OPINION

Cow hysteria is distracting from real climate issues

Mad Cow disease has gone to Glasgow

The Global Methane Pledge, supported by the US and EU, will be formally launched at the major climate change summit COP26.

The pledge aims to cut global methane caused by human activity by 45 per cent this decade. Methane from human activity is responsible for 25 per cent of global heating. Ruminants, including cows, are a known source of methane.

Hysterical statements from some that a commitment to reduce methane would require farmers to cull their herds is not supported by the Meat and Livestock Australia, which has a target of carbon neutrality by 2030.

Demand for meat is not driven by climate policies. Health experts advise us to eat less meat. Many are choosing a vegetarian or vegan diet, a choice driven by multiple factors such as health concerns, animal welfare perceptions, fads, and, increasingly, the looming spectre of climate change.

However, Australia's population is likely to reach 36 million by 2050. The cattle industry is not about to go broke.

Many farmers have a strong connection to the land. They are diversifying, restoring vegetation, adapting to climate change, improving their land and in some cases reducing the size of their herds to improve soils. They will benefit from a low carbon economy. Farmers know that further global heating will make them more vulnerable. If warming continues unabated, many farms will become unviable.

The problem with "cow hysteria" is that it distracts us from the other methane problem which is the so-called "gas-led recovery". Estimates of escaped, or "fugitive" methane, from the extraction, transport, and use of gas have been consistently under-estimated. The gas industry is expanding pell-mell in Australia in search of profits from the export market.

The gas industry donated $700,000 to the major parties in 2020. For this the industry was richly rewarded with millions flowing back to gas developments. The controversial Beetaloo Basin gas development alone has been promised $50 million.

A Global Methane Pledge to cut methane emissions by 45 per cent this decade would avoid 0.3 degrees of warming by the 2040s. It would also prevent an extra 255, 000 deaths, 755,000 asthma admissions, 73 billion hours of lost labour and 26 million tonnes of crop losses globally.

  • Dr Graeme McLeay is the son of a grazier and great-great grandson of a sheep farmer who drove a flock of sheep from NSW to Yorke Peninsula SA in the 1880s. He is a member of Doctor for the Environment Australia.
This story Mad Cow disease has gone to Glasgow first appeared on The Canberra Times.