May 8, 2018, file photo, a Jersey cow feeds in a field on the Francis
Thicke organic dairy farm in Fairfield, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie
Calvin Woodward & Seth Borenstein
Washington (AP) —
Lets clear the air about cow farts.
In the climate change debate, some
policymakers seem to be bovine flatulence deniers.
This became apparent in the fuss
over the Green New Deal put forward by some liberal Democrats. More
precisely, the fuss over an information sheet by the plan’s advocates.
With tongue in cheek or foot in
mouth, depending on whom you ask, the statement’s authors said that
despite the plan’s proposals for strong limits on emissions over a
decade, “we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting
cows and airplanes that fast.”
Airplanes don’t fart. But cows?
Exasperated by merciless mocking
from Republicans on this matter, Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of
Michigan lectured the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, on the
floor of the chamber last month.
“The Republican majority leader
said that we want to end air travel and cow farts,” Stabenow said. “By
the way, just for the record, cows don’t fart. They belch.”
The Associated Press surveyed
global experts on global warming on this question, as well as an author
who wrote the definitive science book on gassy animals, which comes with
Cows fart. That contributes to global warming. But cow burps are worse
for the climate.
“Cows are pretty disgusting eaters,
with methane coming from both ends,” said Christopher Field at the
Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “But most of it comes from
Field cited the “classic quote from
the technical literature” on the topic: “Of the CH4 (methane) produced
by enteric fermentation in the forestomach 95% was excreted by
eructation (burp), and from CH4 produced in the hindgut 89% was found to
be excreted through the breath.’”
In a nutshell, belches are bad
At Tuscia University in Viterbo,
Italy, environmental scholar Giampiero Grossi said methane emitted by
ruminant livestock accounts for about 5.5% of the greenhouse gasses that
come from human activity. More than 70% of livestock emissions are from
cattle, he said.
“Ruminants are a significant source
of methane,” which traps more heat than carbon dioxide but doesn’t last
as long in the air, said Kristie Ebi, director of the Center for Health
and the Global Environment at the University of Washington in Seattle.
“The belches have to do with digesting their food” in the stomach
compartments, not intestines, and that fermentation produces methane.
Warming from the burning of fossil
fuels is roughly 10 times to 17 times greater than warming caused by
livestock burping and farting, Field said.
For all of that, the Green New Deal does not seek to ban
cows or planes as it sets ambitious targets to eliminate most greenhouse
gas emissions responsible for global warming by 2030.
The deal, introduced in the House
by Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York as a nonbinding
resolution, not legislation, proposes massive spending on clean energy
and energy efficient buildings and transit. It proposes working
“collaboratively with farmers” to remove pollution and greenhouse gas
emissions from agriculture “as much as is technologically feasible.”
“It’s not to say we’re going to
force everybody to go vegan or anything crazy like that,” Ocasio-Cortez
said in a Showtime interview.
Democratic leaders in Congress have
largely shunned the plan, considering it politically fraught. Many
Republicans are a hard sell on the reality of human-caused climate
change at all and apt to be dismissive about livestock’s part in it.
Politicians and other nonscientists
who reject mainstream climate science cite cow farts and airplane travel
as “a go-to rhetorical weapon they use against having a serious
discussion” about how climate change is already causing dramatic and
deadly changes, such as the extreme weather of 2018, Georgia Tech
climate scientist Kim Cobb said.
“It’s a form of mockery,” said
Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change
Communication. “They’re trying to whip up their own base’s opposition to
any kind of action.”
According to the U.S. government’s
2018 National Climate Assessment report: “Climate change is transforming
where and how we live and presents growing challenges to human health
and quality of life, the economy, and the natural systems that support
What farts, what doesn’t?
“Does It Fart?” a book by Dani Rabaiotti of the
Zoological Society of London and Virginia Tech conservationist Nick
Caruso, answers the question it poses about dozens of species.
Millipedes fart, no doubt
Several species of herring
communicate with each other that way. If you startle a zebra, says the
book, it will fart with each stride as it runs away. Flatulence signals
a baboon is ready to mate.
For the Bolson pupfish, found in
Mexico, it’s fart or die. They feed on algae that make them buoyant,
easy prey near the surface. Farts sink them to safety. Similarly,
manatees may let loose when it’s time to dive deeply.
Whale farts are, of course, epic.
Birds and most sea creatures don’t.
Clams clam up, though they’ve been known to throw up.
The jury is out on spiders: More
research is needed.
From London, Rabaiotti said methane
emissions from cattle are belch-focused because the gas is produced near
the start of their digestive system and comes up when they regurgitate
their food to chew the cud.
One answer, she says: “Just cut
down beef to, say, once a week or once a month and replace it with
chicken or pork or options without meat. Emissions from dairy are lower
per food serving than emissions from beef so cutting down dairy will
reduce your carbon footprint less but it’s another area where people can
easily lower their emissions, particularly for people that are already
And for the record, says this
authority on the animal kingdom’s ruder moments, “Yes, cows do fart.”