Indeed, cow manure gives off almost three percent of America’s greenhouse gas. When you pump it into giant industrial slurry ponds, as is the current practice, manure emits huge clouds of methane gas, which is 83 times more planet-warming than carbon dioxide.
Meanwhile, the cows stand around flatulating methane almost nonstop.
It’s hard to get excited about the arrangement. But last year we actually paid $38 billion in subsidies to keep it going.
This is where the BS comes in. We do all kinds of unserious things in the name of the environment. We subsidize ethanol even though it takes more energy to produce than it actually yields. We write environmental laws around the Clean Air Act, which was written in 1970 and doesn’t even mention greenhouse gases.
We subsidize the auto industry too, which makes good sense from an environmental standpoint. Cars are undoubtedly cleaner than cows but a.) this is a low bar, and b.) their flatulence is far more pervasive. Transportation now accounts for almost a third of America’s greenhouse gas and recently took the #1 spot as the biggest single source. Any serious attempt to cool the planet should start with American transportation.
Problem is, electric plants are even dirtier than cars since the vast majority burn coal and natural gas. We’re seeing more natural gas in the mix, and it produces only half the carbon dioxide of coal. But again, it’s the cow/car conundrum; cleaner than filthy is not necessarily clean. In fact, where coal and natural gas prevail, electric cars are net polluters. You’re better off with a late-model gas engine.
Point being, electric cars may run on clean, renewable energy, but that energy is generated by filthy, unsustainable fuels.
So what’s the world to do? For one, let's subsidize electric vehicles only where power generation is clean, and tax them—yes, levy taxes—where electricity comes from fossil fuels. And two, tax cow dung. Meat prices will go up, but we’ll also create new niche markets for smaller, more sustainable farms. We’ll also eat less meat and live longer.
Which just gives us more time to enjoy driving, well, electric cars.
The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. Agree? Disagree?