Episode 272. Methane?

This is The ChangeUnderground for the 4th of October 2021.

I’m your host, Jon Moore

Decarbonise the Air, Recarbonise the Soil!


I wandered over to Apple’s podcasts connect feature the other day for the first time in a long time. I’m setting up a podcast program at work and needed to refresh my knowledge of the site. To my surprise I found a few ratings and reviews. One from “Fan in Ireland” ​​madsmckeever had the words: “Do keep broadcasting, it is not a void.” and for these words I thank you.

And from Jeaylove in Australia, more kind words, thank you too. 

It was fortuitous I stumbled upon these this week as two days prior to this episode’s publication date, I turned 60. It is one day prior as I write this. Of all the landmark birthdays this one has me thinking. Firstly, “Wow, I made it!” Given the risks I’ve taken over those years, the scars and stitches and hospitalisations it is a thing to be here. Then I’m looking at what I’ve achieved, no, that’s not the right word… How have I made the world a better place than it was in 1961. Stumbling upon feedback of such an encouraging nature soothed the soul. I’m still not sure of the “meaning” of life, 42, maybe, who’s to know? I did see a summary of what we actually know, at the deepest possible level and this too is strangely comforting. 

We’re in an ongoing explosion, [The Big Bang] and sometimes dust thinks [humans]. And that’s it.


Now to methane.

Well, more than methane but let’s start with methane. This compound is constantly cited as one of reasons cattle in particular and ruminants in general are a GHG problem. Methane is a potent GHG ten times more potent than CO2 but much more short lived. Ruminants burp methane. Therefore ruminants are bad for GHG accumulation in the atmosphere. But…

Let’s think this through. At present, give or take, there are 90 million cattle in the US. In 1800 there were 60 million bison. To that number we should add the cattle population of the US but I’m having difficulty finding that number which like the Bison would be a guess and probably an underestimation. I would argue the numbers in 1800 of bison and cattle would not have been too different from the total cattle numbers now. It turns out bison are ruminants too. This means the ruminant supplied methane to the global system is unlikely to be much different now from 1800, based upon these US figures. 

Ruminants evolved about 50 million years ago (Link in the show notes) so their methane contribution to the atmosphere is part of the natural carbon cycle. Compared to the methane created by decomposing food waste in land fill, to the by-products of industry, the humble cow cops way too much.

I have no evidence but, always a great way to start a sentence but I digress. This smells much like the personal carbon footprint nonsense advocated for by British Petroleum (Link in the show notes). If the blame for climate change can be sheeted home to guilt ridden developed world white people, corporations can continue to print money and pump CO2 into the atmosphere. By blaming the cow rather than the industrial economy with its food waste and polluting technology then the corporations have yet another win. 

Cows as Greenhouse Evil

And it is upon the methane argument that we constantly hear references to cows being bad for the environment, for needing to go vegan and for meatless mondays. The argument is added to with the notion that all the grain used in feedlots for finishing cattle should just be fed directly to humans. There’s something in this but the next leap in logic goes like this: If we stopped everyone eating cattle we could feed four times the current world population on what we feed cattle. This is obviously specious. Feedlot cattle do not spend all their lives eating grain. That would kill them. Feedlot cattle spend twelve to eighteen months grazing. That grazing occurs in many instances on land that cannot be used for grain production. We are in effect getting free feed from cattle, especially those grassed finished beasts. Humans cannot eat grasses and other pasture species. Ruminants can and in so doing convert sunlight to food through the wonders of photosynthesis and plant growth. 


Another aspect often sidestepped or even forgotten by the zero beef mob is the huge amounts of GHGs produced in the production of grains. From the diesel to run the tractors and headers to the fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides and erosion killing waterways and soil health there is nothing particularly “Green” or inherently climate friendly in grain production. Remember back in episode 246 we discussed the results of this “modern” system and its end result of one third of the US corn belt growing cereals in subsoil. 

There is also good evidence for beef or meat of some sort, even fish, as part of the human diet. See the monograph “Sacred Cow” by Diana Rodgers and Robb Wolf for a well argued case for meat in the human diet.

We need to confront this “beef is evil” paradigm wherever we find it. It has become so pervasive as to be taken as a truth. Such “notables” and I use the world trepidatiously, as George Monbiot who’s misinformation I covered back in episode 158 is a notable serial offender. The evils of beef does seem to be more a UK than a US, Ireland, Canada or Australia thing but it is leaking across UK borders and with COP26 in Glasgow coming up, the potential for this nonsense to spread and to do damage in the process is evident. I think I’ve established over the past 5 and half plus years that grazing animals in general and cows in particular have a place in reversing the accumulation of GHGs by building soil carbon matter.

In the meantime we can assist the processes that continue on the farms, smallholdings and gardens of the world by voting with our cash everytime we shop for food or voting with our time by gardening and if you’re thinking about or even ready to make the leap into growing your own food go to the website: https://worldorganicnews.com/freeebook/ and you can obtain a free copy of The ChangeUnderground No-Dig Gardening System.

I’m also back as far as episode 154 in republishing the transcripts since the “great website crash”of earlier this year. Hopefully I’ll have all the transcripts up by the end of 2021.

And don’t forget the Facebook Group: ChangeUndergound Podcast Group

Decarbonise the air and Recarbonise the soil.

Thank you all for listening and I’ll be back next week.




The ChangeUnderground Academy No-Dig Gardening Course:


FREE eBook: https://worldorganicnews.com/freeebook/

email: jon@worldorganicnews.com


Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1546564598887681

Bubugo Conservation Trust


Cattle numbers in the US: https://www.statista.com/statistics/194297/total-number-of-cattle-and-calves-in-the-us–since-2001/

Bison in the US 1800: http://www.ozarkbisons.com/aboutbison.php

Ruminant Evolved: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20338409/#:~:text=The%20first%20ruminants%20evolved%20about,kg)%20forest%2Ddwelling%20omnivores.

Personal Carbon Footprint: https://mashable.com/feature/carbon-footprint-pr-campaign-sham

Episode 246: https://worldorganicnews.com/episode246

George Monbot: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Monbiot

Episode 158: https://worldorganicnews.com/episode158

COP26: https://ukcop26.org/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *