Guest Post: Saving Dolly

A guest post by Owen Jennings:

The cow has become a much maligned beast of late.  She makes our rivers unswimmable, puts nitrogen in our drinking water, pugs the ground causing erosion and farts and belches poisonous Greenhouse Gases into the atmosphere.  No wonder people don’t want to eat her bountiful products anymore.

Of course, most of that, if not all, is blatantly untrue but it makes for selling copy, keeping well paid academics in their job and the green lobby groups’ coffers filled.

Take the bit about farting and belching.  The story goes that cows emit Methane as they chew their cud.  Methane is a potent Greenhouse Gas.  Greenhouse Gases trap heat in the atmosphere and warm our planet.  The story concludes it is going to get so hot we are all going to die.  Leaves Baldacci and Grisham in the dust.

Now for some balance.  Farms use huge amounts of CO2.  Dr Bradley Case at AUT found farms take in about 90% of the Greenhouse Gas they emit in the woody vegetation and trees alone on the farm. That’s not counting the grass which uses even more CO2 in photosynthesis.  Farms are a net sink.

NIWA tell us that farms use significant amounts of CO2 and of the amount used to grow grass, just 1% gets emitted by Dolly and Betsy as Methane.  Yes, 1%!!  Wow!  Not a lot of people know that.  Those of us who emit CO2 driving our SUV’s down the highway should be thanking the farmers for hogging so much of this dreadful gas.  We are not part of a natural cycle like a farm.  Dolly and Betsy deserve a medal not a meat axe.

In fact, we are paying people to plant trees to sequester CO2 so why are we not paying the farmers for their valuable work sucking up the same Greenhouse Gas?  We are even taking good, high quality land out of livestock production solely motivated by subsidies, planting trees when we have no idea whether they will be a viable proposition in 25 years time and when we could be churning out meat and milk producing export revenue and jobs right now.  That is crazy economics.

What about that 1% emitted Methane?  NIWA, MfE, the Climate Commission and a bunch of others rush to tell us that Methane is so much more potent than CO2 so Dolly and Betsy are a problem even at 1%.  However a closer look at this potency claim shows something rather disturbing.  The formula they all use backing this claim is simply inaccurate, unjust and outdated.  The formula is kept alive by the more extreme “warmists” who desperately need the “bad Betsy, bad Dolly” story to support their gloom and doom meme.

This formula called the GWP 100 was born in frustration and great hurry.  Back in 1990 the IPCC politicians badly wanted to be able to compare the various Greenhouse Gases in some simple way.  Their scientists fought against the notion saying comparing CO2 and Methane was a “apples and onions” comparison.  The politicians pushed on and a rough and ready deal was struck.  One of the scientists involved, Dr Keith Shine says it was an “accident of birth”.   Another scientist, Dr Myles Allen, probably the world’s leading authority on the formula now says it is “not fit for purpose”.  He and a group of Oxford University scientists have put together an alternative and it effectively reduces the potency factor by 400%.

So, amazingly Betsy’s bad breath is actually only a quarter as bad as claimed.  That is a massive difference.  It changes our whole climate change mitigation plans, dramatically.  In New Zealand’s situation it is crucial.  Using the old, discredited formula will mean our farmers have to meet tough mitigation costs.  Applying the better science means no mitigation is required because the currently falling Methane emissions – they have been falling for nearly a decade – will allow us to meet the Paris Accord goals.

The irony is that science is based on continuous improvement.  A theory is held on to only until a new, well researched and substantiated one emerges and is adopted. 

Scientists, including our own Dr Andy Reisinger, Dr Jock Allison, Dr Doug Edmeades and others are strongly in favour of the use of the updated formula but no one is listening.  There is none so deaf as those who don’t want to hear.

You might think that our Government and our leaders in Climate science would want the best outcome for New Zealand.  You would hope that they would be batting for our interests where at all possible.  It is what most countries do.  So why not lead the charge to have the latest science adopted by other Methane producing countries and then adopted by the IPCC.  We could even forgive Mr James Shaw if he flew around the world, emitting CO₂, signing up support for such a sensible and robust approach.

The even weirder thing is that Methane as a Greenhouse Gas is a minnow.  It is so trivial and insignificant it couldn’t do anything worth worrying about no matter how powerful one considers it to be.  Slip outside and take a big breath – 99.6% is NOT a Greenhouse Gas.  Just 0.00018% is Methane.  There is 8,000 times more moisture in that gulp of air than there is Methane.  Of that minute Methane trace, Dolly and Betsy – the world’s ruminants, including those in the wild – are responsible for about 14%.   Rice paddies and landfills produce more.   

What does 14% of 0.00018% look like?  It is about one tenth of teaspoon compared to an Olympic sized swimming pool of 2.5 million litres.  Would you seriously claim 10% of a teaspoonful of something, no matter how powerful, could do anything in a large swimming pool?

And we are getting ourselves in a lather over this 10% of a teaspoon by cutting it by 1.6% per year (the Climate Commission’s recommendation) as though that might be something meaningful and kind.  Really?? 

Meanwhile China commissioned its fourth new coal fired power station for this week alone.

Time for a rain check on our collective sanity, surely?

Spare Dolly.    

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