Properly Managed Livestock Are The Key To Stopping Climate Change

Not all livestock contribute to Climate Change. In fact, it turns out the properly managed livestock are probably our best hope for preventing Climate Change!

*For an overview of what “properly managed livestock* are please read this article. 

**I have included several reference links to support the claims in this article, they are at the bottom.

Before I go into the effects of livestock on Climate Change I would just like to make a little note for people who doubt, or downright deny, Climate Change:

It is okay to question Climate Change, you are free to form your own opinions (saying anything else would be denying the basic freedoms which have allowed humanity to flourish so much since the Enlightenment, we cannot ever forget that). So here are some benefits of properly managed livestock that don’t have anything whatsoever to do with Climate Change…

The non climate-related benefits of PROPERLY MANAGED LIVESTOCK:

    • They are happy animals, living natural lives

    • They reduce soil erosion, silting of waterways, and they reduce floods

      • They do this by covering bare ground which allows rainwater to move into the soil instead of over it

    • They moderate regional temperatures in Brittle Environments (Middle East, Sahara, Sahel, Australia, India, Sonora, etc)

      • They do this because they cover the soil surface which lowers the peak temperatures at the soil surface and also moderates the lowest temperatures at the soil surface

      • The temperatures at the soil surface, when multiplied over hundreds of millions of acres, hugely impact the regional climate (not talking about GHGs or global warming here)

    • They increase biodiversity

    • They improve agricultural productivity, reduce the total land area needed for agriculture, reduce the water needed for agriculture, reduce the pesticides needed for agriculture, lower food prices, and increase nutrition in humans (reference)

    • They can be eaten

    • They are infinitely sustainable and do not consume non renewable resources (they self replicate for free, every year)

    • They are more profitable than poorly managed livestock

The effect of properly managed livestock on a severely degraded savanna in Zimbabwe.
The effect of properly managed livestock on a severely degraded savanna in Zimbabwe.

 

Carbon Dioxide

Alright, with that out of the way, lets look at how the carbon cycle works.

  1. Carbon Dioxide is removed from the atmosphere by plants. They use the carbon in their cells, to build structures and energy, and they release the remaining oxygen back into the atmosphere.

  2. If this plant dies, and is incorporated into the soil, than all of the carbon it removed from the atmosphere stays in the ground where it is called “organic matter”. Carbon in the ground does not cause harm (it is actually a really good thing)

  3. If the surface of the soil is completely covered with litter and living plants than the carbon will stay in the ground indefinitely.

  4. If the surface of the soil is bare, or if the soil is disturbed by tilling/cultivating, then the carbon is “off gassed” back into the atmosphere where it becomes atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Clearly the organic matter content (a.k.a carbon) of the Earth’s soils has a lot to do with climate change. (reference)

But how much does organic matter really affect the global climate?

The soils of the world currently hold over 2,700 Gigatons of carbon. The atmosphere (right now) holds about 780 Gigatons of carbon. All of the biomass on earth (mostly wood) is estimated to hold about 575 Gigatons of carbon. (reference) Clearly the soil is important if we are concerned about carbon!

So, it follows that any mechanism which can increase the baseline level of organic matter in the soils of the world will have a tremendous positive effect on greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere. Increasing soil organic matter is the same as decreasing atmospheric carbon dioxide. 

How do we increase organic matter in soil?

  1. By increasing biomass growth per acre per year…

    • We need to increase the productivity of plants

    • The primary drivers of plant productivity are sunlight, nutrient availability, and water

      • Sunlight levels are mostly out of our control

      • Nutrient availability, in the absence of harmful chemical fertilizers, is determined by the health of the soil food web.
        • Livestock are the most effective way to increase the health of the soil food web
      • The only sustainable way to increase water availability on the massive scale required is to increase the soil infiltration rate (how much rainwater actually is absorbed by the soil), increase the soil water holding capacity (primarily determined by organic matter content and the depth of the soil), decrease evaporation from the soil (all soil must be covered with vegetation and/or “litter”

        • properly managed livestock do all of those things more effectively than any other tool on a large scale

  2. By ensuring as much of this growth as possible becomes organic matter in the soil

    • Plants can decay either biologically (via microorganisms) or through oxidation

    • Only biological decay will turn dead plants into soil organic matter

      • oxidation primarily happens in Brittle Environments when dead plant material is not trampled or eaten by livestock

      • fire is just a very rapid form of oxidation, and releases tons of carbon into the atmosphere instead of storing it in the soil

    • Plants which are trampled directly onto the surface of the soil will decompose faster than if they remain standing. This increases the rate of carbon sequestration in soil

      • Properly managed livestock are the only viable mechanism for trampling vegetation over the vast rural lands of the world

    • The health of the soil food web also determines the rate of biological decay (which cannot take place without microorganisms)

      • Properly managed livestock are the most practical and powerful tool for increasing the health of the soil food web (although a one-time application of thermal compost to heavily degraded soils can sometimes have a greater effect than livestock, although adding livestock will still improve the soil even further)

  3. By ensuring that organic matter does not leave the soil via “off gassing”

    • Bare soil is constantly “off gassing” carbon, soil must be covered at all times

      • The deeper, and more tightly packed, the litter layer on the soil surface the less “off gassing” happens (to the point where there is far more carbon coming in to the soil than going out)

      • The best way to achieve a thick and tightly packed litter layer on top of the soil over the vast landscapes of the earth is with Properly Managed Livestock

    • Cultivation/tillage is the fastest known way to put soil organic matter back into the atmosphere, the opposite of what we want

      • Growing food without tilling requires an extremely healthy soil food web, to maintain this high level of soil health while growing crops the benefits of livestock need to be applied to the land at least once every year. Therefore to reduce tillage we need more livestock on the land.

The enemies of soil carbon storage are tillage, bare soil, and fire.

The trampling action of properly managed livestock: all of that trampled vegetation is carbon sequestration in action!
The trampling action of properly managed livestock: all of that trampled vegetation is carbon sequestration in action!

 

Therefore to dramatically increase the carbon stored in our soils (which will reduce the carbon in the atmosphere by an equal amount) we must dramatically increase the number of properly managed livestock.

Not only do all current livestock need to become properly managed, but the actual numbers of livestock will need to be increased as well, especially in Brittle Environments.

Haven’t Scientists Proven That Livestock Cause Global Warming?

There are many statistics and studies claiming that livestock have a negative effect on climate change. Unfortunately none of these studies say anything about the effect of properly managed livestock on global climate! Most of them are discussing the effects of animals when either in a factory farm system or in conventional, destructive grazing management. These systems are fundamentally different than Regenerative Agriculture systems in the way they effect global climate. Factory farms do not sequester carbon in the soil, nor do poorly managed pastures.

References And Further Reading

Properly Managed Livestock sequester Methane in soil. 

Improved Grazing Reducing GHG Levels

Well Managed Livestock Rapidly Sequestering Carbon

Methane And Properly Managed Livestock

The Fight Against Global Warming: A Failure And A Fix

Pasture Raised Beef Is Methane-Neutral

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