Column #182

According to National Public Radio, the new Congressional bill proposed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), called the Green New Deal (GND), has many “lofty goals:”
●    “upgrading all existing buildings” in the country for energy efficiency;
●    working with farmers to “create a sustainable, pollution and greenhouse-gas-free food system that ensures universal access to healthy food and expands independent family farming”;
●    “Overhauling transportation systems” to reduce emissions — including expanding electric car manufacturing, building “charging stations everywhere,” and expanding high-speed rail to “a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary”;
●    A guaranteed job “with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations and retirement security” for every American;
●    Provide to all Americans “high-quality health care, housing, economic security, and healthy food.”

I will not dwell on GND’s 10-year plan for free healthcare, free education, guaranteed high-paying jobs, guarantees of high-quality room and board plus healthcare for everyone, and the remodeling of every building in America. Rather I want to briefly discuss the economics of air travel and then discuss the role ruminants have in global warming.

The energy requirements for various modes of transportation are well known. The Energy Department has a website devoted to it. Certainly if solar, wind, and nuclear power (GND wants to phase out nuclear power) were the basis for generating electricity to power vehicles of all kinds (including many airplanes), that would be a huge win for mankind and the environment. But whether the power is fossil fuel or renewable electricity, the relative transportation costs will remain the same when all modes of transportation use the same power source.

Ships are the most economical form of transportation but they are painfully slow. Airliners are more efficient than passenger trains, commuter trains, transit buses, and automobiles. Since airplanes are much faster than even high speed trains, when man-hours are included in travel costs, aircraft are big winners. Another huge advantage of air travel is the ability to cross large bodies of water quickly, such as the Pacific Ocean, which is something we need to keep in mind.

Part of AOC’s bold proposal is that farmers and ranchers must produce greenhouse-gas-free food. By that I don’t think she’s referring to beans, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, asparagus, and cauliflower. The GND proposal is aimed at eliminating meat from the human diet meaning that raising cattle must stop. The reasoning is that ruminants expel methane gas and are therefore major contributors to global warming. In place of meat, AOC says: “Give your tummy a break! Skip meat/dairy for a meal (easiest is bfast, I do banana & peanut butter).” That is a  quote from her twitter message regarding a recent school assembly she addressed “w/ teens in Queens.”

This viewpoint by vegetarians and PETA organizations exhibits considerable ignorance in how life in the world has always functioned. Yes, all ruminants expel methane gas. So do all other animals, insects (especially termites), bacteria, and . . . humans. That’s because the source of the gas is vegetative material. When vegetation rots, burns, or is digested, methane gas is released. On the other hand, as vegetative material grows above/below ground and in water, carbon gases are sequestered.

Burning fossil fuels is different. Most of the oil being consumed today is thought to have been formed about 65 to 180 million years ago. Yet oil is still being created, just not at a rate scientists have been able to measure. The Department of Energy has a lab that can make oil from algae in one hour. So who knows, the world may never run out of oil! What does that imply regarding carbon sequestration?

Generally, the belief is that every year more oil is extracted and burned than the year before which is why the quantity of methane gas in the atmosphere is also increasing. And it’s thought that burning fossil fuels is far and away the largest contributor to the creation of methane gas. If that were true, a changeover to renewable energy and nuclear power should at some point lower the demand for oil. If so, we’ll gain more insight in the positives that may result. Hopefully it works.

In the interim, denigrating meat and blaming cattle for global warming is a huge stretch. The world’s surface is covered 71% by water. That means 29% of the world’s surface is land. Of the land portion, 33% is desert, 31% forests, 11% crops, and roughly 25% is pastureland which includes cultivated or wild forage crops for animals as well as open land used for grazing.

Probably more than 95% of the world’s pastureland is naturally irrigated and not suitable for crops. What grows best on that land is grasses. Unfortunately humans cannot utilize grass for food even though it’s the foundation food for all animal life. Yet grasses provide essential nutrients including the 1:1 balance of Omega-6 to Omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs). So it’s a good thing ruminants have a unique digestive systems that allow them to thrive on grasses and, because we have acidic digestive systems, we are able to eat ruminants to our benefit.

What happens in the cycle of life is that as grasses gain energy from the sun and nutrients from the soil and air, they grow and sequester carbon gasses. Some animals eat those grasses for energy and nutrients. As they grow, they generate fertilizer and release the carbon gasses. Other animals (predators) eat the ruminants for energy and nutrients creating more fertilizer. The grasses grow back and the cycle continues.

Life in our world has operated that way for the past 400 million plus years. Then along came man and he replaced some of the wild, less efficient ruminants with more efficient cattle. Then he restricted the wild carnivores so more ruminants survived for his benefit.

The grasslands are the same as they’ve always been. The buffalo were replaced by cattle. The wolves, lions, and other predators were replaced by man. The age old cycle is continuing as it has for hundreds of million of years but with different animals.

Ending cattle ranching means the grasslands will not be harvested as they were for all of time. Unless grasses are eaten by a ruminant, they will grow, mature, and die. Some residue will rot and release gases. Some residue will burn (like in California’s Camp Fire where 14,000 residences were destroyed) and release gasses. Some will smother next year’s grass growth slowing sequestration while gasses keep escaping. If wild ruminates eventually take over and the predators return, then what will have changed in the big picture in favor of mankind and the environment?

The answer is: Nothing. That’s because the same cycle we’re experiencing now will continue like it has for all of time. And if we replace grass-fed meats for bananas and peanut butter, I can guarantee you that “free” healthcare costs will soar and very few Americans will be capable of working even if they wanted to.

Our lawmakers need to get real. That doesn’t mean change isn’t good, but we must be very careful about what and how we change.

To your health.

Ted Slanker

Ted Slanker has been reporting on the fundamentals of nutritional research in publications, television and radio appearances, and at conferences since 1999. He condenses complex studies into the basics required for health and well-being. His eBook, The Real Diet of Man, is available online.

Don’t miss these links for additional reading:

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Releases Green New Deal Outline from NPR’s All Things Considered

The Green New Deal H.Res.109 Posted 2/7/19 as Introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass.
Pdf on file

The Fact Sheet and FAQ Posted On the Morning of February 7, 2019 from the official Congressional website of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her Green New Deal. (It was removed from her site shortly after posting.)

Cattle and Methane: More Complicated than First Meets the (Rib) Eye by Stephan Lewandowsky and Asa Wahlquist

Economy of Various Travel Modes by U.S. Department of Energy

How Much Fuel Does an International Plane Use for a Trip? from How Stuff Works

Electric Aircraft from Wikipedia

Smart Energy Solutions: Increase Renewable Energy by Union of Concerned Scientists

Process Development for Hydrothermal Liquefaction of Algae Feedstocks in a Continuous-flow Reactor by Douglas C.Elliott,

Greenhouse Gasses: Causes, Sources and Environmental Effects by Marc Lallanilla from Livescience

Earth’s Land Resources from Annenberg Foundation

The Deadliest, Most Destructive Wildfire in California’s History Has Finally Been Contained by Cleve R. Wootson Jr. at the Washington Post

What Grass Farmers Have Known All Along—Research Shows Grass Sequesters Carbon by Peter Donovan at the Soil Carbon Coalition

Facilitating The Regeneration of Grasslands from The Savory Institute

Is Red Meat Bad for You, or Good? An Objective Look from Healthline

Sun Flyer 2 Completes First Flight with Siemens Electric Motor by Alexis Lincoln at Bye Aerospace