Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Reagan Was Right--Again

Guess what? Cows are now a larger source of pollution than cars in California’s central valley, which still have a significant smog problem. So says a terrific story in today’s Los Angeles Times, by Miguel Bustillo, one of the better environmental beat reporters in the country.

Once again, we see another vindication of Ronald Reagan’s much ridiculed view that there were lots of natural (or non-human) sources of smog. About 15 years ago the LA smog regulators did a study of emissions from trees, and concluded that they might not be able to meet the Clean Air Act targets for the LA basin unless they began to regulate . . . landscaping. The LA Times reported this quite well; It turned out that Japanese trees were lower-emitting trees than native American trees. The head of Tree People, a local tree-planting group, told the Times that they were very concerned, but would be sure to make sure that their members "planted low-emitting trees." Evelyn Waugh could hardly have written better satire.

Discussions - 17 Comments

Methane from livestock Flatulence is by far the largest contibutor of green house gases. This has actually been known for a while and I am glad that someone has finally picked up on it in the media.

DC is reluctant to "out" methane gas as a primary contributor to global warming.

Color me "shocked."

I don’t have any scientific studies to back this simple observation, but I lived in Wisconsin for many years (and travelled extensively through areas with very large bovine populations) and must say it is by far the lest smog covered area I know. That’s not to say there are not enviromental impacts from animal methane releases, but smog is a bit of stretch.

To Allen: Ozone (what we typically call "smog") requires two main "precursors" in combination: VOCs (volatile organic compounds, chiefly hyrdocarbons, which includes methane) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), so it is not surprising that you can have a lot of methane in rural areas like Wisconsin, but not have a lot of "smog" because there isn’t the NOx for it to mix with. In California’s central valley, there are a lot of (human) NOx sources for the bovine methane to combine with to make smog, which is why bovine emissions are important there.

I take it that the unsaid implication here, is that since methane is produced by cows, and is implicated in air pollution, then we no longer need to concern ourselves with auto and industrial emissions.

To use an analogy, since some forest fires are started naturally, we should consider human causes of forest fires to be trivial and beneath our concern. Or, since fish die and wash up on the beach, we should fail to consider any regulation of industrial contribution to water pollution. Is that why this is relevant?

No Fung, that would be something of an overreach--though not entirely. The reason this is a remarkable story is that it shows how successful we’ve been in reducing emissions from cars. New cars today are 99 percent less emitting that cars made 20 years ago. (I’m actually trying to find statistics on how many people attempt suicide with car exhaust in their garage, since it is now very difficult to do with a new car.) According to EPA figures, emissions from the auto fleet are falling 8% a year (that is net of increases in SUVs, gas consumption, and VMT), and EPA’s computer models forecast a 90% decline in emissions from the auto fleet over the next 20 years as we turnover the older cars and trucks in our fleet. Since these "mobile source" emissions constitute more than half of our smog problem in most urban areas, you can see the implications. I am always amazed that almost no environmentalists know about this data. As was the case with the story about trees (and EPA is studying the problem of "biogenic emissions" in St. Louis and elsewhere quite seriously these days), the fact that cows are now a larger source of methane ozone precursors in CA’s central valley is a measure of how much progress we’ve made. And it’s also funny.

As for forest fires, I’ll simply point out that everyone--environmentalists and the timber industry alike--agree that we made a huge mistake suppressing forest fires for 50 years, whether natural or man-made, such that now we have a huge problem (excess "fuel loading" and widespread tree diseases) that we can’t agree on how to solve. We should have let more fires burn, but can’t now because they would be catastrophic.

take it that the unsaid implication here, is that since methane is produced by cows, and is implicated in air pollution, then we no longer need to concern ourselves with auto and industrial emissions.

Steve, don’t even bother. Nothing said in this anywhere would have led Fung to this conclusion.

Let’s see.
The local air pollution control district hires a UC Davis scientist to do a study, the scientist who did the study says the district miscontrued his results and that the numbers don’t back up the district’s conlusions. Since Ronald Reagan had a hard time distinguishing between true and false, I’m sure he would have loved this study just like Mr. Hayward.

HDT, I am not denying that what you say is true, but do you have a link or newspaper that I can read about this scientist’s remarks.

Wow ...., you’re annoying me on several threads today!

"Steve, don’t even bother. Nothing said in this anywhere would have led Fung to this conclusion."

Oh, except that Steve DID respond with: "No Fung, that would be something of an overreach--though not entirely. The reason this is a remarkable story is that it shows how successful we’ve been in reducing emissions from cars."

Then Steve goes on to suggest that it’d be pretty difficult to kill one’s self by breathing in the exhaust from a new car. I’m guessing you won’t put that little claim to the test.

Even if we accept that cow farting is now causing more air pollution than car exhaust, let’s not act like "Hey, even NATURE causes pollution- what are WE supposed to do about it?!" It’s not like having millions of cows clumped together is exactly natural. And does this mean that Steven is now pushing for vegetarianism?

Phil, please explain in the topic post where it says anything about not reducing car emission. Exactly, nowhere does it say that.

Then Fung’s question was valid. It certainly seems like car emissions not being as important was the IMPLICATION. If not, then what’s the point in bringing this up? What course of action should we take if cows are indeed causing this problem?

Once again where does it say that? The implication is that there are natural causes to greenhouse gas emissions and smog. Why are you so afraid to here about any report that says "big bad industry" is not the only contributor to pollution? Furthermore I think it is clear by the statement:

Cows are now a larger source of pollution than cars in California’s central valley, which still have a significant smog problem. That cars are still a problem.

As for the solution, there is no quick fix. You try to persuade farmers to shift out of the area by offering incentives. However, this seems hard and would most likely not work. The short term solution which is also part of the long term solution would be to continuing doing what is feasabile. (i.e. continue the reduction of car emission.) What in this post is inconsistent with these statements. NOTHING, mostly because it doesn’t go there as it is about cow "emissions." Leading me again to ask the question, where does this post imply that we shouldn’t car car and industrial emissions.

this post imply that we shouldn’t car car and industrial emissions.

Sp. the first car should say care.

Once again I see a vigorous argument has erupted. A few comments: First, while I said it was "difficult" to kill yourself with a new car, I did not say it was impossible. It just takes a lot longer; that’s why I’m wondering if there are statistics that would show this as a declining method of attempting or successfully committing suicide. I suspect it is, but that is only a hypothesis, so no I’m not going to test it myself. (I haven’t found any easily available data, but haven’t had time to dig extensively. Two interns I have set on the task haven’t come up with anything. Reliable suicide statistics seem not to be kept extensively, for some reasons I can guess about.)

Second, Congress considered trying to include bovine emissions as a source to be monitored, and eventually regulated, in the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments (farm and ranch state senators blocked the provision), so this is not the comic diversion some people here are making out. There are some very large beef cattle stockyards in the central valley of California--anyone ever driven by the Harris Ranch on Interstate 5??--that will come to be seen as significant sources of emissions (and particulates from dust and dried dung already) 20 years from now when mobile source fleet emissions fall to near zero.

Left out of this argument is coal-fired power plants that are important in the east, but as California has zero coal-fired power plants, they don’t come into this story.

Thanks for the clarification!


Cork is the answer. Simply plug up them cows’ ass-holes.

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