New York Times Proposes Taxing Beef to Combat Climate Change

In this Friday, Sept. 22, 2017 photo, John Locke works to move a herd to another field at his family's ranch in Glen Flora, Texas. The damage Hurricane Harvey inflicted on Texas’ cattle industry hasn’t been calculated yet. But there’s evidence that it might be less than initially feared and …
AP/Eric Gay

The New York Times has proposed a special tax on the beef industry to compensate for the alleged damage Big Beef has caused to the environment by provoking climate change.

In his March 17 op-ed titled “The Case for a Carbon Tax on Beef,” Richard Conniff argues that it is time to break off “our collective love affair with beef” because the cattle industry “has a larger impact on the environment than that of any other meat or dairy product.”

Mr. Conniff admits that he got the idea for a special beef tax from the French, which should already give any serious person pause. The French notoriously address every possible problem by taxing it to death, so that only the rich can avail themselves of the finer things in life.

Last May, former President Barack Obama warned the world that eating meat was causing a dramatic rise in climate emissions.

“People aren’t as familiar with the impact of cows and methane,” Obama said at a food innovation summit in Milan, adding that “as people want to increase more meat consumption, that in turn is spiking the growth of greenhouse emissions coming out of the agricultural sector.”

The growing demand for beef as people get wealthier is contributing to global pollution, Obama said, alluding to the amounts of methane gas emissions from cow herds.

“No matter what, we are going to see an increase in meat consumption,” Obama said, pointing to developing economies in China, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam. More advanced countries, Obama said, would have to teach people to “have a smaller steak” and explore reductions to their meat consumption.

In his Saturday op-ed, Mr. Conniff said that the agriculture sector is the third-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, after the energy and industrial sectors. Citing Chatham House, the British think tank, Conniff said that raising livestock accounts for 14.5 percent of global emissions, “more than the emissions produced from powering all the world’s road vehicles, trains, ships and airplanes combined.”

Among all livestock, cattle raised for beef and dairy products account for almost two-thirds of all livestock emissions, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, he said. The 1 billion to 1.4 billion cattle worldwide—at some 1,300 pounds apiece—means that “their footprint on the planet easily outweighs ours.”

In the fall of 2016, Michael Battaglia warned in an article in The Conversation that because of the methane produced in cows’ stomachs, cow belching is a much bigger problem even than the occasional flatulence that was thought to be so detrimental to the environment. “Despite misconceptions, most cow methane comes from burps (90%) rather than farts (10%),” he said.

To justify the need for a massive carbon tax on beef, Mr. Conniff apes the “widely regarded” (though completely unsubstantiated) belief that global warming must be kept to under 2 degrees Celsius, since at that critical point “cascading and potentially catastrophic effects of climate change could sweep across the planet.”

As an important counterpoint, Scientific American published an essay in early March urging people to “chill out” over climate change, because doomsday scenarios attributed to global warming are simply false.

The essay, penned by John Horgan, the director of the Center for Science Writings at the Stevens Institute of Technology, analyzed two reports by “ecomodernists” who reject climate panic and frame the question of climate change and humanity’s ability to cope with it in radically new terms.

One of the reports, a work called “Enlightened Environmentalism” by Harvard iconoclast Steven Pinker, criticized “the mainstream environmental movement, and the radicalism and fatalism it encourages,” arguing that humanity can solve problems related to climate change the same way it has solved myriad other problems, by harnessing “the benevolent forces of modernity.”

The second report is a recent article by Will Boisvert titled “The Conquest of Climate,” which contends that the “consequences for human well-being will be small” even if human greenhouse emissions significantly warm the planet.

Undaunted, Mr. Conniff declares that a carbon tax on beef would be “only a little painful,” since people could learn to skip the beef and “substitute other meats, like pork and chicken, that have a much smaller climate change footprint.”

In the end, one remains with the lingering suspicion that rather than addressing real problems, the left feels compelled to invent false ones, for the simple pleasure of proposing how government can tell people how to live.

Social engineering never truly dies. It just grazes in new pastures.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter

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