Celebrate the cow

The Redwood Blog
Published:  29 September, 2015
Mike Redwood

Everyone is talking about VW. It is hard not to when a brand can go from hero to zero in the blink of an eye and take with it the image of German engineering, the German automobile industry and the car business as a whole. Since the late 1980s when the value of brands moved onto the balance sheet all the world recognises the fragility of a brand in the face of adversity, especially when it appears to be self inflicted. 

Yet another casualty of this affair is almost certainly going to be our trust in diesel engines and the science behind environmental improvements. The technology that is being developed to help us live more comfortably in the knowledge that we are doing less damage to our small planet is complex. Since the failure of scientists to make the nylon shirt as comfortable and easy to use as they promised consumers have become more quizzical about the truths coming from so called experts.

In a way that is why it has been easier for lobbyists to create narratives to support causes, which do not stand up well to honest, objective scrutiny. The aggressive approach to life without eating meat and the termination of all livestock activity is one such area, as the world without livestock but still needing to feed 9 billion people does not look like a better place environmentally. More crops, more fertiliser and less long-term grassland is not going to be a an improvement.

There has always been a worry that the fossil fuel lobby, which includes the car industry at the moment, has chosen to aid the anti-meat lobby in promoting the issue of methane emissions from cattle. There are a lot of experts who have lined up over the last 10 years to argue that atmospheric methane from livestock is being unfairly attacked while the real planetary damage is being done by the accelerated use of fossil fuels. It is curious that when we see carbon footprint calculations for synthetics no charge is added for its fossil fuel origins yet the figure for leather is overwhelmed when even a small proportion of the methane figure is added.

FAO data

Some of the data used to attack cattle came from the FAO in a report now widely criticised, but still even more widely quoted. Yet another FAO paper produced jointly with the IAEA argued that methane in the atmosphere has levelled since 1999 and “belching ruminants” are a “minor player”. While atmospheric methane did rise in the 20th century with the growth in herd size, this link was broken in 1999 after which a 10.8 ppb/year increase for 1979 to 1999 dropped to “a non significant atmospheric increase of 0.3 ppb methane/year.”

Every day we learn more, and understand the science better. Yet if Volkswagen teaches us anything we have to interrogate all claims being made very hard, and especially when they come from organisations with big brands and big lobbying budgets. A week into the VW crisis makes one even more certain that the cow has been targeted unfairly, and should be celebrated as an important and useful contributor to the human diet and the living planet.

 Listen to the podcast here: Celebrate_the_cow.mp3

Mike Redwood

mike@internationalleathermaker.com

Follow Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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