Somebody check my math!
There was a recent post in an online forum which was making a case that vegetarianism is better from a carbon emissions standpoint than eating meat. It referenced one of many articles that complain (rightly) about the greenhouse gas emissions generated by feedlot meat. It spurred me to look for some data on grass-fed meat, by way of comparison. Here's part of what I wrote - including some rather surprising numbers:
I'm all for ending the practice of stuffing livestock with grains, and turning manure into sewage. Not to mention the health and disease considerations for the animals as well as the people! I'm also all for drastically reducing the amount of meat consumed.This line of inquiry was partly spurred by our recent purchase of a quarter of beef from the neighbor whose cattle are currently grazing on our property. He finishes his on grain, but I was thinking about how little fuel (and money) it would take for us to raise Meadow's (presumed) calf on pasture and hay alone. It couldn't take more than five gallons of fuel to cut hay for one bovine for one winter. And that's pasture I'd have to mow anyway! So what other expense would there be besides the butcher's bill? Water is abundant here. We wouldn't need any other feed. A few pennies worth of mineral block. And free fertilizer and mowing.
But (you knew I was going to put one in here!) I just did some quick digging and came up with this*:Conventional beef: 2.13 kg CO2 / 1 kg meat
Conventional corn: 0.15 kg CO2 / 1 kg corn
Cover crop + no-till corn: 0.06 kg CO2 / 1 kg corn
Grass fed beef: 0.02 kg CO2 / 1 kg meat
* based on numbers in these two links, converted to common units:
I picked corn because it was the easiest calorie dense crop I could find carbon numbers for. I couldn't find numbers for organic corn. I suspect it varies according to scale.
To be fair, I haven't added in electricity for the beef to keep it frozen or whatever. I guess it depends if you're keeping it all yourself for a year, or splitting it among many people, to be eaten relatively soon after butchering.
But even I found the numbers above surprising. (Maybe I should re-check my math.)
Is this a fair comparison? I don't know. Just throwing it out there. Is manure a methane disaster or a fantastic fertilizer? Depends how much you have and what you do with it I guess. Is growing perennials like grass and clover for grazing better for the soil than no-till corn and soy, or is that canceled out by cow farts? Did buffaloes fart? Can people grow veggies and beef using much less than the numbers stated in the referenced articles? (That I'm sure of. I'm trying to do both myself!)
But like I said, I'm all for getting rid of feedlots and cutting meat consumption in any case. And I salute vegetarians. It is a very effective approach.
My only point is that there's more than one workable answer, and the answers will vary based on many factors. There's no way in hell India is going to feed itself on pastured livestock. (I fear I could have stopped that sentence partway through.) Nor Japan. Nor New York or Los Angeles I suspect. But on our little 8+ acres, I'm pretty sure I can raise a cow on grass & hay for less fuel (and less money) than it would take to cover the whole property in annual crops.
(My dream is pastures with rows of mature nut trees in them....)
I bet we could beat that 0.02 / 1 ratio. Of course, if I was man enough to scythe and stack the hay, I could get to 0.00. But I'm not.