Students learning in the face of a climate crisis face the delicate situation of being told about an impending disaster and perhaps feeling powerless to do anything about it. It is not uncommon to experience climate anxiety. Very often, it can feel like too little is being done too late. With the UN climate reports literally issuing red alerts, it’s hard not to direct your anxiety somewhere. Personally? I nurtured a growing hatred for cows.
The beef and dairy industries have a reputation for high carbon production and environmental degradation. With a convenience-based society thriving on overconsumption, it’s easy to see how. When you start to think of livestock as a reminder of greenhouse gas emissions, you may start to feel resentful. I mean sure they’re cute, but at what cost?
For a mean vegetarian, it can be frustrating to see the accessibility of beef and the inaccessibility of more environmentally friendly diets. Choosing a menu and looking for a vegetarian meal is like a pitiful game of Where’s Waldo.
Many Americans do not have access to production because of food deserts, areas of the intersection between low accessibility and low income. For many who live in food deserts, beef is the simplest and most affordable meal. Long-term health issues and ineffective protein are easy to come by in Anytown, USA.
Cattle emit 99.48 kg of carbon dioxide per kilogram of food product. This is 60 kg more carbon dioxide than other vegetable and meat substitutes.
To put it bluntly, it’s the cows that push us to the limit, a tipping point for the cows if you will. Their greenhouse gas footprint doesn’t just take into account methane production. This also applies to grains produced to feed livestock, processing and transportation of beef products. Cattle also need a lot of land. I can’t think of a road trip I took without seeing cows, cow fields and feedlots.
I don’t hate cows and have no real vendetta against them, I’m just a youngster struggling with a climate crisis that is creating an uncertain future. It’s easy to feel helpless in the face of the climate crisis. Individual action will not solve the climate crisis, but it helps me cope with it.
Removing meat from my diet and having a vendetta against the cows themselves makes me feel a little better about the situation. I don’t even want the beef and dairy industries to end, I understand that my diet is not for everyone. All I want is more ethical and conscious consumption.
Fortunately, there is a silver lining. Here in Humboldt, we have access to local beef farms, with sustainably sourced and ethically raised cattle. Solutions such as modifying livestock diets to reduce emissions over the lifetime of livestock can also help.
Yes, that means less cow farts and less methane emissions. According to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, reducing meat consumption in any way will help reduce negative environmental impacts overall.
“Decreasing meat consumption, mainly ruminants, and reducing waste further reduce water use, land degradation, pressure on forests and land used for food, potentially freeing up land for mitigation. Additionally, consuming locally produced foods, shortening the supply chain, can in some cases minimize food loss, contribute to food security and reduce GHG emissions associated with energy consumption and food loss. (IPCC, 2019)
There is still hope and less reason to hate cows, especially here in Humboldt. Holding our systems accountable and consuming consciously can help us alleviate our climate crisis.
It’s time to reassess our consumption and sources of beef. If we are to get through the climate crisis, we need to become more aware and empower our system.
Hope you maybe hate cows a bit more after reading this, just enough to go without meat for at least one day a week, or to visit our local farmers market on Saturdays and buy some better beef .