. Yaaaaaah! The flaming tomatoes of um uh wait a minute. Really? Well, “The majority of the emissions do not come from the growing of the food themselves, the scientists say, but from the infrastructure needed to allow the food to be grown.” But as Tom Nelson growled online, “The notion that growing your own food causes bad weather is very deeply insane.” And it is. At bottom all these kinds of pseudo-stories rely on the notion that the climate is so incredibly fragile that a tiny disturbance, a few parts per million of a benign gas, can send it hurtling to its doom and ours.
When we read “Halve meat and dairy in diet to reduce nitrogen pollution, says UN” our first impulse is to ask to see the menu for those fancy COP banquets. But our second is to ask: Do you really think with all the modern sophisticated farming techniques at our disposal including contour plowing, we really can’t feed people nicely without reducing the planet to Mars? Even if it means finding less wasteful methods of fertilizing? Life withstood the Chicxulub asteroid impact, barely, even though within an hour of that event white-hot glass bullets raining back down had set every forest on the planet alight. It will survive a cattle farm.
MSN had one story about a guy who claimed factory chicken farming could save the planet. It’s one of those eerily Frankensteinian “better than nature” deals:
“The 90,000 ‘broilers’ – chickens bred for their meat – flapping around inside his three sheds, will more than triple in size in less than a month and their meat will have a low carbon footprint…. The two million snow-white chickens he produces every year -- bred mostly for McDonald’s nuggets – will reach their slaughter weight in less than half the time it takes on a traditional farm. At 20 days they already weigh one kilo (two pounds) – 20 times heavier than at birth. By the time they are slaughtered at 45 days, they will weigh over three kilos. Chicken has the smallest carbon footprint of any meat, according to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).”
Problem solved by cramming chicken-like objects incapable of functioning outside a barn but never given the chance? No. The story carps that:
“there are big drawbacks too. Despite the low emissions he claims for his chickens, producing the grain to feed them requires large amounts of land, synthetic fertilisers and pesticides. All have effects on biodiversity and water quality.”
In fact everything good is bad:
“Intensive farming is also in the dock on animal well-being. [The farmer in question, Frenchman Stephane] Dahirel raises 20 chickens per square metre (20 chickens per 10 square feet), which are kept on a litter where droppings are absorbed by wood shavings and buckwheat hulls. Sick or abnormal chickens are killed to avoid further suffering and because the automated slaughterhouse requires a homogenous product. ‘They are not robots of course, but we’re looking for homogeneity,’ the farmer said from his veranda overlooking one of his three sheds, covered in solar panels.”
Ah, solar panels. Finally a ray of light. Or not:
“Chickens may be an optimal animal protein for carbon emissions, but not necessarily for nature, experts say. ‘If we think only in terms of CO2 emissions per kilo of meat, we’d all start eating chicken. But thinking that’s the solution would be a massive mistake,’ said Pierre-Marie Aubert, of France’s IDDRI sustainable development think tank. ‘If you only think in terms of carbon, a heap of things would backfire on us in the long run,’ he added.”
Gotta hate it when experts say.
It’s not that humans are incapable of harming the environment. On the contrary, things like pollution and habitat destruction are potentially very bad, though it is misleading not to recognize the extraordinary progress the industrial democracies have made on air and water pollution in the last century. But when you read a headline such as “Deforestation: MPs warn UK is eating too much beef and chocolate – and it’s destroying the world’s forests” you have to take the possibility seriously.
You also have to maintain your healthy skepticism, especially about a proposal that “The report comes after the government announced that four commodities linked to deforestation – cattle products (excluding dairy), cocoa, palm oil and soy – will have to be certified as ‘sustainable’ if they are to be sold into UK markets.” Governments that permit wanton deforestation will also cheat on certification schemes, as indeed many apparently have on carbon credits.
You are also entitled to think that much of the land in the UK being devoured by wind and solar farms, or housing for a huge number of new immigrants each year, might well if farmed sustainably feed the nation without despoiling its ecology and charm. As for instance by putting a giant Saudi wind farm on Charlotte Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.
Indeed one of the oddities of the climate debate is the enthusiasm some of its participants exhibit for taking away everything normal people like. For instance back in November 2023 Bloomberg crowed that:
“The world’s most-developed nations will be told to curb their excessive appetite for meat as part of the first comprehensive plan to bring the global agrifood industry into line with the Paris climate agreement.”
And a month later a writer in The Guardian chortled “‘Food is finally on the table’: Cop28 addressed agriculture in a real way” though of course, being The Guardian, they then whined “One barrier to meaningful progress that caused a buzz this year was the overrepresentation of corporate interests at the conference.” Drat those corporations. Without them we’d all be um uh where did everything you own come from? Isn’t The Guardian a corporation? But note the “finally”.
They’ve been after our hamburgers for years and are convinced one day they’ll slip a bug patty in instead. Though apparently the plan is to start by making the cows eat bugs and only later moving on to us. Whereas in fact if you’re worried about cows’ digestion, and there are grounds for being worried, it makes more sense to go back to feeding them grass rather than grain, not forward to feeding them GMO insect oil.
Bill Gates of course is on board with making cows better than nature, or something. We say “of course” because to a startling degree this whole project comes from the elite.