Livestock – An Opportunity to Reduce Climate Change


(Fargo, ND) – The North Dakota Stockmen’s Association held its annual convention in Fargo, ND this past weekend to celebrate, talk policy, recognize achievements by local folks in the industry and to host notable speakers, like UC-Davis professor Dr. Frank Mitloehner. Dr. Mitloehner has dedicated his life’s work to the understanding of livestock and its intersection with climate change. He is accredited with debunking the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) 2006 publication entitled Livestock’s Long Shadow, which demonized animal agriculture for being the main culprit in causing climate change. In 2010, FAO acknowledged their mistakes and retracted the paper.


Those who work in the industry of agriculture know all too well that, though this Livestock’s Long Shadow was found to be inaccurate and misleading, the intentions behind it still echo throughout mainstream media today. Livestock are perpetually blamed for the destruction of the environment and for releasing excess green house gas (GHG) emissions into our atmosphere. This proverbial bell about the climate destruction cattle cause cannot be unrung, but Dr. Mitloehner is certainly paving a way to silencing it once and for all.


As Dr. Mitloehner spoke before North Dakota ranchers, he made it very clear that not only are cattle almost climate neutral, they are, “an opportunity,” to reduce the negative impacts of climate change. Methane emissions from cattle have been a prominent concern, and through a slideshow, Dr. Mitloehner explained that methane, a waste product of livestock production, has been incorrectly classified as a stock gas that accumulates in the atmosphere – like carbon. Methane is actually a flow gas, meaning it is oxidized (removed from the atmosphere) at the same rate of its emission by hydroxyl radicals. This methane is then converted into carbon, which flows back into the Biogenic Carbon Cycle (Pictured Below.) This fact is continually ignored by many mainstream media organizations that prioritize the villainization of livestock production and the use of animal products. Additionally, the unit GWP100 (Global Warming Potential) has been used in the past to label and measure the GWP of methane, however it never accounted for the oxidation methane undergoes once in the atmosphere. The new unit GWP* (GWP “star”) is now used to simultaneously measure a GHG’s warming potential as well as its cooling potential. This adjustment has been recognized and accepted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC.)


Graphic retrieved from Dr. Mitloehner’s presentation.

To summarize, carbon from the atmosphere is utilized by plants during photosynthesis. The plants, made up of cellulose (the most abundant biomass in the world and indigestible by humans) are then consumed by cattle. Cattle then convert this cellulose into beef – a complete protein source containing all nine essential amino acids humans need. The waste product from this process, methane, is then released into the atmosphere, oxidized by radicals, then returned to the earth – and so the Biogenic Carbon Cycle process begins again.


The grasslands that cattle inhabit are not only carbon “sinks,” but they provide a habitat to wildlife, and according to the USDA, the majority of grazing lands are unsuitable for crop production, meaning cattle are up-cyclers of land and forage which would likely be unused or thrown away.


To conclude, Dr. Mitloehner left the ND Stockmen’s Association with some parting thoughts and strongly encouraged ranchers to engage with consumers and those detached from agriculture. He emphasized the need to show kindness and understanding when attempting to redirect folks to the facts and science surrounding livestock and climate change. As stewards of the land, it’s not only the job of farmers and ranchers to take care of land resources, but to also be educators about the benefits of livestock production and its necessary role in the fight to reverse climate change.


For further information on these topics, Dr. Mitloehner suggests these videos, which have been linked below.

Rethinking Methane

Eating Less Meat Won’t Save The Planet – Here’s Why.