In a paper published last year, Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change member and Oxford professor of geosystem science Myles Allen, entreated those attempting to make science clear and concise for policy makers looking to combat climate change to change the method of representing methane in IPCC calculations.
Specifically, Allen is referring to the “GWP100” metric used to estimate the power various greenhouse gases have on global warming, with CO2 as the benchmark.
“Basing climate policies and emissions trading systems on a metric that doesn’t demonstrate the impact of different pollutants on global temperature presents a serious risk to the reputation of environmental policy, and risks undermining public confidence,” Allen said of his paper.
WaL has reported extensively on the poor accounting, reasoning, and evidence behind a now generally-accepted theory that in order to prevent 1.5° C of warming, we must drastically reduce the presence of specifically cows in our agriculture systems.
The faulty rationale can be simply explained — cows produce methane, which is said to have a GWP of 34x the impact of CO2, so it’s considered much more serious. But a cursory knowledge of the literature would reveal that methane lasts, depending on which agency is reporting it, between 10-15 years in the atmosphere. CO2 on the other hand lasts for thousands of years.
“The standard metrics of methane and other short lived greenhouse gases simply do not do the maths right; they get both the short term and long term impacts wrong by substantial amounts, and are not a sound basis for planning public policy,” stated the co-author of the report, physics professor Raymond Pierrehumbert.
In their paper, the authors demonstrate that any increase or decrease in short-lived greenhouse gases, like methane, actually quite rapidly affect the temperatures experienced on earth, whereas equivalent decreases in CO2 have no affect on decreasing the warming they already caused.
This rather simple and estimable calculation should help to refocus policy makers back where it really matters which is essentially transportation, industry, and energy. To continue demonizing beef as a serious polluter, risks, as Allen said “the reputation of environmental policy, and… undermining public confidence”.
But is it too late? Major implications from this faulty metric have already percolated across western culture, and it may be a genie that proves difficult to put back in the bottle.
The 2007 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) titled Livestock’s Long Shadow used this faulty metric in addition to others, such as reviewing the entire industry life cycle of beef and their byproducts and compared it only to tailpipe emissions for passenger vehicles to produce a vis-à-vis comparison of beef to the transportation sector. That report received almost 200 citations in scientific papers, and informed documentaries like Conspiracy, which said livestock contribute staggeringly to 51% of the global greenhouse gas emissions.
It was the genesis of articles in the largest American media outlets, like the NY Times, and Fox. New York Public Schools announced that in more than 1,800 school houses serving 1 million meals daily, a trend will be observed called Meatless Monday which is also followed by 150 American universities, and 11 New York City hospitals.
Stock value and supply of soy and bean-based false protein companies exploded in value, and were bought up by Bill Gates, who is now the largest farmland owner in the U.S., presumably to supply soy, corn, and pea for his products.
While in reality, at least in America, cattle herd sizes have continuously shrunk over the last few decades, primarily due to improving technology in the dairy sector, the risk of damaging “the reputation of environmental policy, and… [of] undermining public confidence,” became a reality long ago.