The New York Times ran an editorial Saturday espousing the need for a special tax on the beef industry to mitigate the supposed harm Big Beef has on climate change.
It’s time to recognize that the beef industry is every bit as culpable for man-made global warming as the oil and gas industry, author Richard Conniff wrote in TheNYT. It’s better to penalize meat eaters for contributing to global warming, he said, rather than targeting an industry that provides Americans with the kind of fuel needed to live in the modern world.
“The idea will no doubt sound absurd to Americans reared on Big Macs and cowboy mythology,” Conniff acknowledged in the piece before diving headlong into wonky criticism of America’s obsession with red meat. Taxing consumption of beef would make a lot more sense than slapping a similar tax on oil and gas, he offered.
“A carbon tax on beef, on the other hand, would be a relatively simple test case for such taxes and …. only a little painful, at least at the household level: While people would tend to skip the beef bourguignon, they could substitute other meats, like pork and chicken, that have a much smaller climate change footprint,” said Conniff, a non-fiction author who writes about human and animal behavior.
Conniff’s idea is meant to tackle the effect the beef industry has on greenhouse gasses – cows emit high levels of methane, which scientists say contributes to global warming. Methane is about 20 times as potent as carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas, but persists in the atmosphere for a shorter amount of time. Cattle emissions alone make up 20 percent of U.S. methane emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Former President Barack Obama was also worried about the methane problem. His administration released a methane plan in 2014 that called for reducing emissions from the dairy industry 25 percent, which meant finding ways to capture or reduce emissions from cow farts and burps. Republican lawmakers, however, were quick to criticize the White House’s proposal, arguing the government could end up taxing cow farts.
Other commentators have also suggested targeting cows for dirtying the climate. Comedian Bill Nye, for instance, suggested in 2017 that global warming could be solved if scientists genetically engineering cows to fart less.
“Agriculture researchers are going to produce or breed farm animals that produce less methane by changing the bacteria that are in their stomachs,” Nye, who also wants to bring the oil industry to heel for contributing to climate change, told reporters in March of last year. “To get all the way down to a plant-based diet might be tricky for a lot of people. However, it seems like a good idea.”
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