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Can The Green Movement learn about BBQ grill emissions from cows?

March 17, 2015

According to reports, the EPA has just released grant money for University of California researchers  to determine how to reduce pollution from barbeque grills.

With all due respect to that agency, Al Gore or any other environmentalist, that kind of misses the point. Perhaps instead of targeting BBQ grills, these folks should talk to ranchers and farmers or even to the cows and sheep.

Ranchers and farmers are one of the environmental movement’s favorite targets. From cows producing too much methane gas to farmers using too much water and fertilizer to grow food for the cows, these justifications for limiting or even destroying the U.S. agricultural industry are a staple of the climate change argument.

When the United States was primarily an agriculture-based economy, most people were concerned with having enough to eat. Even the government encouraged city people to grow things during both World Wars.

The upshot of that was that even in urban areas, people understood that it took a certain amount of land area to grow enough food for a family, i.e. they understood the carrying capacity of the available land.

That concept is one of the cornerstones of agriculture. Livestock producers initially were nomadic, following their herds from place to place.

Cows and other ungulates instinctively migrate to take advantage of the local feed availability. The herds didn’t stay in one place very long, so the vegetation had a chance to grow back, the animals returned and the whole cycle started anew.

In times of climate stress such as drought or prairie fires, the females in the herd either didn’t breed, or the young perished due to lack of food.

As the concept of private property came into existence the animals and the crops it took to feed them were forced into static locations. It became obvious that to maintain a natural cycle of use and re-growth, the concept of migration needed to be altered to a crop rotation model. It also encouraged artificial management of the herd size to keep the number of animals to a level that allowed for food resources to regenerate.

Today, we call that sustainable agriculture but it is what it always was, a way to make the herd population fit the available land.

That is the concept that humans  in general don’t quite seem to be able to correlate to the sustainability of the environment.

In 1946, the United States joined in the global Baby Boom. The Great Depression was over, the country was producing enough jobs to accommodate the returning servicemen and life in general was good.

The population in 1946, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau was 141.39 million. In 1963, the year before the first  Baby Boomers presumably started producing children of their own, the population was 189.24 million or so. In 2013, the number of people in  the U.S. was reported at 316.98 million, although that figure is widely thought to be somewhat inaccurate due to the influx of people from other countries who may not have been counted.

In the meantime, the world population has grown at a similar rate, nearly tripling since 1950’s approximately 2.5 billion souls, to 2012’s  estimated 7.04 billion.

Unfortunately, the habitable and arable world land mass hasn’t kept pace. Earth is still the same size it was since the beginning of recorded time.

We learned to make it produce more efficiently, and we learned how to utilize much of the planet to produce more food to meet the pressures of the increasing population, but there is a tipping point.

That’s not exactly a new concept. Some researchers date it back to the 1600’s. In the 1960’s one extremely popular movement, Zero Population Growth or ZPG became the trend of the time, particularly in the developed nations, and it is still a part of the environmental toolkit. The agreed upon replacement figure at that time was 2.1 children per family, while a lesser number was required to reduce the population.

Unfortunately, the only places it flourished was in those developed nations, and on a national scale, only China actually enforced it as a matter of national policy. Like a lot of “fads” it soon fell out of favor.

Remember that study grant to the University of California to reduce BBQ grill emissions? The one that “might have global implications?”  What about good ol’ California?

The effects of too many people for the available natural resources is nowhere more evident in the U.S. than in California. The state has long been considered a model for many types of social and political experiments. It has been the canary in the coal mine for the entire environmental movement for decades, spawning many of the EPA’s regulatory priorities.

In spite of that, the state is outstripping its resources. Depending on which source you cite, the state will run out of easily accessible water this year and will have to institute water rationing on an unprecedented scale. That measure is widely supposed to be the result of a drought created by man-made influences on the global weather pattern.

Common sense would indicate there may be more local factors involved.

According to one report, the population in California increased from 10 million in 1950 to an estimated 38.3 million by 2013, with an estimated 10 million of those being foreign-born immigrants.

In other words, California is now home to an immigrant population of the same size as its total population in 1950.

The problem, at least in the Golden State, would seem to be more one of too many people, rather than too few resources.

Maybe the actual solution to dwindling resources is to impose a population stress test.

In the same way in which banks have to prove they have enough monetary resources on hand to weather another catastrophic financial crisis, maybe our country should “bank” our natural resources by not allowing the population to overdraft the available supply of resources.

Remember those ranchers and their cows?  Every rancher knows exactly how many acres it takes to support one cow-calf  pair.  In Nevada or other semi-arid areas, that can be as much as 300 acres per pair.

Surely the great minds at the University of California can apply the same principle to people.

It has been said that as California goes, so goes the nation.

Wouldn’t it be a great experiment if  California forcibly ejected enough people to bring its population in line with its resources?

Couple that with penalties severe enough to dissuade childbearing, and you just might have something useful.

Something like a $1,000 per head annual penalty for having more than 2 children might do the trick, especially if it was enforced as stringently as the Feds enforce their regulations on banks.

Of course, that’s just going to ignite another political firestorm over such things as birth control and immigration, but at least we’d be able to have a living laboratory for studying something rather more useful than free marijuana and catalytic converters on BBQ grills.

From → op-ed

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