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Blaming the cow — farts or belches — is a diversion from serious discussion about climate change

The Rural Blog

Fact-checking the role of cow farts in climate change:

The Green New Deal has generated a surprising amount of debate on whether cows fart and whether that flatulence contributes to climate change. The question first came to the forefront after the plan’s liberal sponsors put out an information sheet.

“With tongue in cheek or foot in mouth, depending on whom you ask, the statement’s authors said that despite the plan’s proposals for strong limits on emissions over a decade, ‘we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast,'” Calvin Woodward and Seth Borenstein report for the Minneapolis StarTribune.

That sentence led to rampant mocking from Republicans, which led a fed-up Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., to tell Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last month that “Just for the record, cows don’t fart. They belch,” the StarTribune reports.

So what’s the truth here?

Fact-checkers from the Associated Press asked global experts on climate change and interviewed an author who wrote “the definitive science book on gassy animals,” the StarTribune reports.

The AP found that, unsurprisingly, cows do fart. But even though the methane from cow flatulence contributes to climate change, as much as 95% of the potent greenhouse gas produced by cows comes from their burps.

“In a nutshell, belches are bad news,” the StarTribune reports. “At Tuscia University in Viterbo, Italy, environmental scholar Giampiero Grossi said methane emitted by ruminant livestock accounts for about 5.5% of the greenhouse gasses that come from human activity. More than 70% of livestock emissions are from cattle, he said.”

However, burning fossil fuels generate 10 to 17 times more greenhouse gases than livestock emissions, according to Christopher Field at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

For those who reject the science on climate change, focusing on a seemingly absurd climate change vector like cow flatulence is “a go-to rhetorical weapon they use against having a serious discussion,” according to Georgia Tech climate scientist Kim Cobb. 

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