Cattle accused of adding to world’s emission problems

I’m never sure whether quantifying the weather adds much to what we have lived through. Statistics for November past are a good example.

With less than 37 hours of sunshine it was the dullest November on record across the UK, or at least since 1929 when the records began. It was also the third warmest November on record, 2C above normal with almost no frost anywhere. Furthermore, it was windy and the second-wettest November yet recorded in Scotland.

In the same way I find that international conferences on climate change add little to anything. I seem to recall at least five such conferences in the past quarter century and the most recent in Paris with spokesmen for almost 150 countries competing to see who could say least in the most words ran true to type. Surely all that hot air must have added to the world’s emission problems usually blamed on ruminating cows?

The net result as far as I can gather from reporters and commentators who were in Paris is that the debate continues on whether what some call a permanent trend towards global warming is only another of the many blips in climate that have been noted over tens of thousands of years – a warm century or two then a freeze and so on.

Those arguing that claims of global warming are exaggerated have pointed out, for example, that the Novembers of 1938 and 1953 were also remarkably mild. And that glaciers retreated and trees grew further up mountains 1000 years ago.

One certainty is that farming will again be pulled in to the debate by being asked to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Stories will again be written about how to deal with millions of flatulent cattle although it has been pointed out many times that even if cattle are a problem it is rumination – chewing the cud – and burping that produces the methane. How much of a problem is that anyway compared with, for example, China’s thousands of coal-fired power stations and factories?

Not that farmers are unwilling to try. At least that’s what I think the UK farming unions said in a joint statement that asked politicians to encourage the contribution of renewable energy, give credit to carbon storage methods, encourage improvements in sustainable production, and recognise that farmers have to meet economic and public policy aims. Would these noble aims need to be backed by financial incentives by any chance?

On the same lines, NFU Scotland has taken an official decision to back Britain staying in the EU because the benefits for farmers outweigh any possible trade advantages of leaving the EU. You bet they do. Annual EU support payments to farmers this year might be well down on last year and will be paid late, but compared to the financial support farmers might get from a cost-cutting Conservative government outside the EU they’re manna from heaven.