I live in a rural area where cows graze on grass, which is vegetation I cannot eat. But I can eat the cow. This process–the cow growing, its slaughter and conversion into meat in my freezer–emits less carbon than factory-farm cows. My area receives high rainfall during the winter, so it’s pretty well-suited for raising beef. You could probably say I live in beefeater’s heaven.
However, ungulates emit a lot of methane, so whether free-range, grass-eating, or not, aren’t cows and lambs a high impact animal for the environment? You’d think so, yet Bill McKibbens himself points out that there used to be far more buffalo roaming the Great Plains than there are cows now. Far from causing environmental problems, these buffalo created a landscape that was one of the lushest carbon sinks in the world–the Great Grasslands.
The buffalo aren’t coming back, but Allan Savory from Zimbabwe, Joel Salatin, and other ranchers have been experimenting with rotational grazing techniques that enhance the growth of grass. They claim that they sequester much more carbon than they emit. Savory actually believes that grazing livestock on a large scale could correct climate change.
However, Allan Savory’s techniques are controversial among environmentalists, and his claims about carbon sequestration aren’t easy to prove.
Besides, most cows are raised on feedlots, which are an environmental and moral blot on the planet. Until Savory’s techniques are proven this beefeater believes there are too many cows in the world. We can’t afford so many.
One reason there are so many is because feedlots produce cheap beef, so people eat more of it. If beef were raised in a more ecological way–on pastures, rotationally grazed–it would be more expensive, people would eat less of it, and there would be fewer cows in the world.