Grass-fed Beef and Climate Change – Arg!

I should say a few things outright before we get into this.

First, I really like to eat animals.  I feel much better with a fairly high protein diet.  But I hate CAFOs; styrofoam and plastic packaged beef, and the whole corn thing.  So, I buy beeve quarters (approximately 90 lbs) a few times a year.  If you are in northern Colorado I get my awesome grass-fed beef here (it actually comes from Glenrock, WY) and here (I visited this farm and even went to the slaughter house with them).  If you aren’t in northern Colorado, check here to find a grass-fed source near you!

But here’s the contradiction:  I recently found out that there is controversy about whether grass-fed beef are actually worse for climate change than corn-fed feedlot cattle.

Here’s the second outright thing I have to say:  I am not 100% sold on climate change.  (gasp!)

I am a climate change agnostic.  In college I had an entire class on the climate change theory; I left that class fairly convinced.  But since then I have encountered new data that has increased my uncertainty.  Plus, events such as the climategate/IPCC scandal really shake my confidence in whether solid science is actually being carried out or whether the science is being politically driven.  Before climate change, before global warming, there was global cooling (the link goes to a 1975 Newsweek article about how the earth’s temperatures have been cooling for the last 30 years).

Why am I agnostic?  In my opinion, even if climate change turns out to be the Spontaneous Generation theory of our days, there are still many reasons to decrease carbon use.  Fossil fuels are very, extremely SLOWLY (did I mention just how slow) renewable, so it makes sense to be wise in our use of them.  Carbon dioxide increases acid rain.  I don’t like breathing exhaust when I’m running or biking on the side of the road.

This what happens when I ride my bike.

Back to my hamburger.  I feel good about eating grass-fed beef; I don’t think the cow has suffered; I think it has been able to live and behave in the way of a cow.  My beef comes from (at most) 250 miles away, which isn’t great in terms of fossil fuels used, but isn’t as bad as Iowa or eastern Kansas.  Fuel isn’t used to truck in corn and manure isn’t trucked out; air and water pollution doesn’t increase as with CAFOs.

But apparently grass-fed cows, because they actually ruminate, produce more greenhouse gases.

Here’s a link to a Discovery News article and here’s another link to a Washington Post article.

As you read these articles you will see that it is still controversial: do the pastures provide bigger carbon sinks than the methane created by the animals?  Which is more significant:  the hormones, pesticides and antibiotics along with pollution in the CAFOs or the methane produced by the happy cows in pastures?

I don’t have an answer to any of these questions.  Climate change?  Grass-fed beef?  I try to be educated.  I try to act in the way I think is most supportive of my values.  Then contradictions such as this one occur.  Do I value the quality of a cow’s life (which I know some people think is ridiculous) or do I act to decrease carbon?  Right now I’m going with valuing life and I’m going to keep learning.

I struggle mightily with contradictions such as these.  I believe my actions show who I am.  But what if my actions are supporting two things at once and I agree with one thing and disagree with the other?  In the past I would get analysis paralysis.  I’m getting better at continuing to act and not being so definite, so black and white.  But I still struggle, get frustrated, and occasionally flat out give up.  I take a break, then I get going again.  It’s all I know to do.


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