Grass-fed beef is bad for the planet and causes climate change

Cows grazing

Still a problematic part of the menu

FLPA/John Eveson/REX/Shutterstock

Prince Charles is wrong to support grass-fed beef. The idea that beef from cows raised on bucolic pastures is good for the environment, and that we can therefore eat as much meat as we want, doesn’t add up. New calculations suggest cattle pastures contribute to climate change.

“Sadly, though it would be nice if the pro-grazers were right, they aren’t,” says lead author Tara Garnett of the University of Oxford’s Food Climate Research Network. “The truth is, we cannot eat as much meat as we like and save the planet.”

Many meat eaters have long felt guilty that the beef steaks they love are bringing environmental disaster.

A key problem is that microorganisms in the guts of cattle emit millions of tonnes of methane every year. A typical cow releases 100 kilograms of methane a year and the world has about a billion of them. Since methane is a greenhouse gas, this exacerbates global warming.

Meanwhile, feeding the beasts destroys forests by taking land for pasture or to grow feed – and this deforestation also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

But a counter-view has gained currency. First popularised by Zimbabwean ecologist and livestock farmer Allan Savory, and supported by organic farmers like Prince Charles, it argues that grazing cattle on pastures is actually good for the climate.

The idea is that plants on pastures capture carbon from the air, especially when fertilised by manure. Pastures should also reduce our need for food crops grown on land that releases carbon when ploughed.

Doing the sums

Confused by conflicting claims, Garnett and her colleagues calculated the flow of greenhouse gases into and out of pastures. She found that “in some circumstances, you can get carbon capture, but not always and the effect is small. You cannot extrapolate from a nicely run Dorset farm to a global food strategy.”

At best, carbon capture only offsets 20 to 60 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions from grazing, mostly the methane from cattle. “And the carbon capture stops after a few decades,” says Garnett, when the carbon-enriched soils reach equilibrium with the air. “Meanwhile, the cattle continue to belch methane.”

Her findings are published in a report, Grazed and Confused?

The analysis is more comprehensive than past studies, says Tim Benton at the University of Leeds, UK. “It asks, if we are to eat meat, is there a better way to grow it? The answer is: not really.”

Less meat

Supporters of cattle grazing aren’t giving up just yet, though. Some say cattle have simply replaced wild ruminants, which also release methane. But Garnett points out that many cattle, especially in the tropics, graze on former forest land. In places such as the Brazilian Amazon, clearing trees for cattle causes massive greenhouse gas emissions.

At low densities of around one animal per hectare, carbon capture in soils could still exceed methane emissions, says Richard Young of the Sustainable Food Trust in Bristol, UK, which supports cattle grazing. However, he concedes that this isn’t true at higher densities.

Garnett’s conclusion is supported by a study published on 29 September, which found that methane emissions from cattle are 11 per cent larger than older methods would suggest, and thus a bigger contributor to global warming (Carbon Balance and Management,

“We need to reduce emissions from livestock,” says Benton. “That needs to come from dietary change.”


If McDonald’s is serious about reducing its carbon footprint, it may need to rethink the hamburger

The company has an ambitious-sounding plan to curb its emissions. But can it really take a meaningful stance on climate change while selling more Big Macs?


In late March, McDonald’s issued a bold press releaseannouncing major cuts to its greenhouse gas emissions—a plan that will require the company to rethink not only how it lights and fuels its restaurants, but also how it sources its beef, which the company says amounts to 29 percent of its carbon footprint.

The changes will “enable McDonald’s to grow as a business without growing its emissions” through 2030, according to the press release, which offers some dazzling figures: a 36 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from restaurants and offices, and a 31 percent reduction in “emissions intensity” from its supply chain (including  beef), which will prevent the release of 150 million metric tons of greenhouse gas.

But a closer look at the company’s “science-based” plan, which is completely voluntary and largely unverifiable, raises questions about how meaningful the emissions cuts will be.

McDonald’s has to contend with a body of science that suggests we need to reduce our beef consumption.

The company’s announcement, nevertheless, speaks to the company’s growing awareness of the economic challenges that climate change is expected to bring in the decades ahead.  Changing weather patterns will create more inconsistent agricultural conditions, while government regulators—in any of the 120 countrieswhere McDonald’s operates—could impose carbon taxes that also raise production costs.

The company is also thinking about consumers. As noted in its most recent annual report to investors: “the ongoing relevance of our brand may depend on the success of our sustainability initiatives, which require system-wide coordination and alignment.”

Given its burger-centric business model, McDonald’s may have a tough row to hoe trying to brand itself as a leader on climate change. Beef production emits more greenhouse gas than almost any other food we produce. And McDonald’s is one of the largest buyers in the world, last year reporting using 1.6 billion pounds of beef, a mountain of meat that casts an enormous carbon footprint.

When pressed for details about how it intends to reduce emissions from beef, McDonald’s would not offer many specifics.

“We are looking for ways to incorporate soil health initiatives into our supply chain sustainability programs through managed grazing practices and regenerative agricultural practices,” said Terri Hickey, McDonald’s senior manager of global corporate communications, in an email. She directed me toward materials that appear focused on the company’s previous beef sustainability goal, which was aimed at 2020.

McDonald’s overall carbon footprint may not change much, even if the company meets its proposed “reductions.”

As McDonald’s trumpets the “science” surrounding its greenhouse gas mitigation plan, the company increasingly has to contend with a body of science that suggests many of us need to reduce our beef consumption. This prescription is coming not just from public-health experts but also from climate scientists, who point to the high environmental costs of beef production.

Climate change doesn’t augur the end of red meat in our diets, or the collapse of McDonald’s, but it could mean significant dietary changes for many of us in the future.  While it seems unthinkable that the company would retire its iconic Big Mac and beefy Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese, our changing climate is a good reason to wonder whether cheap beef will still be the centerpiece on McDonald’s menu in the decades ahead.

Beef’s big impacts

Animal agriculture, as a whole, contributes around 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, with beef cattle being the largest emitters, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UNFAO). Because cows digest food via enteric fermentation, they produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas, in their burps. Cattle production’s carbon footprint also includes the greenhouse gases from growing and fertilizing feed corn, as well as manure-related emissions.

Cows also have high environmental impacts because they give birth to one calf at a time instead of producing litters like pigs, says Gidon Eshel, an environmental science professor at Bard College in New York.

This biological reality may be difficult to change, but Eshel says if McDonald’s is serious about making emissions reductions, there are a lot of little things the company’s beef suppliers could do to become “less inefficient.” Still, reducing emissions meaningfully also likely means reducing consumption, he says.

Beef cattle require 28 times more land and 11 times more water than other farm animals on average, and emit five times more greenhouse gas

“The real question one must ask first about any environmental choice is not how large it is, but how easy would it be to cut it by an order of magnitude,” Eshel says.

For example, Eshel says, a modern, fuel efficient vehicle might get three times more miles to the gallon than an old gas-guzzler, presenting as much as a three-fold reduction in emissions.  Even more significant emissions cuts might be gained by shifting agriculture from beef cattle to almost any other kind of food production, he says. (That being said, beef cattle can be raised on marginal lands where it is difficult to grow other foods).

2014 study Eshel co-authored reported that beef is the second most commonly consumed source of calories in the U.S., but, according to his estimates, beef cattle require 28 times more land, 11 times more water, and emit five times more greenhouse gas than other farm animals, on average.

According to Eshel’s estimates, the 1.6 billion pounds of beef that McDonald’s used last year would produce around 22 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. That’s equivalent to the average emissions you’d see from 4.8 million cars in a given year. Or, viewed another way, it amounts to one-third of one percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, says Eshel.

Reducing emissions meaningfully would also mean reducing consumption.

“One product, served by a single company, is a third of a percent of the total,” Eshel says. “I think it’s worth pausing and absorbing this.”

Emissions estimates, however, are not an exact or settled science—and the actual footprint of McDonald’s beef could be much lower or higher than Eshel estimates. Scientists are always rethinking how to calculate emissions, but they are clear that current beef production has a larger carbon footprint than most other foods we eat.

A groundbreaking study published last year and funded by NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System research initiative, found that methane emissions from livestock are probably higher than previously estimated—as much as 11 percent higher than prevailing estimates offered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2006. It’s a finding that should factor into McDonald’s greenhouse gas targets.

Ghassem Asrarone of the study’s co-authors and the director of the Joint Global Change Research Institute, nevertheless, is sanguine about the “basket” of interventions livestock producers can draw on to reduce methane emissions, like better manure management.

Some of these interventions could increase the cost of production, however, which could also mean increasing the cost of burgers at McDonald’s, emblematic of the trade-offs that will work against the fast-food giant.

While Asrar thinks there are many ways the beef industry can and should reduce emissions, he is also clear that reducing consumption is part of the solution.

“That’s the general conclusion that the majority of published research reached,” says Asrar. “We have to manage our meat consumption if you want to reduce our footprint.”

The beef industry, citing its own science, sees things slightly differently.

Our changing climate is a good reason to wonder whether cheap beef will still be the centerpiece on McDonald’s menu in the decades ahead.

“Reducing consumption of beef, especially in the U.S. will do little towards mitigating climate change, and could cause significant sustainability issues with our entire system,” according to the U.S. Roundtable for Beef Sustainability, which hails U.S. beef as the “most efficient production system in the world.”

The Roundtable, citing its goal to “be the trusted global leader in environmentally sound, socially responsible and economically viable beef,” recently released a “sustainability framework” that addresses greenhouse gas emissions.  Its draft recommendations include things like the use of pharmaceuticals to promote faster animal growth.

Administered, in part, by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a beef lobby group, the Roundtable’s members include meatpackers like JBS and Tyson, as well as a host of other companies that feed into the beef production model—like seed and animal pharmaceutical companies—and whose business interests are threatened by dietary shifts away from beef. It also includes fast-food companies like McDonald’s.

Fact-checking McDonald’s science

McDonald’s press release used the word “science” seven times, noting that its “science-based” program will “prevent 150 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from being released into the atmosphere by 2030,” equal to taking “32 million passenger cars off the road for an entire year.”

But the science that informs the company’s emissions reduction program merits scrutiny.

McDonald’s annually reports data about its carbon footprint through a non-profit group called the CDP (previously the Carbon Disclosure Project). The CDP, however, charges companies an administrative fee to participate in its disclosure process, creating financial ties that erode the scientific independence of the project.

McDonald's quarter pounder with cheeseMcDonald’s

Avoiding the worst impacts of our changing climate means making major emission reductions—real, verifiable, science-based reductions—that may include Americans eating fewer burgers

Independence is paramount because carbon footprint calculations are subject to variations in how the data are measured, reported, and interpreted by regulatory bodies and accountability initiatives, as well as to political and economic influence.

For example, McDonald’s told me it has already “reassessed” its 2015 emissions data (it wouldn’t provide a copy), which will serve as a baseline for its planned emissions reductions through 2030. But how do we have confidence that McDonald’s data reporting and reassessments aren’t just clever accounting and paper trading?

“It’s a good method to get the most credits for your cuts: You inflate your baseline and then whatever cuts you make are much greater,” says Shefali Sharma, director of the European arm of an advocacy group called the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. “Independent verification is key to understanding whether McDonald’s 2015 data is reliable.”

McDonald’s press release prominently notes that its emissions-reduction program has been “approved” by the “Science-Based Target Initiative,” which is managed by the World Resources Institute and the United Nations Global Compact—and also the World Wildlife Fund and CDP (both of which McDonald’s funds). In other words, it’s also not independent of McDonald’s.

Alberto Pineda, director of the initiative (and also associated with the World Wildlife Fund and CDP), says conflicts of interest are managed in a few ways, including through a “consensus” process where all of the initiative’s partners have to agree on emissions targets.

How do we have confidence that McDonald’s data reporting and reassessments aren’t just clever accounting and paper trading?

Pineda also clarifies that McDonalds’ supply chain emissions—the large bulk of the company’s carbon footprint, including its beef supply—are expected to “flatline” through 2030. That means McDonalds’ overall carbon footprint may not change much, even if the company meets its proposed “reductions.” Rather than reducing emissions, it may be more accurate to say the company’s plans are focused on not increasing emissions. If you squint at the press release, and look past the impressive-sounding 36 percent cuts in emissions, you’ll see that the company notes that its plan will “enable McDonald’s to grow as a business without growing its emissions.”

But avoiding the worst impacts of our changing climate doesn’t just mean not growing emissions; it means making major emission reductions—real, verifiable, science-based reductions. And that may include Americans eating fewer burgers.

“Coming up with proxy targets for companies that volunteer to do so on a self-reporting basis does not get us there,” notes Sharma, who is skeptical of industry taking the lead on climate change. “Moreover, it actually has the potential of deceiving consumers that indulging in this company’s products is helping the planet, when in effect, it may actually be increasing the company’s absolute emissions.”

The economic threat of climate change

As early as 2009, McDonald’s began advising investors about the potential liabilities the company faces related to climate change. In the most recent annual report it filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company notes “there is a possibility that governmental initiatives, or actual or perceived effects of changes in weather patterns, climate, or water resources, could have a direct impact on the operations of the System in ways which we cannot predict at this time.”

While beef remains cheap and abundant, McDonald’s may quietly be rethinking its burger-as-usual business model.

Climate change is expected to manifest increasingly volatile weather, like droughts and rising temperatures, that could interfere with feed grain (corn) production, the building blocks of beef in the current U.S. feedlot production model. At the same time, as McDonald’s hints, “governmental initiatives“ could start asking the agricultural sector to pay the greenhouse-gas costs associated with all the manure that beef cattle produce, the methane they belch, and the fertilizers used to grow the corn that feeds them. This would almost certainly raise the price of beef, possibly substantially.

Government initiatives could also target McDonald’s customers, like publishing nutritional guidelines recommending reduced beef consumption. China, a major growth market for the Golden Arches, recently revised its national dietary guidelines in an effort to reduce meat consumption by 50 percent, a prescription widely cited as having both public health and environmental import. Similar guidelines were underway in the U.S., but were foiled by an intense lobby effort from the meat industry.

As these pressures loom over the company, beef remains cheap and abundant, for the moment, in places like the U.S. Still, McDonald’s may quietly be rethinking its burger-as-usual business model.

Just before McDonald’s announced its greenhouse emissions plan, the company shared a major marketing initiative to promote sales of chicken—a meat that Americans eat far more of than beef, and that, in current production models, has a far smaller carbon footprint than beef. A veggie burger on the menu could reduce emissions even further.

“I would be quite surprised if, in the short-term, McDonald’s or other burger joints abandoned beef altogether, and I don’t really think that is necessary for meeting either their targets or societal [climate] targets,” says Martin Heller, a researcher in the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan. “It may mean offering menu options with smaller beef portions, and/or discontinuing large portion options. It likely will also mean introducing more non-beef options including (one would hope) plant-based alternatives.”

Climate change is expected to manifest increasingly volatile weather, like droughts and rising temperatures, that could interfere with feed grain (corn) production, the building blocks of beef in the current U.S. feedlot production model

In this regard, McDonald’s appears decidedly behind the curve, as many of its competitors have already begun expanding menus in this direction. This year, the drive-in fast-food chain Sonic introduced a new burger made from 25 percent mushrooms, marketed not only as environmentally friendly but also healthier than an all-beef patty. Burger King has long had a veggie burger on its menu; Carl’s Jr. has a meatless sandwich called the “Veg it Guacamole Thickburger;” and White Castle sells a veggie-patty version of its famous sliders.

McDonald’s is still in the courtship phase with veggie burgers in different markets. After a short test run in Finland last fall with a new, soy-based McVegan burger, the company made it a permanent menu option last December—but only in Finland and Sweden. “As the main ingredient is plant-based, the McVegan is considered to have a smaller climate impact,” a McDonald’s spokesperson told reporters.

As Heller suggests, another option fast-food restaurants could pursue to reduce beef-related emissions is simply shrinking the size of their burgers. That would reduce costs for the companies, and presumably make it easier to keep cheap burgers at the center of their menus going forward.

Right now, McDonald’s menu seems to focus on getting customers to buy more burger, not less. A Quarter Pounder with Cheese, fries, and a drink comes in just under $7 at my local McDonald’s. You can add another quarter-pound patty (making the burger a half-pounder) for only about a dollar more.

A grass-fed Big Mac?

Though McDonald’s has yet to publicize specific details about how it will reduce emissions from its beef supply, the company has pledged a $4.5 million grant to Arizona State University to study the climate benefits of Adaptive Multi-Paddock (AMP) grazing.

All cattle in the U.S. spend the first part of their lives grazing on pasture, but the vast majority are “finished” on crowded feedlots where they are fattened with corn. A recent study published in the journal Agricultural Systems found that keeping cattle on pasture their entire lives, and intensively rotating them across grasslands in the AMP model, could lead to major reductions in the carbon footprint of beef.

“It is hard to imagine that the very powerful commodity crop and beef organizations would back any beef/climate related policy.”

The study challenges previous research showing that feedlot cattle have a smaller carbon footprint than those finished on pasture. But even if AMP finishing is widely adopted and can deliver emissions reductions, it comes with a major tradeoff; it produces far less beef than feedlots.

I asked the lead author of the new AMP grazing study how much of the current volume of beef production could be sustained if finishing moved from the dominant feedlot model to AMP grazing.

“It’s safe to say that more than half could be produced,” says Paige Stanley, an environmental science graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, who acknowledges the political and economic implications of slashing production by close to half.

“There are many actors and driving forces that will determine the future of beef production,” Stanley told me later via email. “It is hard to imagine that the very powerful commodity crop and beef organizations would back any beef/climate related policy.”

These powerful interests are some of McDonald’s closest partners in its work on beef sustainability (see herehere, and here), and these groups are unlikely to allow the highly productive corn-fed feedlot beef model go quietly into the night. Under current U.S. agricultural policy, feedlot beef is inexpensive and plentiful, which feeds McDonald’s business model and the customers who buy from its dollar menu.

That may be why McDonald’s research funding is limited to comparing the benefits of AMP grazing to other grazing models. Reconsidering feedlot finishing, project lead Peter Byck of Arizona State University tells me, is off the table.

SCIENCE MATTERS: Curbing industry’s methane emissions gives Canada a leading edge 



Canada has taken a major step in cleaning up its oil and gas sector. We’re the first country to commit to methane emission regulations for the industry, marking an important shift toward climate protection.

The new regulations help uphold a major plank in the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, under which Canada committed to cutting oil and gas industry methane pollution by 40 to 45 percent over the next eight years. The policy represents the most significant contribution to holding industry accountable for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.

Why is this a big deal?

Methane is one of the most powerful greenhouse gases. Over a 20-year period, it’s 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a climate pollutant. Scientists estimate it’s responsible for 25 percent of already observed disruption to Earth’s climate, so reducing it has been prioritized as a top global climate solution.

The oil and gas industry is the largest emitter of methane here and in many countries. That’s why the federal regulations are so important and why they must be strictly enforced.

Last year, the International Energy Agency reported that the oil and gas industry emits about 76 million tonnes of methane worldwide every year. It also found 75 percent of those can be easily reduced, and about 50 percent could be reduced at no net cost, or even for a profit because industry can sell the captured gas.

Drew Nelson—a leading world expert on methane and the Environmental Defense Fund’s international affairs director and a former U.S. climate negotiator under the Obama administration—told the David Suzuki Foundation Canada’s role is important: “Reducing oil and gas methane emissions is the single most effective action we can take to prevent the warming of our climate today. If every country around the world followed Canada’s methane reduction lead, it would have the climate impact of closing one-third of the world’s coal-fired electricity plants.”

Canada must act because scientific evidence shows the problem is bigger than claimed.

Peer-reviewed research from the David Suzuki Foundation and others confirms that federal and provincial governments and industry vastly under-report our oil and gas industry’s methane emissions. Research published last year by the Foundation and St. Francis Xavier University found methane emissions from B.C.’s oil and gas industry are at least 2.5 times higher than industry and government report.

Solutions are at hand. Cutting methane emissions from the oil and gas sector is one of the least expensive, most effective ways to address climate change. If industry cleans up leaking methane, it will create jobs and save the very resource it wants to sell. Yet many in industry, even with economic benefits, are reluctant to fulfil their climate responsibilities, so we need government intervention.

For the new federal regulations to be effective, government must hold provinces accountable for meeting or exceeding the benchmark. But provinces are going in different directions on how they will shrink methane pollution. Some are proposing concessions to the oil and gas industry that, if enacted, would result in fewer emissions reductions and create imbalances across the country.

The B.C. government, on the other hand, is positioning itself as a leader. It has committed to extending the carbon tax to methane emissions, as outlined in its 2017 confidence and supply agreement. But industry pressure to enact weak regulations could also occur in B.C.

B.C. should seize this opportunity and implement strong provincial regulations, apply the carbon tax to methane emissions and create jobs in oil and gas to clean up the industry.

With these federal regulations, the B.C. government has a clear responsibility: to set the gold standard for climate protection as citizens, communities and industry work to reach our country’s climate targets while modernizing our economy.

It’s been a long time since B.C. led North America on climate with its groundbreaking approach to building a cleaner economy through the carbon tax — an approach that has shown results. The province now has a chance to lead again by setting the course for national efforts. The test will be whether the federal government can remain firm in the face of industry opposition and require provinces to achieve verifiable progress to shrink methane pollution consistent with Canada’s Paris Agreement climate target.


Science Matters is a weekly column on issues related to science and the environment from David Suzuki, written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation science and policy director Ian Bruce. Learn more at


 May 06, 2018 11:57 AM PDT Updated: May 06, 2018 11:57 AM PDT

This Thursday, May 3, 2018 photo shows dozens of horse carcasses lying in a dry watering near Cameron, Ariz.
CAMERON, Arizona –Off a northern Arizona highway surrounded by pastel-colored desert is one of the starkest examples of drought’s grip on the American Southwest:  Nearly 200 dead horses surrounded by cracked earth, swirling dust, and a ribbon of water that couldn’t quench their thirst.  Flesh exposed and in various stages of decomposition, the carcasses form a circle around a dry watering hole sunken in the landscape, CBS affiliate KPHO reports.

It’s clear this isn’t the first time the animals have struggled.  Skeletal remains are scattered on the fringes and in an adjacent ravine.

It’s a symptom of a burgeoning wild horse population and the scarcity of water on the western edge of the Navajo Nation following a dry winter and dismal spring runoff.

According to the Navajo Nation, 191 horses died of natural causes.

“These animals were searching for water to stay alive.  In the process, they unfortunately burrowed themselves into the mud and couldn’t escape because they were so weak,” Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez said in a statement on Thursday.

A grim photo posted by the Navajo Nation shows the horses, many of them in mud up to their thighs and even their necks.

Conditions aren’t forecast to improve anytime soon, and tribal officials suspect other animals have died with not enough to eat or drink.

“One of the things we do is we picture the worst-case scenario when we got out there,” said Harlan Cleveland of the tribe’s Department of Emergency Management.  “I did smell the decomposition and the bodies starting to smell, the carcasses.  But I didn’t realize until I looked down from the berm and saw all those horses down there.”

Here, drought doesn’t manifest in having to shut down swimming pools or let lawns go dry.

This rural community does not have its own potable water source.  Those who have running water in their homes get it from a well, piped from over 30 miles (48.2 kilometers) away.  Most haul water, carrying large plastic tanks in the beds of their pickup trucks.  The groundwater is brackish and recommended for livestock only, but the two storage tanks closest to the watering hole no longer function.

Animals were accustomed to finding relief at the stock pond where the horses died, but locals say the pool of water beneath the decades-old earthen dam has dried up more quickly each year. Families have been downsizing their herds because they can’t rely on the vegetation or watering holes.  Some have hauled water and left it in troughs for animals.

Charlie Smith Jr. climbed the small berm overlooking the watering hole three weeks ago in search of his cattle.  At the time, he counted 29 dead horses and a cow that wasn’t his stranded at the edge looking up at him.

“It’s very emotional,” he said, standing beside his truck loaded with hay.  “I kept calling my sister saying, ‘this is bad.’  It just hits you.  You tear up.  You know you don’t have the capability to save them.”

Tribal officials counted 118 dead horses and two cows this week, but that tally doesn’t account for any carcasses that might have been pushed deeper into the mud by the other struggling animals, or for skeletal remains.

Tribal officials estimate tens of thousands of feral horses on the Navajo Nation, the country’s largest reservation spanning 27,000 square miles (69,929.679 square kilometers) in Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico.  Some communities have called for roundups, but often they’re halted with public outcry tied to Navajo spiritual beliefs about the animals and the role they play in prayers and ceremonies.

When Emmett Kerley was a teenager in the late 1970s in Gray Mountain, the community controlled horse populations by castrating the smaller ones, he said.  Navajo culture taught that young men should train horses and tame them, part of building endurance, a strong work ethic and managing livestock, he said.

“There were no feral horses back then, but then the society changed in greater America but on Navajo, on the reservation as well,” he said.

Staff with the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs put up a barbed wire fence around the watering hole where horses laid overlapping one another.

Federal and tribal workers this week used heavy equipment to bring horses found on the outskirts closer to the others.  Hydrated lime was spread over the site to aid decomposition and to ward off scavengers.  Friday’s work focused on collapsing the berm and burying the animals on site.

Eventually, the tribe will redirect any water that flowed into that watering hole into a safer area.

“Knock on wood, God forbid, that we have that situation anywhere else within the reservation,” Cleveland said.  “This will lay the foundation for how we respond to this.”

For all the devastation, there was a bright spot.  As Cleveland surveyed ground earlier this week determining how best to respond to the deaths, he saw a foal – no more than four weeks old – moving next to what was assumed to be its mother.

Tribal officials carried it to a truck and used a long-sleeved, white T-shirt to keep it warm for the trip to a veterinary clinic 45 minutes away.  They named her Grace.

Erin Hisrich, who owns the clinic, said Grace was severely dehydrated and will need to have her blood-sugar stabilized and kidneys functioning before she could be adopted.  On Thursday, the brown foal with a long patch of white hair on its face splashed in a tub of water and cozied up to visitors.

“In the end, that made my day responding to this emergency and this chaotic scene,” Cleveland said.  “At least this baby foal made it out.”

Sea ice floats near the coast of West Antarctica as seen from a window of a NASA Operation IceBridge airplane on October 27, 2016 in-flight over Antarctica. (Photo: Mario Tama / Getty Images) Sea ice floats near the coast of West Antarctica as seen from a window of a NASA Operation IceBridge airplane on October 27, 2016, in-flight over Antarctica. (Photo: Mario Tama / Getty Images)

Janine Jackson: Antarctic glaciers are melting at dramatic rates, scientists are finding. Antarctica is of course a continent of ice, roughly twice the size of Australia. The retreat of its oceanfront glaciers raises serious concerns about the resulting rise in sea levels. The most severe projections of potential impact are almost impossible to grasp: billions of people displaced? coastal cities disappeared?

Yet the Washington Post was virtually alone among major outlets in reporting the latest findings. Corporate media have, in the main, stopped entertaining denial of human-driven climate disruption, but that’s a long, long way from the serious and sustained attention that would be appropriate to the myriad phenomena involved, and it’s categorically different than actually picking a side in the question of priority our guest’s work invokes: planet or profit?

Dahr Jamail is staff reporter at Truthout. He’s author of, most recently, The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. His new book, The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption, is forthcoming from New Press, and he is just lately recipient of the 2018 Izzy Award from the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, named for passionate, critical journalist I.F. Stone. He joins us now by phone from Port Townsend, Washington state. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Dahr Jamail.

Dahr Jamail: Thank you. Great to be with you.

There’s more than one piece of relevant work here, of course. What is the research that you’d like to spotlight, and can you tell us, in layperson’s terms, what this new research seems to show?

The most important study recently regarding the Antarctic and sea level rise was published in Science Advances on the 18th of this month, and the title of the study is “Freshening by Glacial Meltwater Enhances Melting of Ice Shelves and Reduces Formation of Antarctic Bottom WaterFreshening by Glacial Meltwater Enhances Melting of Ice Shelves and Reduces Formation of Antarctic Bottom Water.”

So what this essentially means is that even in the Eastern Antarctic, there are glaciers that are melting that are actually freshening the ocean around them. So the freshwater of the ice melts, flows into the oceans, and then that is, in turn, blocking a process: that normally cold, salty ocean water is dense and heavy and sinks down to the bottom, where it forms what is known as the densest water on earth, because it’s the coldest and the saltiest.

And so what’s happening is that bottom water is stopping being formed, because of the melting of these coastal glaciers in two places of Antarctica: off the Western Antarctic coast, as well as the Totten Glacier, which is in Eastern Antarctica. And so these are the two fastest-melting regions of the ice continent.

So what this is causing, according to this study, is the cold surface water is no longer making its way all the way down into the depths, so it’s not forming that deeper layer of water that can travel across areas where it normally would. And so what this essentially means is that these two regions of Antarctica’s glaciers are now in a feedback loop where they are melting, it’s causing this effect on the oceans, and then that’s causing even more melting.

And so this is worrisome for numerous reasons. One, that for a long time, scientists believed that Antarctica, being the ice continent, would either not be dramatically impacted by human-caused climate disruption, or at least minimally. But now what this means is that at least 10 percent of Antarctica’s coastal glaciers are now in full retreat, and because of this feedback loop, that retreat’s only going to speed up, and ultimately this feedback loop will start happening on other glaciers in Antarctica as well.

And so for sea level rise, we already know that the Arctic sea ice is dramatically melting, which is going to only intensify the melt rate in the Arctic. Of course, Greenland, we know, is melting at record rates as well. And so now with Antarctica — save dramatic, dramatic changes in mitigation, in fossil fuel CO2 emissions across the planet, on a very, very abrupt timescale — right now, at current trajectories, we are on course, at a minimum, to hit the worst-case projections of sea level rise, which, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is 8.5 feet by 2100. But these worst-case projections, unfortunately, keep being upgraded every time more and more reports, like the one we’re discussing today, are being released.

In terms of attention to what is obviously an almost staggeringly important development, the New York Times had a big three-part photo piece last May, with really spectacular images of Antarctica, and a kind of virtual reality thing. At one point the piece said, if the sea level rise turns out to be as rapid as the worst-case projections, it could lead to “a catastrophe without parallel in the history of civilization.”

And then, since then, and that’s May of 2017, well, the Times hasn’t really gone back to the story. Their recent Antarctica stories have been about penguins, you know. I just don’t know that the attention is commensurate, and there’s all kinds of reasons for that, and I’m going to ask you, but I just want to throw in: There’s amount of coverage, and then I want to say a little thing about the tone of coverage, because within that same New York Times piece, in the Part One of it (it was three parts), it noted that US and British scientists were working to get better measurements in the main trouble spots, and then it added, “The effort could cost more than $25 million, and might not produce clearer answers about the fate of the ice until the early 2020s.” And the next sentence is, “For scientists working in Antarctica, the situation has become a race against time.”

Well, surely part of the reason we aren’t running as fast as we might is the amount of coverage, or lack of it, and then this tone that, “Oh, it’s expensive.” I just wonder what you make in general, on this issue in particular, of the way media are covering it.

It is really shocking to me, and I think you really hit the nail on the head when you discussed the fact of the gravity of this crisis and the implications of this on the entirety of human civilization on the planet, not even to talk about other species. And one would think that that would demand a level of coverage that would be path-breaking, urgent and backed up by citing all of the scientific data that’s being released at a fairly rapid pace right now, whether it’s sea level rise, temperature-increase projections, what’s happening to methane in the arctic, etc., etc.

For example, I would add another quote by Dr. Eric Rignot, a glaciologist with UC Irvine and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, back in 2014, who said, “Today we present observational evidence” — we’re not talking about projections — “observational evidence that a large sector of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has gone into irreversible retreat…. It has passed the point of no return.” That was four years ago.

So the urgency is clear. Sea level-rise projections are being increased dramatically. We are talking, in the longer run, billions of people being displaced by sea level rise. Entire megacities on the coast, like New York and Tokyo, that are going to have to be relocated entirely, or completely abandoned to the sea.

And so with that being the context, the reportage of, “Oh, OK, well at least we’re not giving the denialists coverage….”  We need to be reporting on specifically what is happening, what the projections are, and what this means, because pretending, “Oh, it’s not that bad,” or “We’re still going to be able to mitigate it to the point where we’re not going to have to relocate much of New York City,” for example, it’s just not honest coverage.

And the idea it could cost more than $25 million — this particular project: $25 million is a pittance! They could have easily said it would cost “as little as $25 million.” The idea that we should be thinking in terms of millions of dollars and what that might cost, rather than putting it in a context of what we stand to lose…

Or put it in the context of $25 million for more studies, compared to the Pentagon budget, which is roughly between $700 and $800 billion that we know of, not even talking about the black budget, which puts it up at well over a trillion dollars annually. And so if we need $25 million or $50 million or, you know, heaven forbid, a billion dollars for some more scientific studies, not even talking about mitigation and starting a planned relocation of people and transfer of infrastructure, that that conversation is not happening is just mind-boggling to me.

Because the reality is, for example, the US military, in their Quadrennial Defense Review Report, they are already acutely aware of this. They know that at least half of their naval bases, their bigger naval bases in the US on the coast, have to be relocated. They’re watching the water come up to the docks and start to inundate infrastructure. So they’re acutely aware of this, and yet the coverage, as you just cited, in the New York Times is not even coming close to keeping up with that.

We’ve been speaking with Dahr Jamail. You can follow his Climate Disruption Dispatches at, and his book, The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption, will be out soon from the New Press. Dahr Jamail, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

My pleasure. Great to be with you.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.


Janine Jackson is FAIR’s program director and and producer/host of FAIR’s syndicated radio show “CounterSpin.” She contributes frequently to FAIR’s newsletter Extra!, and co-edited The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the ’90s (Westview Press). She has appeared on ABC’s “Nightline” and “CNN Headline News,” among other outlets, and has testified to the Senate Communications Subcommittee on budget reauthorization for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Her articles have appeared in various publications, including In These Times and the UAW’s Solidarity, and in books including Civil Rights Since 1787 (New York University Press) and Stop the Next War Now: Effective Responses to Violence and Terrorism (New World Library). Jackson is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and has an MA in sociology from the New School for Social Research.

Warming expert: Only decade left to act in time


Chris Carlson  /  AP

Power plants like this one in Huntington Beach, Calif., are large emitters of carbon dioxide, a gas that many scientists tie to global warming. news services

A leading U.S. climate researcher says the world has a 10-year window of opportunity to take decisive action on global warming and avert catastrophe.

NASA scientist James Hansen, widely considered the doyen of American climate researchers, said governments must adopt an alternative scenario to keep carbon dioxide emission growth in check and limit the increase in global temperatures to 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit).

“I think we have a very brief window of opportunity to deal with climate change … no longer than a decade, at the most,” Hansen said Wednesday at the Climate Change Research Conference in California’s state capital.

If the world continues with a “business as usual” scenario, Hansen said temperatures will rise by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius (3.6 to 7.2 degrees F) and “we will be producing a different planet.”

On that warmer planet, ice sheets would melt quickly, causing a rise in sea levels that would put most of Manhattan under water. The world would see more prolonged droughts and heat waves, powerful hurricanes in new areas and the likely extinction of 50 percent of species.

Clashing with White House
Hansen, who heads NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has made waves before by saying that President Bush’s administration tried to silence him and heavily edited his and other scientists’ findings on a warmer world.

He reiterated that the United States “has passed up the opportunity” to influence the world on global warming.

The United States is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, most notably carbon dioxide. But Bush pulled the country out of the 160-nation Kyoto Protocol in 2001, arguing that the treaty’s mandatory curbs on emissions would harm the economy.

Hansen praised California for taking the “courageous” step of passing legislation on global warming last month that will make it the first U.S. state to place caps on greenhouse gas emissions.

He said the alternative scenario he advocates involves promoting energy efficiency and reducing dependence on carbon burning fuels.

“We cannot burn off all the fossil fuels that are readily available without causing dramatic climate change,” Hansen said. “This is not something that is a theory. We understand the carbon cycle well enough to say that.”

Most scientists believe global warming is due in some measure to the greenhouse effect, which occurs when so-called greenhouse gases are emitted into the atmosphere. These gases trap in Earth’s heat like the glass walls of a greenhouse. Greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, are byproducts of the burning of fossil fuels.

Arctic studies
Hansen spoke as NASA released two studies that found sharp reductions in winter Arctic sea ice.

One of those studies was from Hansen’s institute. “It is not too late to save the Arctic, but it requires that we begin to slow carbon dioxide emissions this decade,” Hansen said in a statement.

Scientists and climate models have long predicted a drop in winter sea ice, but it has been slow to happen. Global warming skeptics have pointed to the lack of ice melt as a flaw in global warming theory.

The latest findings are “coming more in line with what we expected to find,” said Mark Serreze, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo. “We’re starting to see a much more coherent and firm picture occurring.”

“I hate to say we told you so, but we told you so,” he added.

Serreze said only five years ago he was “a fence-sitter” on the issue of whether man-made global warming was happening and a threat, but he said recent evidence in the Arctic has him convinced.

Summer sea ice also has dramatically melted and shrunk over the years, setting a record low last year. This year’s measurements are not as bad, but will be close to the record, Serreze said.

Shrinking Arctic ice means less sunlight gets reflected and more gets absorbed, exacerbating the problem of warming. It also threatens Arctic species, notably polar bears, said Claire Parkinson, a research scientist at the Goddard center.

The polar bear population in Canada’s Hudson Bay has dropped from 1,200 in 1989 to about 950 in 2004, a decline of 22 percent, Parkinson said at the teleconference.

Polar bears typically hunt on Arctic ice, but when ice is depleted, they will forage on land, she said. This has led to more sightings in Inuit settlements, but does not mean that the number of polar bears is increasing.

Near-term Human Extinction: Part II, Feedbacks 21-49

21. Extreme weather events drive climate change, as reported in the 15 August 2013 issue of Nature (Nature, August 2013). Details are elucidated via modeling in the 6 June 2014 issue of Global Biogeochemical Cycles. Further data and explanation are presented in the 27 April 2015 online issue of Nature Climate Change.

Explaining Extreme Events of 2014 from a Climate Perspective” was published by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society in their December 2015 issue and draws on conclusions from 32 international teams of scientists who investigated 28 separate weather events. Findings of this report, released on 5 November 2015, include the following: “Human activities, such as greenhouse gas emissions and land use, influenced specific extreme weather and climate events in 2014, including tropical cyclones in the central Pacific, heavy rainfall in Europe, drought in East Africa, and stifling heat waves in Australia, Asia, and South America.”

According to a paper in the 13 June 2016 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, atmospheric aerosols strengthen storm clouds, thus leading to extreme weather. An abundance of aerosol particles in the atmosphere — constantly added via industrial activity — can increase the lifespans of large storm clouds by delaying rainfall, making the clouds grow larger and live longer, and producing more extreme storms.

For many years, scientists have cautioned that individual weather events couldn’t be attributed to climate change. Now, however, specific extreme weather events can be attributed to climate change. A 200-page, March 2016 report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine examines the current state of science of extreme weather attribution, and identifies ways to move the science forward to improve attribution capabilities.

22. Drought-induced mortality of trees contributes to increased decomposition of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and decreased sequestration of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Such mortality has been documented throughout the world since at least November 2000 in Nature, with recent summaries in the February 2013 issue of Nature for the tropics, the August 2013 issue of Frontiers in Plant Science for temperate North America, and the 21 August 2015 issue of Science for boreal forests. The situation is exacerbated by pests and disease, as trees stressed by altered environmental conditions become increasingly susceptible to agents such as bark beetles and mistletoe (additional examples abound).

One extremely important example of this phenomenon is occurring in the Amazon, where drought in 2010 led to the release of more carbon than the United States that year (Science, February 2011). The calculation badly underestimates the carbon release. In addition, ongoing deforestation in the region is driving declines in precipitation at a rate much faster than long thought, as reported in the 19 July 2013 issue of Geophysical Research Letters. An overview of the phenomenon, focused on the Amazon, was provided by Climate News Network on 5 March 2014~. “The observed decline of the Amazon sink diverges markedly from the recent increase in terrestrial carbon uptake at the global scale, and is contrary to expectations based on models,” according to a paper in the 19 March 2015 issue of Nature. Finally, according to a paper in the 1 July 2016 issue of Global Biogeochemical Cycles, the 2010 drought completely shut down the Amazon Basin’s carbon sink, by killing trees and slowing their growth.

Tropical rain forests, long believed to represent the primary driver of atmospheric carbon dioxide, are on the verge of giving up that role. According to a 21 May 2014 paper published in Nature, “the higher turnover rates of carbon pools in semi-arid biomes are an increasingly important driver of global carbon cycle inter-annual variability,” indicating the emerging role of drylands in controlling environmental conditions. “Because of the deforestation of tropical rainforests in Brazil, significantly more carbon has been lost than was previously assumed.” In fact, “forest fragmentation results in up to a fifth more carbon dioxide being emitted by the vegetation.” These results come from the 7 October 2014 issue of Nature Communications. A paper in the 28 December 2015 online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates Amazon forest could transition to savanna-like states in response to climate change. Savannas are simply described as grasslands with scattered trees or shrubs. The abstract of the paper suggests that, “in contrast to existing predictions of either stability or catastrophic biomass loss, the Amazon forest’s response to a drying regional climate is likely to be an immediate, graded, heterogeneous transition from high-biomass moist forests to transitional dry forests and woody savannah-like states.”

The boreal forest wraps around the globe at the top of the Northern Hemisphere. It is the planet’s single largest biome and makes up 30 percent of the globe’s forest cover. Moose are the largest ungulate in the boreal forest and their numbers have plummeted. The reason is unknown.

Dennis Murray, a professor of ecology at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, thinks the dying moose of Minnesota and New Hampshire and elsewhere are one symptom of something far bigger – a giant forest ecosystem that is rapidly shrinking, dying, and otherwise changing. “The boreal forest is breaking apart,” he says. “The question is what will replace it?”

Increasing drought threatens almost all forests in the United States, according to a paper in the 21 February 2016 online issue of Global Change Biology. According to the paper’s abstract, “diebacks, changes in composition and structure, and shifting range limits are widely observed.”

For the first time scientists have investigated the net balance of the three major greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide — for every region of Earth’s land masses. The results were published in the 10 March 2016 issue of Nature. The surprising result: Human-induced emissions of methane and nitrous oxide from ecosystems overwhelmingly surpass the ability of the land to soak up carbon dioxide emissions, which makes the terrestrial biosphere a contributor to climate change.

An abstract of a paper to be published in the April 2016 issue of Biogeochemistry includes these sentences: “Rising temperatures and nitrogen (N) deposition, both aspects of global environmental change, are proposed to alter soil organic matter (SOM) biogeochemistry. … Overall, this study shows that the decomposition and accumulation of molecularly distinct SOM components occurs with soil warming and N amendment and may subsequently alter soil biogeochemical cycling.” In other words, as global temperatures rise, the organic matter in forests appears to break down more quickly, thereby accelerating the release of carbon into the atmosphere.

23. Ocean acidification leads to release of less dimethyl sulphide (DMS) by plankton. DMS shields Earth from radiation. (Nature Climate Change, online 25 August 2013). Plankton form the base of the marine food web, some populations have declined 40% since 1950 (e.g., article in the 29 July 2010 issue of Nature), and they are on the verge of disappearing completelyaccording to a paper in the 18 October 2013 issue of Global Change Biology. As with carbon dioxide, ocean acidification is occurring rapidlyaccording to a paper in the 26 March 2014 issue of Global Biogeochemical Cycles. Acidification is proceeding at a pace unparalleled during the last 300 million years, according to research published in the 2 March 2012 issue of Science. Over the past 10 years, the Atlantic Ocean has soaked up 50 percent more carbon dioxide than it did the decade before, measurably speeding up the acidification of the ocean, according to a paper published in the 30 January 2016 issue of Global Biogeochemical Cycles. Not surprisingly, the degradation of the base of the marine food web is reducing the ability of fish populations to reproduce and replenish themselves across the globe, as reported in the 14 December 2015 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Diatoms, one of the major groups of plankton, is declining globally at the rate of about one percent per year, according to a paper in the 23 September 2015 issue of Global Biogeochemical Cycles.

The Southern Ocean is acidifying at such a rate because of rising carbon dioxide emissions that large regions may be inhospitable for key organisms in the food chain to survive as soon as 2030, according to a paper in the 2 November 2015 online issue of Nature Climate Change.

A paper in the 26 November 2015 issue of Science Express indicates millennial-scale shifts in plankton in the subtropical North Pacific Ocean that are “unprecedented in the last millennium.” The ongoing shift “began in the industrial era and is supported by increasing N2-fixing cyanobacterial production. This picoplankton community shift may provide a negative feedback to rising atmospheric CO2.” One of the authors of the papers is quoted during an interview: “This picoplankton community shift may have provided a negative feedback to rising atmospheric carbon dioxide, during the last 100 years. However, we cannot expect this to be the case in the future.”

Further research on primary productivity in the ocean was published in paper in the 19 January 2016 issue of Geophysical Research Letters. Referring to the Indian Ocean, the abstract concludes, “future climate projections suggest that the Indian Ocean will continue to warm, driving this productive region into an ecological desert.”

For the first time, researchers have documented algae-related toxins in Arctic sea mammals. Specifically, toxins produced by harmful algal blooms are showing up in Alaska marine mammals as far north as the Arctic Ocean — much farther north than ever reported previously, according to a paper in the 11 February 2016 issue of Harmful Algae. The abstract indicates, “In this study, 905 marine mammals from 13 species were sampled including; humpback whales, bowhead whales, beluga whales, harbor porpoises, northern fur seals, Steller sea lions, harbor seals, ringed seals, bearded seals, spotted seals, ribbon seals, Pacific walruses, and northern sea otters. Domoic acid was detected in all 13 species examined and had the greatest prevalence in bowhead whales (68%) and harbor seals (67%). Saxitoxin was detected in 10 of the 13 species … These results provide evidence that … toxins are present throughout Alaska waters at levels high enough to be detected in marine mammals and have the potential to impact marine mammal health in the Arctic marine environment.”

24. Jellyfish have assumed a primary role in the oceans of the world (26 September 2013 issue of the New York Times Review of Books, in a review of Lisa-ann Gershwin’s book, Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean): “We are creating a world more like the late Precambrian than the late 1800s — a world where jellyfish ruled the seas and organisms with shells didn’t exist. We are creating a world where we humans may soon be unable to survive, or want to.” Jellyfish contribute to climate change via (1) release of carbon-rich feces and mucus used by bacteria for respiration, thereby converting bacteria into carbon dioxide factories and (2) consumption of vast numbers of copepods and other plankton.

25. Sea-level rise causes slope collapse, tsunamis, and release of methane, as reported in the September 2013 issue of GeologyIn eastern Siberia, the speed of coastal erosion has nearly doubled during the last four decades as the permafrost melts. And it appears sea-level rise has gone exponential, judging from Scribbler’s 4 May 2015 analysis. Considering only data through 2005, according to a paper published 28 September 2015 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the 500-year return time of floods in New York City has been reduced to 24.4 years.

26. Rising ocean temperatures will upset natural cycles of carbon dioxide, nitrogen and phosphorus, hence reducing plankton (Nature Climate Change, September 2013). Ocean warming has been profoundly underestimated since the 1970s according to a paper published in the online version of Nature Climate Change on 5 October 2014. Specifically, the upper 2,300 feet of the Southern Hemisphere’s oceans may have warmed twice as quickly after 1970 than had previously been thought. According to a 22 January 2015 article in The Guardian, “the oceans are warming so fast, they keep breaking scientists’ charts.”

Another indication of a warming ocean is coral bleaching. The third global coral bleaching event since 1998, and also the third in evidence, ever, is underway on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. According to Australia National News on 28 March 2016, a survey of the Great Barrier Reef reports 95% of the northern reefs were rated as severely bleached, and only 4 of 520 reefs surveyed were found to be unaffected by bleaching.

27. Earthquakes trigger methane release, and consequent warming of the planet triggers earthquakes, as reported by Sam Carana at the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (October 2013)

28. Small ponds in the Canadian Arctic are releasing far more methane than expected based on their aerial cover (PLoS ONE, November 2013). This is the first of several freshwater ecosystems releasing methane into the atmosphere, as reviewed in the 19 March 2014 issue of Nature and subsequently described by a large-scale study in the 28 April 2014 issue of Global Change Biology. Release of methane from these sources in the Arctic and Greenland, according to the 20 May 2012 issue of Nature Geoscience, “imply that in a warming climate, disintegration of permafrost, glaciers and parts of the polar ice sheets could facilitate the transient expulsion of 14C-depleted methane trapped by the cryosphere cap.”

The mechanism underlying methane release in these systems is poorly understood. If sunlight drives the process, as suggested by a paper in the 22 August 2014 issue of Science, then amplification is expected over time as ponds and lakes are increasingly exposed.

Water bodies within Africa’s interior are adding significantly to the overall release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, according to a paper in the 20 July 2015 online edition of Nature Geoscience. Specifically, “total carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse-gas emissions [are] … about 0.9 Pg carbon per year, equivalent to about one quarter of the global ocean and terrestrial combined carbon sink.”

Large water bodies beneath deserts could profoundly worsen the situation. According to a paper published in the 28 July 2015 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, a large carbon sink or pool lies beneath the Tarim basin in Xinjiang, China. The hidden pool of water stores “more carbon than all the plants on the planet put together. While more water may sound like a good thing, researchers believe that if this carbon were to escape into the atmosphere, we would be in serious, serious trouble.” Specifically, the senior authored explained in an interview: “It’s like a can of coke. If it is opened all the greenhouse gas will escape into the atmosphere.”

A paper in the 29 October 2015 issue of Limnology and Oceanography also addresses the issue of methane release from lakes. A write-up for the general public titled, “Global Warming Will Progress Much More Quickly Than Expected, Study Predicts” includes this line: “The findings suggest we have a ‘vicious circle’ ahead of us in which the burning of fossil fuels leads to higher temperatures, which in turn trigger higher levels of methane release and further warming.” This is a fine explanation for a self-reinforcing feedback loop.

A study published in the 17 November 2015 edition of Nature Geoscience shows that lakes in the northern hemisphere will probably release much more carbon dioxide due to global climate changes. The investigation, based on data from more than 5,000 Swedish lakes, demonstrates that carbon dioxide emissions from the world’s lakes, water courses, and reservoirs are equivalent to almost a quarter of all the carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels.

Citing two recent journal articles, a paper in the 19 November 2015 issue of Yale Environment 360 concludes, “the world’s iconic northern lakes are undergoing major changes that include swiftly warming waters, diminished ice cover, and outbreaks of harmful algae.” The lakes include Lake Baikal, “the deepest, largest in volume, and most ancient freshwater lake in the world, holding one-fifth of the planet’s above-ground drinking supply. It’s a Noah’s Ark of biodiversity, home to myriad species found nowhere else on earth.”

Further support for the importance of streams and rivers as sources of atmospheric methane comes from a paper published in the November 2015 issue of Ecological Monographs~. The headline of the write-up for the general public tells the story: “Greenhouse gas emissions from freshwater higher than thought.”

paper in the 23 November 2015 issue of Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciencesfound, according to the abstract: “A sediment upwelling at the end of the thaw season likely contributed to these [methane] emissions. We suggest that, unlike wetlands, shallow seasonally ice-covered lakes can have their highest methane emission potential in the cold season, likely dominating the spring methane release of subarctic landscapes with high lake coverage.” In other words, as with methane release from the Arctic Ocean, methane release is abundant during the cold season. According to a paper in the 16 June 2016 online issue of Geophysical Research Letters, “Our findings indicate that permafrost below shallow lakes has already begun crossing a critical thawing threshold approximately 70 years prior to predicted terrestrial permafrost thaw in northern Alaska.”

As reported in the 16 December 2015 issue of Geophysical Research Letters: “In this first worldwide synthesis of in situ and satellite-derived lake data, we find that lake summer surface water temperatures rose rapidly (global mean = 0.34°C decade−1) between 1985 and 2009.”

paper in the 4 January 2016 online edition of Nature Geoscience finds, “lakes and ponds are a dominant methane source at high northern latitudes.” “By compiling previously reported measurements made at a total of 700 northern water bodies the researchers have been able to more accurately estimate emissions over large scales. They found that methane emissions from lakes and ponds alone are equivalent to roughly two-thirds of all natural methane sources in the northern region.

According to a paper in the 1 February 2016 issue of Nature Geoscience, ponds less than a quarter of an acre in size make up only 8.6% of the surface area of the world’s lakes and ponds, yet they account for 15.1% of carbon dioxide emissions and 40.6% of diffusive methane emissions.

29. Mixing of the jet stream is a catalyst, too. High methane releases follow fracturing of the jet stream, accounting for a previous rise in regional temperature up to 16 C in less than 20 years (Paul Beckwith via video on 19 December 2013).

30. Research indicates that “fewer clouds form as the planet warms, meaning less sunlight is reflected back into space, driving temperatures up further still” (Nature, January 2014)

31. “Thawing permafrost promotes microbial degradation of cryo-sequestered and new carbon leading to the biogenic production of methane” (Nature Communications, February 2014). According to a paper in the 21 October 2015 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,: “The observed DOC [dissolved organic carbon] loss rates are among the highest reported for permafrost carbon and demonstrate the potential importance of LMW [low–molecular-weight] DOC in driving the rapid metabolism of Pleistocene-age permafrost carbon upon thaw and the outgassing of CO2 to the atmosphere by soils and nearby inland waters.”

32. Over the tropical West Pacific there is a natural, invisible hole extending over several thousand kilometers in a layer that prevents transport of most of the natural and man-made substances into the stratosphere by virtue of its chemical composition. Like in a giant elevator, many chemical compounds emitted at the ground pass thus unfiltered through this so-called “detergent layer” of the atmosphere.Global methane emissions from wetlands are currently about 165 teragrams (megatons metric) each year. This research estimates that annual emissions from these sources will increase by between 17 and 260 megatons annually. By comparison, the total annual methane emission from all sources (including the human addition) is about 600 megatons each year. (Nature Geoscience, February 2014)

33. “Volcanologist Bill McGuire describes how rapid melting of glaciers and ice sheets as a result of climate change could trigger volcanoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis” (13 February 2014 issue of The Guardian. According to a paper published online in the 5 February 2015 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, “underwater volcanoes defy expectations and erupt in bursts rather than a slow pace.

34. Deep ocean currents apparently are slowing. According to one of the authors of the paper, “we’re likely going to see less uptake of human produced, or anthropogenic, heat and carbon dioxide by the ocean, making this a positive feedback loop for climate change.” Because this phenomenon contributed to cooling and sinking of the Weddell polynya: “it’s always possible that the giant polynya will manage to reappear in the next century. If it does, it will release decades-worth of heat and carbon from the deep ocean to the atmosphere in a pulse of warming.” (Nature Climate Change, February 2014; model results indicate “large spatial redistribution of ocean carbon,” as reported in the March 2014 issue of the Journal of Climate)

35. Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide causes soil microbes to produce more carbon dioxide (Science, 2 May 2014)

36. Reductions in seasonal ice cover in the Arctic “result in larger waves, which in turn provide a mechanism to break up sea ice and accelerate ice retreat” (Geophysical Research Letters, 5 May 2014). Further corroboration is found in the 27 March 2015 issue of Geophysical Research Letters.

37. A huge hidden network of frozen methane and methane gas, along with dozens of spectacular flares firing up from the seabed, has been detected off the North Island of New Zealand (preliminary results reported in the 12 May 2014 issue of the New Zealand Herald). The first evidence of widespread active methane seepage in the Southern Ocean, off the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia, was subsequently reported in the 1 October 2014 issue of Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

38. As reported in the 8 June 2014 issue of Nature Geosciencerising global temperatures could increase the amount of carbon dioxide naturally released by the world’s oceans, fueling further climate change

39. As global-average temperature increases, “the concentrations of water vapor in the troposphere will also increase in response to that warming. This moistening of the atmosphere, in turn, absorbs more heat and further raises the Earth’s temperature.” As reported in the paper’s abstract: “Our analysis demonstrates that the upper-tropospheric moistening observed over the period 1979–2005 cannot be explained by natural causes and results principally from an anthropogenic warming of the climate. By attributing the observed increase directly to human activities, this study verifies the presence of the largest known feedback mechanism for amplifying anthropogenic climate change.” (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 12 August 2014According to a July 2015 report in Skeptical Science, “water vapor feedback roughly doubles the amount of warming caused by CO2. So if there is a 1°C change caused by CO2, the water vapor will cause the temperature to go up another 1°C. When other feedback loops are included, the total warming from a potential 1°C change caused by CO2 is, in reality, as much as 3°C.

40. Soil microbial communities release unexpectedly more carbon dioxide when temperatures rise (Nature, 4 September 2014). As a result, “substantial carbon stores in Arctic and boreal soils could be more vulnerable to climate warming than currently predicted.”

41. “During the last glacial termination, the upwelling strength of the southern polar limb of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation varied, changing the ventilation and stratification of the high-latitude Southern Ocean. During the same period, at least two phases of abrupt global sea-level rise—meltwater pulses—took place.” In other words, when the ocean around Antarctica became more stratified, or layered, warm water at depth melted the ice sheet faster than when the ocean was less stratified. (Nature Communications, 29 September 2014) Robert Scribbler refers to AMOC as “the heartbeat of the world ocean system.” As reported in the 23 March 2015 online issue of Climatic Change, the slowing of the AMOC is “exceptional” and is tied to melting ice in Greenland. This twentieth-century slowdown apparently is unique, at least within the last thousand years.

42. “Open oceans are much less efficient than sea ice when it comes to emitting in the far-infrared region of the spectrum. This means that the Arctic Ocean traps much of the energy in far-infrared radiation, a previously unknown phenomenon that is likely contributing to the warming of the polar climate.” (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, November 2014)

43. Dark snow is no longer restricted to Greenland. Rather, it’s come to much of the northern hemisphere, as reported in the 25 November 2014 issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research. Eric Holthaus’s description of this phenomenon in the 13 January 2015 edition of Slate includes a quote from one of the scientists involved in the research project: “The climate models need to be adding in a process they don’t currently have, because that stuff in the atmosphere is having a big climate effect.” In other words, as with the other major self-reinforcing feedback loops, dark snow is not included in contemporary models.

44. The “representation of stratospheric ozone in climate models can have a first-order impact on estimates of effective climate sensitivity.” (Nature Climate Change, December 2014)

45. “While scientists believe that global warming will release methane from gas hydrates worldwide, most of the current focus has been on deposits in the Arctic. This paper estimates that from 1970 to 2013, some 4 million metric tons of methane has been released from hydrate decomposition off Washington [state]. That’s an amount each year equal to the methane from natural gas released in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout off the coast of Louisiana, and 500 times the rate at which methane is naturally released from the seafloor.” (Geophysical Research Letters, online version 5 December 2014)

46. “An increase in human-made carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could initiate a chain reaction between plants and microorganisms that would unsettle one of the largest carbon reservoirs on the planet — soil” (Nature Climate Change, December 2014 )

47. Increased temperature of the ocean contributes to reduced storage of carbon dioxide. “Results suggest that predicted future increases in ocean temperature will result in reduced CO2 storage by the oceans” (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, January 2015)

48. According to a paper in the 19 January 2015 issue of Nature Geoscience, melting glaciers contribute substantial carbon to the atmosphere, with “approximately 13% of the annual flux of glacier dissolved organic carbon is a result of glacier mass loss. These losses are expected to accelerate.”

49. According to a paper in the 20 April 2015 online issue of Nature Geoscience, ocean currents disturb methane-eating bacteria. “We were able to show that strength and variability of ocean currents control the prevalence of methanotrophic bacteria”, says Lea Steinle from University of Basel and the lead author of the study, “therefore, large bacteria populations cannot develop in a strong current, which consequently leads to less methane consumption.”

Hunter missing in wildfire found, hospitalized

MGN Online


A missing Oklahoma hunter caught in a wildfire has been found, according to authorities.

Dewey County Sheriff reported on Facebook Friday that a missing hunter had been found in the Rhea fire near Vici. That hunter was reportedly transported to a nearby hospital “to seek medical care.” It’s unclear how serious the hunter’s injuries are.

At last check, the Oklahoma Forestry Services reported the Rhea fire has burned more than 82,000 acres in Dewey County. The fire was 0% contained.

Changing our diets to save the world

IN-DEPTH: Can we grow enough food to feed us all in a changing climate? And can New Zealand thrive as a dairy exporter without worsening climate change? Eloise Gibson spoke to IPCC food security and farming experts and found them surprisingly upbeat.

If we’re honest, the question on New Zealanders’ lips at a meeting of top scientists in Christchurch before Easter was a variation of that Kiwi classic: what do you think of New Zealand?

Newsroom specifically wanted to know what the experts thought of New Zealand’s prospects of thriving as a meat and dairy-exporting nation, in a future where people eat less meat and milk.

We talked through the issues with five experts, whose readiness to answer suggested we were not the first to raise it since they reached our shores.

As the rest of New Zealand prepared to gorge on marshmallow and chocolate eggs, they were here with more than a hundred other agriculture and climate scientists considering the much less sweet task of how to feed the world without worsening climate change.

It’s the second meeting of the 120 researchers, who are now about a quarter of the way through drafting the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Climate Change and Land.

The report, scheduled for August 2019, will cover desertification, land degradation, food security, sustainable land management and greenhouse gas emissions.

The authors can’t discuss in any detail what the final tome will say, but they can talk about their own research.

Based on their research in climate modelling, food security and farming methods, all of them agreed that eating and farming patterns need to change a lot if we’re to feed more people in our new and altered climate. That means raising fewer livestock and sharing the meat and milk we still eat more fairly between nations.

Right now, people in rich countries over-consume, despite the hefty climate impact of their livestock-heavy habits, says Pete Smith, a climate change and soil professor at the University of Aberdeen. “We can’t have nine or ten billion people consuming the way people do in the Western world,” he says. “But that’s not to say we don’t still have livestock in the system, we certainly do. But we can’t continue at the rate we are,” he says. “Although consumption has to come down, there are still going to be global markets.”

To supply those, choosier markets, New Zealand’s milk and meat must be not only carbon-neutral but meet other standards of human health (including responsible antibiotic use) and not polluting the environment, he says.

Our products must be very good, because they’ll be expensive. A changing climate will raise food prices across the board, but it may hit animal products worse by forcing countries to include the true environmental costs of growing food, our experts said. Still, New Zealand shouldn’t be afraid to boost its price tags.


Holding the pre-Easter IPCC meeting in Christchurch signaled global recognition of what most Kiwis know already – that, among developed nations, our greenhouse gas emissions are uniquely skewed towards farming.

Our problem is mostly cows, with their methane-laced burps and gas-producing urine, both of which New Zealand spends millions trying to solve.

But when these researchers talk about the climate costs of food growing; they’re looking much wider than reducing cow burps.

They’re discussing wholesale changes to the food system. “This is first time really that the IPCC has tackled food, as opposed to agriculture, in a big way,” says Tim Benton, who studies food security in his job as Dean of Strategic Research Initiatives at the University of Leeds. “I’m really hoping that, for the first time, people will start to pay attention to the impact our food systems have on climate and the impact climate has on our food systems.”

Globally, agriculture ranks second only to fossil fuels as a source of greenhouse gases.

Smith, from the University of Aberdeen, lists the numbers: “Direct emissions from crops and livestock are about 14 or so percent of global emissions, if you include deforestation it’s 24 percent, and if you add things like transport for moving food around and the embedded emissions in the agri-chemicals, you’re probably talking 30 per cent,” he says. “We can’t meet the Paris targets without it.”

Farming faces a circular problem. Growing food creates a lot of greenhouse gases, and greenhouse gas is threatening the world’s food-producing capability. “If we don’t tackle climate change, the impacts on the food system will be such that there’s no guarantee we could feed 11 billion people at the end of the century,” says Benton.

Even cows are not immune. “Dairy cows really do not like warmer temperatures, it decreases milk production and fertility,” says Cynthia Rosenzweig, a senior climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Rosenzweig founded a project called AgMIP, which collates and improves the models researchers use to project climate change’s impact on farming, as well as farmers’ options for adapting. “We add climate models, crop and livestock production, and economists to bring in the demand side from consumers,” she says.

“When we do these rigorous multi-model projections, what we find is that in the mid- and high- latitudes, things could get better for some decades, as those regions warm. But in the lower latitudes, where primarily the developing countries are, food production is projected to decrease. When we take these results and feed them into the economic models, we find that, overall, globally, there’s a decline in production and an increase in food prices,” says Rosenzweig. “We look at the 2020s, 2050s and 2080s and it basically gets progressively worse. It just gets hotter and we get more heavy rainfalls and more droughts, all of which affect agriculture.”

AgMIP used its models to test whether adaptation methods, like planting heat- or drought-tolerant varieties, changing crops, or increasing irrigation or fertilizer could make up for lower yields from climate change in various regions of the world. The answer was usually no, even assuming farm technology keeps improving. “Mostly when you look at different regions the adaptation can compensate for some of the climate effects but not all,” says Rosenzweig. “That means we need mitigation.”

Mitigation, Rosenzweig, Smith and Benton each explained, has to include rearing less livestock, especially our burping cows. “We need to think about what we’re eating and how much. Because large-scale animal production, especially industrial animal production, has a very large carbon footprint,” says Rosenzweig.

None of them suggests everybody goes vegan, because most of us will not, they say.

“It’s just unrealistic to think that everybody is going to give up meat tomorrow,” says Rosenzweig. “So we need to realise there’s probably a pathway of healthy diets that is not no meat at all, but reduced meat consumption.”

Dairy has a lower greenhouse footprint than beef, but it remains considerably higher-emitting than producing vegetable products. Still, no-one expects a quick switch. “New Zealand has an important livestock sector and I don’t think these people are about to start growing carrots tomorrow. It’s about finding pathways to sustainable production,” says Rosenzweig.

Benton agrees. “On an existential basis, I don’t think any country needs to be particularly worried, because we’re talking about changes over a number of years,” he says. “If you look back 30 years, our agricultural industry was very different to what it is today and in 30 years’ time it will be different again.”

Major change is certainly needed, says Benton. Trade rules, subsidies and other policies serve many people too much low-nutrient food, artificially cheaply, he says. “$590 billion dollars around the world is spent on agricultural subsidies that largely support the eight major crops that make up the bulk of our food, and those crops are pretty low in nutrition – rice, maize, soya, sugar, palm oil…,” he says. “Food is easily available, it’s cheap, it’s economically rational to over-consume and throw it away. Increasingly, influential bodies like the UN are coming to the conclusion that our food system’s not working.”

The savings to health and the environment could counterbalance any cost of producing nutritious food more cleanly, says Benton. For example, he says, by 2025 the cost of treating Type 2 diabetes alone is projected to be higher than the economic value in GDP generated by producing all food. “When you consider malnutrition in all its forms through to obesity, cardiovascular disease and various cancers that come from eating the wrong sort of food, about half the world’s population are not a healthy weight,” he says. “We’ve got to the point where we have a super-abundance of food but…calories are really cheap and nutrition is not,” says Benton. “It doesn’t make any sense that the price of food doesn’t reflect the cost of growing food or the healthcare costs caused by food,” he says. “In the long-run, if your crop has an impact on, say, water, that cost needs to be somehow internalized. If food wasn’t subsidized by the environment and health systems, it would be more expensive and then people wouldn’t be able to waste so much and eat so much.”

Benton knows that rising costs will raise an inevitable question, which is, what about poor people, who are already under-nourished? That can be dealt with in other ways, he says.

“[UK] research has found that subsidizing the cost of food through unsustainability amplifies costs so much in the long-run that the correct thing to do is support the poor so they can afford to buy food, it doesn’t make sense to support food systems as a whole to support the poorest in society,” he says.

Another hope is that growing a greater diversity of crops, with less waste, will help build resilience to climate change in countries where sufficient food is hard to come by. But Rosenzweig warns of the need to go slowly, to avoid hurting food supplies. Unlike Benton, she doesn’t believe the world’s mega-food-producers are likely to go anywhere or be pushed out by artisan farmers. But, she says, the giants will get more sustainable, as will medium and small producers. Rosenzweig and Benton agree that food is going to cost more, and that people will eat less livestock products.

“For producing countries like you and Brazil that raises the question of…what you would lose from people buying less produce,” says Benton. “In the long-run, my feeling is that the economics of food production will change so that producing less is still profitable. In the long-run, the food system has to become more transparent and that should make it easier for people to say, ‘I value food that is very healthy or high animal welfare’…and it will be easier to find,” says Benton. “The digital revolution will allow you to visit a farm virtually from anywhere in the world and say ‘I like what that farmer is doing.’”


That leaves the question of what people will enjoy sufficiently to spend a small fortune on it.

Smith, from the University of Aberdeen, doesn’t accept the argument sometimes made on behalf of the United States’ feedlot industry (and supported by a few prominent U.S. agricultural scientists) that feedlot meat and dairy is preferable to pasture farming, because of its greater greenhouse efficiency. It’s true, if somewhat counter-intuitive, that products, especially meat, from cows fed grain in feedlots are typically lower in greenhouse gases.

But that’s not the whole story, says Smith. “The feedlot systems need to get their food from somewhere and about 30 per cent of all crops grown on the planet go into livestock feed,” he says. “The more feedlot systems you have, the more land you need to produce those crops. And while it’s true that the greenhouse gas per unit of product is lower for those feedlot systems, that’s as a result of forcing the animal up to slaughter weight much quicker so they’ve had less chance to emit methane. Climate change is not the only game in town, and the over-use of growth hormones and antibiotics [needed to fatten animals faster] is not accepted in many countries,” says Smith.

Annette Cowie, a principal research scientist at the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, believes that there will always be a place for livestock that can forage for food, such as grass, that people can’t eat, on land where crops can’t grow.

Ruminants like cows have this unique ability. Cowie also sees huge potential for new technologies such as biochar, which can trap emissions in the soil, though she is wary of overblowing the advances farms could make.

But, as Smith explains, New Zealand doesn’t need to eliminate cow burps to claim to be cleaner. He puts only a little store in gas-squashing technologies, like the methane-inhibiting feed supplements New Zealanders are working on, because they’ll never reduce emissions to zero. “The only way is to offset emissions by planting more trees or creating carbon sinks. In the future, you might say, ‘for this litre of milk we made this many greenhouse gases but we’ve created a forest offsetting it domestically’,” says Smith. “You’ve got a great climate, great soil for producing pasture,” he says. “It’s not perfect, at the moment you’ve got over-fertilization and other stuff, but if you can get those issues addressed…New Zealand could be putting its stuff on the international market as the most environmentally-benign dairy products there are,” he says.

Long-term, we shouldn’t be afraid to have fewer cows, producing less, says Smith. “The push toward productivity has not necessarily moved us in the right direction on other measures,” he says. “One of the big issues is, we currently don’t pay farmers enough, and we’ve come to expect very low food prices. When you’re not squeezing every last litre of milk out of the land by over-fertilizing, you can step back and accept maybe 5 percent less milk for a massive environmental benefit,” says Smith. “We, as a society, might decide to pay farmers the difference.”


Such a move would be a mighty relief to the farmers Mark Howden works in Australia, where he’s the director of the Climate Change Institute at Australian National University. In a food system that favours maximum production and reliability, climate change is already proving a major headache, he says. Some Australian farmers are doing it tough, though not in every location, says Howden. “What farmers are seeing now in terms of changes in rainfall is different depending where you are. Some farmers are having to, say, move out of wheat farming and into mixed farming with livestock that can handle the dry conditions. “Their options are shrinking and they’re feeling significantly stressed,” he says. “And what farmers are seeing now is very much in line with the projections for the future.”

Meanwhile, at supermarkets: “The demand is for very reliable foodstuffs, with no variation in quality, so the supermarkets can employ their marketing strategies,” he says. “Both of those things are challenged with the increased variability and extremes of climate that we’re already seeing and that will increase in future, so the pressure from the value chain is in the opposite direction to the pressure from climate. That increases stress on farmers,” says Howden.

One tactic that’s already been employed by a few Australian farmers is “hedging” their climate risk by buying farms in at least two different micro-climates. “They can have more than one farm in different regions, so in New Zealand maybe you’d have one in the South Island and one in the North, so it’s unlikely both will be affected in the same way and you can buffer your supply system.” Another strategy is educating consumers “about why there is variability in produce and the importance of seasonal cooking, and that just because an apple has a spot on it, doesn’t mean it’s not okay,” says Howden.

One of the biggest things that Howden recommends that farmers do to reduce stress might not come easily. It involves changing farmers’ minds, not their farming systems. Howden says his work shows it is easier to cope with changes when farmers accept that climate change is happening. “In Australia, farmers are about four times more likely than the average Australian to say they don’t believe in climate change [the figures are 32 per cent versus 7 percent]. Yet when you actually look at what farmers are doing, the vast majority are changing their practices to adjust to a changing climate. There’s a discrepancy between what they’re saying and what they’re doing, and those sorts of discrepancies actually cause stress in their own right,” says Howden. “It stops effective strategic decision-making, because if you’re thinking this is just a few bad years, you’re expecting it to get cooler and wetter again. What we find is that those who take climate change seriously have lower stress levels, because they are empowered to take action.”

When Howden talks to farmers about adapting, their approaches change over the course of a few meetings. “Often they are initially focused on the technical options, so, say, they’re still growing wheat but different varieties. But after a few discussions on climate change, where they end up is that the important thing is having much better strategic business capability and the ability to juggle trade-offs,” he says.

Rosenzweig, the impact modeler, sums up those trade-offs and farmers’ tricky conundrum. “The challenges for agriculture everywhere are to simultaneously be reducing their emissions of greenhouse gases and be adapting to a changing climate,” she says. To do it, they will need our help, and that includes changing our diets. “That’s why there’s a role for people changing what we eat. Because as we go from 6 or 7 billion people to 9 or 10 billion, how are we actually going to do that?” she says.

Are Meat Eaters Contributing to Climate Change?
By Robert Preidt

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, March 28, 2018 (HealthDay News) — Climate change scientists have a beef with all the steaks and burgers Americans are eating.

Beef is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions associated with food production, the researchers said in a new study.

They found that one-fifth of Americans account for nearly half of all U.S. food-related greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

And America’s love affair with beef is the main reason, said Martin Heller, the study’s first author.

“Reducing the impact of our diets — by eating fewer calories and less animal-based foods — could achieve significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in the United States,” said Heller, a researcher with the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability.


“It’s climate action that is accessible to everyone, because we all decide on a daily basis what we eat,” he added.

For various reasons, “the production of both beef cattle and dairy cows is tied to especially high emissions levels,” Heller and his colleagues said in a university news release.

These bovines eat lots of feed that involves use of fertilizers and other substances manufactured through energy-intensive processes. There’s also the fuel used by farm equipment.

“In addition, cows burp lots of methane, and their manure also releases this potent greenhouse gas,” the researchers said.

Heller’s team created a database on the environmental effects of producing more than 300 types of foods. They linked that to data on the diets of more than 16,000 U.S. adults.

The researchers found that on any given day, 20 percent of Americans were responsible for 46 percent of all food-related greenhouse emissions in the country. Those with the greatest impact were linked with eight times more emissions than those with the lowest impact.

Beef consumption accounted for 72 percent of the difference in greenhouse gas emissions between the highest and lowest groups, according to the study.

The researchers only looked at emissions from food production. Emissions from processing, packaging, distribution, refrigeration and cooking of food would likely increase total emissions by 30 percent or more, according to Heller.