December 13, 2006 in Opinion

Cows are nature’s way of saying, ‘Chill’

James Lileks Newhouse News Service
 

In another display of pitch-perfect priorities, the U.N. has released its findings on cow flatulence. There’s quite a lot of it.

The 400-page study, $27 million of which probably went to Saddam Hussein for old times’ sake, discovered that the planet’s livestock, including 1.5 billion cattle, produce 18 percent of greenhouse gases. Apparently the beasts of the field do nothing but wander around all day asking their brethren to “pull my hoof.” Every time a cow feels a small sense of relief, a polar bear goes through the ice.

Or will, eventually. So livestock give off more greenhouse gases than cars. Eliminate the internal combustion problem, and you’d still have to deal with numberless tons of ruminant redolence floating into Gaia’s celestial nostrils. We’re off the hook: If global warming is organic, doesn’t that make it OK?

Of course not. You can infer the report’s purpose from its title: “Livestock’s Long Shadow.” Meat-eating and the industries required to sustain it are the actual villains, and the list of sins is enormous. As the Independent newspaper put it, the damage ranges “from acid rain to the introduction of alien species, from producing deserts to creating dead zones in the oceans, from poisoning rivers and drinking water to destroying coral reefs.”

Death to cows! Who’s letting them bellyflop on the reefs, anyway?

Obligatory serious-face moment: It is bad that poor farming practices damage the Earth. It is wise to manage livestock pollution well. Introducing aliens is not wise, especially if they’re Klingons and Vulcans, who never get along.

But if you think the purpose of such reports is to underscore the need for reasonable approaches to feeding the increased demand for meat, you have a fine opinion of our betters.

America is not their model; America is the example of what is wrong with progress. The idea of people living in large houses with nice lawns, driving a personal vehicle (by themselves, on the route of their choosing) to the store to buy big steaks subsequently cooked on a carbon-emitting outdoor grill — well, who wants to live like that?

About 6 billion people, if you give them the chance. But forgive them, Kofi; they know not what they do.

The idea of people sitting at home in sweatpants watching a big TV while shoveling in the Haagen-Dazs mortifies the social engineers; they can practically feel the planet wobble on its axis from the cumulative weight of so much freedom and prosperity.

The preferred model for a nice, controlled population is a dense city where your small apartment has a tiny fridge stocked with bean curd molded into pleasant, food-like shapes. Trains take you to your job, which is either building trains, fixing trains, designing public service posters for trains, cleaning trains or writing software to operate trains. Once a week you’ll pull on your best taupe-hued hemp jumpsuit and take the train to the biweekly Culture Expo to hear something held up to enlightened ridicule (anything’s game, except Islam and Global Warming).

It may sound like hell itself, but at least it’s sustainable.

Will the Earth survive Big Macs? Quite possibly. The Earth is so sturdy it took a meteor that reset the clock, and even then everything grew back in a new and improved form. (We still have soulless reptiles eating other soulless reptiles, but they’re confined to entertainment litigation.)

The world will probably survive gassy Bossies. It’s even possible that 100 years hence, science will have concluded that butter is good for you, oil is produced by recurring organic processes, and cyclical weather variations are the result of that big yellow thing in the sky.

If so, the 21st century’s apocalyptic dogmas will look rather silly. The most egregious overheating, it might turn out, was in the scientific climate, not the real one.

Or we’ll all be up to our necks in melted glaciers, in which case we’ll all ride cows to work. They’ll learn to swim. Nature’s clever that way.

Get stories like this in a free daily email


Please keep it civil. Don't post comments that are obscene, defamatory, threatening, off-topic, an infringement of copyright or an invasion of privacy. Read our forum standards and community guidelines.

You must be logged in to post comments. Please log in here or click the comment box below for options.

comments powered by Disqus