Doomed Planet

Three green cheers for the Manure Consortium

The Canberra Carbon Cargo Cult Club is extending its tentacles further into the animal kingdom. But will issuing Beastly Bovid Belching credits bring home the beef and balance the budget? Will re-engineering ruminant rumens save the nation’s bacon by helping to prevent allegedly “dangerous” climate change? Or will methane mitigation mania merely deliver another dog’s breakfast?

Minister Combet’s Department of Climate Change may be a shadow of its former self, but it still wants more than fire in its belly. How else to explain the CCCCC’s gutsy punt on rumen – not rectal – wind?

Bovid: adj., 1. Belonging to Bovidae, a family of ruminant artiodactyl hollow-horned mammals, including sheep, cattle, goats, antelopes, and buffalo.

Following the government’s so-called Carbon Farming Initiative legislation, Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) was gifted $32.8 million to create a National Livestock Methane Program (NLMP). The Commonwealth’s Filling the Research Gap kicked in $13.8m cash, MLA $3.80m, with the rest coming from the CSIRO ($4.72m) and university research groups.

Sixteen NLMP projects are now attempting to reduce livestock methane emissions. Another group, the Manure Management Research Consortium, also is exploring how to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from feedlot animal waste. (A vulgar synonym has been used by the minister to express exasperation about polling outcomes and rising temperatures in the body politic.)

Christopher Jay, The Australian Financial Review’s Tender Watch reporter, recently noted an NLMP advertisement for three new positions — a national technical coordinator, genetics and “carbon farming” advisers — to help “solve the animal gas issue”.

NLMP is chasing the “triple bonus” – where methane emissions are reduced, ruminant weight increased, and the whole exercise somehow “parlayed” into “saleable Australian carbon credit units.”

Parlay, n., 1. A single bet linking two or more individual wagers. If any bets lose, the entire parlay loses.

Just as the MLA applications closed, who should arrive here but US musician, Dana Lyons, of Cows with Guns fame. Its gutsy lyrics, he said, came to him in a dream – or nightmare.

Health Warning: Consumption of Bad Cow Puns (BCPs) in excess of recommended daily dose can be injurious to mental health. If you have low lactose or suffer from BS intolerance, there can be unpredictable side-effects. Contact your GP if you experience prolonged bouts of auto-hilarity.

Coincidentally, President Prime Cut – aka Lady Stayin-Put – had lot to say about intestines last week in the Top Paddock. “I have the guts,” she thundered at her herd. “He lacks the guts. If he didn’t have the guts before, he will never have it.

“When cows keep giving milk, when chickens still lay eggs, everyone will know his campaign of fear is a sham.”

Lady Stayin-Put was silent, however, on the nation’s ruminant revolt and what it could mean for our booming burger market.

“Trying to guts it out is all very well”, complained one hungry customer, “but expecting us to do stuff – like voting – on an empty stomach will cause a stampede. Where’s the beef, Top Guts?’”

Too many bulls at the gate have been unsettling the herd too; especially the one told to pull his horns in and go to the back trench a while ago.

It was too much for Big Beef to take without a bellow: “Our members have more guts than either of them.”

“After much cud-chewing, head-butting and hoofing around until the cows came home, we decided there would be no more methane-mitigation monitoring – or live exports – except to France.”

“We have the guts – and now the guns. It’s time. It’s time to fight for freedom,” Chief Sitting Bull said in a media statement. “Free-roving bovines have to run free!”

Big Beef’s radicalisation is no surprise to those familiar with the quadruped-space. Trapped in a no-man’s land between carnivores and rabid animal rights activists, who can blame it for wanting to kick a few asses?

If, dear reader, you are unaware just how high the steaks are today, read Chief Sitting Bull’s classic manifesto – Roam Free or Die: “The human-environment interface will be shaped by whether we resolve the rising tensions between animals and humans".

Bull has done the numbers too. “McDonald’s sells 26 Hiroshima bomb equivalents worth of Big Macs annually in the United States, and globally 42 Hiroshima bomb-equivalents?” (One H-e equals 21.4 million Big Macs, or 15 kilotons of TNT, equivalent to 62.76 terajoules, or 15 teracalories.)

“It’s crystal clear – absolutely crystal clear – the obscene anthropogenic exploitation of quadrupeds must cease,” said Bull. “We must act before it’s too late. We want better clover and more space. We want fewer feral camels – and termites – too.”

Bull snorted that Australia has the world’s largest wild camel population. “More than a million animals roam across 3.3 million sq km, about 40% of the continent. Their numbers expected to double every decade” (Saalfeld & Edwards, 2008).

This proposed feral camel eradication methodology is the subject of an application for patent that is pending approval (Australian Patent Application Number 2011200432: "System and method for obtaining a carbon offset credit or emission permit based on management of a feral herbivore").

It seems Big Beef’s lobbying prompted the DCC to accept “feral animal management as an emission reduction-causing action” (Department of Climate Change, 2010).

As a result of its gutsy campaign, The Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Bill (Draft) 2011 Part 1 Section 5 now treats any “introduced animal” as a potential source of GHG-equivalent emissions.

Division 10, Section 44 also commits the DCC to assess any “project to avoid emissions of methane from the digestive tract of an introduced animal; or to avoid emissions of methane, or nitrous oxide, from the decomposition of introduced animal urine, or introduced animal dung.”

Methane may be a potent GHG, but can one claim – as alarmists often do – it has “a global warming potential of 21 times that of carbon dioxide”. Does “one tonne of methane emitted into the atmosphere cause the same damage as releasing 21 tonnes of carbon dioxide?”

One person who knows something about the “animal gas issue” is Tom Quirk, author of "Twentieth century sources of methane in the atmosphere", a 2010 paper published in Energy & Environment. (He did not apply for any of the NLMP advisory positions.)

 Quirk noted that although many governments see methane as a GHG almost as important as carbon dioxide, for him there was no justification for attempting to reduce its production from industrial or agricultural activity. “While methane variability remains restricted to natural causes, the best policy is to do nothing.”

Given the current poor state of knowledge about sources and sinks of atmospheric methane, it is surely sensible advice. Expert judgements of all amounts in these categories are classified as having only a “medium uncertainty of 50 per cent” (table 1, page 262), which is comparable to the flip of a coin.

Quirk is not the only one with reservations. NZ Environment Minister Nick Smith has emphasised he could “not understate how complex it is to bring ruminant animal emissions into an ETS”.

Dr Albrecht Glatzle, of Filadelfia, Paraguay, is another sceptic. His doubts were expressed eloquently in a personal letter on GHG emissions and livestock several years ago.

“Yesterday I received the latest Tropical Grasslands Society Newsletter (Volume 25, No. 1 & 2, 2009). It was a pleasure looking at the photographs of various well-known personalities from the Australian pasture science scene. But when I got to the GHG chapters I was a bit embarrassed about how much you Australians seem to be concerned about GHG emissions by ruminant livestock and their potential effects on climate change.”

He referred to the European satellite ENVISAT, which measures global close-to-the-surface-methane concentrations. (The average values are shown in figure 2 here.)

“Not even international organizations like the IPCC or FAO seem to have noticed the fact that even humid tropical forests emit far more methane than grazing cattle. How can the big grazing areas of the world (Australia, Southern Latin America, South and East Africa, and Western United States) – with hundreds of millions of cattle – and even India with the highest cattle density worldwide, show such low methane concentrations? Perhaps something is wrong with the theory?”

Glatzle concluded there was definitely no reason at all to be concerned about livestock GHG emissions.

“We won’t save the planet by trying to teach our cattle how to emit less methane. And we will not harm the planet if we go on with our cattle industry, business as usual. Let’s just rebut the unqualified attacks (unfortunately also originating from such prominent organizations as the FAO) on our livelihood. The sound arguments are ours.”

No surprise, then, not everyone is a fan of ruminant methane-mitigation; or that Big Beef is becoming bullish about its eructation rights.

Perhaps Warmerland’s carbon cowboys and methane mafia should be spending less time in the Top Paddock – and more money on a Cane Toad Muster or two?

Michael Kile,  June 2013

Disclosure Statement: Michael Kile does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. He has no relevant affiliations, except as author of The Devil’s Dictionary of Climate Change. He does not trade, or intend to trade, BBBCs, Australian Carbon Credit Units, or eligible international emissions units

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