BY JIM WEBSTER
T Rex used to sing ‘Life’s a Gas’ and perhaps they were right. I was chatting to somebody who has been involved in agriculture (on the engineering, patching machinery up, side) pretty much all his life. He was commenting about the problems they’d had with a pickup which just didn’t seem to be processing fuel. At regular intervals it would cut out, and you’d have to spray Easystart into the air intake to get it to fire up again.
Except they weren’t using Easystart, they were using Lynx spray deodorant. Apparently it works every bit as well, although the engine runs slightly faster. (One of the other deodorants he doesn’t recommend because you get more smoke). It appears that if you buy Lynx in packs it is price competitive with Easystart, but the important thing is that nobody gives you Easystart for Christmas and Birthdays.
But talking about gases causing problems, the big issue at the moment is methane. Apparently cows are going to have a feed additive added, by law, to reduce the amount of methane they produce. Which is fine. Government can sign on the dotted line, and we know who gave the order. Then a generation or so down the road when we have another BSE or similar outbreak, we’ll know who to blame. Have they checked that this stuff they’re recommending is safe to feed a whole species over a period of years?
But even ignoring that, the world’s cattle produce 120 million metric tons per year, responsible for roughly 2% of climate change. But this has to be kept in proportion. Cows and other ruminants account for just 4 percent of all greenhouse gases produced in the United States, and beef cattle just 2 percent of direct emissions.
Natural wetlands emit approximately 30% of global methane (CH4) emissions. The water‐logged soils in wetlands are ideal for producing methane and the patterns and intensity of these emissions are likely to change as the planet warms.
It’s not as if livestock producing methane is new. It’s been calculated that the US used to have 60 million buffalo, a similar number of white tailed deer and then there were moose and a heap of other livestock. This is compared with the current total of 98.8 million beef and dairy cows, 65 million pigs, and 5 million sheep. Given that grain fed livestock essentially produce less methane than grass fed, modern livestock almost certainly produce less methane that what used to be there.
Now compared to farting livestock; farting humans, even the vegan variety, are almost irrelevant. But biologically we do more than fart. Twenty percent of human produced methane emissions come from break down of our waste, flushed down the toilet and forgotten. It looks as if we’re going to have to do something to human diets as well.
But let us stop kidding ourselves. The largest component of natural gas is methane and everybody in Europe has been frantically buying every scrap of natural gas they can find on the world market. The United Kingdom’s territorial methane (CH4) emissions were 57 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) in 2021.
What is fascinating is that you will struggle to find a figure for UK methane, it’s always quoted as CO2 equivalent. The cynic might comment that this is because it produces a nice big frightening figure. But as Methane is said to be 25 times worse than CO2, this means that 57 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent equals probably about 2.28 million tonnes of methane.
With the wicked foreigners, sources are happy to quote the actual level of methane production. Hence one Russian gas pipeline leak was putting approximately 395 metric tons an hour into the atmosphere, Russia’s oil and gas industry alone puts 14.44 million metric tonnes of methane into the atmosphere. So that one industry puts six times as much methane into the atmosphere as does the entire UK. On top of this one assumes that Russian cows fart, and they too have human sewage systems.
To put things in perspective, the UK doesn’t appear in the top ten of methane emitters.
Interestingly, no EU member state does either.
It strikes me that worrying about farting cows is performance environmentalism. It allows people to feel that they are doing something, without the unfortunate side effect of having to change their lifestyle.
Jim Webster farms at the bottom end of South Cumbria. Jim was encouraged to collect together into a book some blog posts he’d written because of their insight into Cumbrian farming and rural life (rain, sheep, quad-bikes and dogs) It’s available here.