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The Electric Cow

Most climate change campaigners focus on the fossil fuel sector.

While it’s essential that we move away from fossil fuels if we’re to avoid an ongoing climate catastrophe, we must also move away from animal agriculture.


The concept of the electric cow aims at providing some context to livestock’s greenhouse gas emissions by comparing such emissions to those of: (a) electricity generated by fossil fuels; and (b) aluminium smelting, the end product of which is known within the industry as “congealed electricity” due to its enormous energy requirements.

Here are some questions from the slideshow that’s included below:

“If cows ran on electricity, how much would we use in order to satisfy a nation's demand for meat?”

“Specifically, what figure would we arrive at if it was based on their current level of greenhouse gas emissions?”

The answer is that, if cows and other farm animals ran on electricity instead of food, water and oxygen, and greenhouse gas emissions were used to measure usage, then Australia's current level of electricity generation would be insufficient to supply our current food mix, even if we ceased using electricity for other purposes.


That’s in a country that relies primarily on coal-fired power and is one of the highest per capita emitters in the developed world.

If your daily food intake includes a 200 gram steak (less than half a pound) from a grass-fed cow, you may be generating around 60 kilograms of greenhouse gas. If you replace the steak with (for example) kidney beans, tofu and soy nuts (dried soybeans), you’ll get plenty of protein and produce less than 3 kilograms of greenhouse gas.

While it’s true that carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels will remain in the atmosphere for much longer than methane belched by cows and sheep, methane’s shorter-term impacts can become long-term to the extent that they contribute to us reaching climate change tipping points with catastrophic and irreversible consequences.

Land clearing is also a critical factor, resulting largely from livestock’s inherent and gross inefficiency as a food source, with the need to use far more resources, including land, than would be required if we generally adopted a plant-based diet.

Here’s a link to the slideshow.


Footnote: This is a modified version of an article published on the author's Terrastendo website on 27th May, 2014.


Paul Mahony is an environmental and animal rights campaigner who is trying to remove what he considers to be blinkers and blindspots in the community, resulting from social, cultural and commercial conditioning. You can find Paul on Twitter, Slideshare, Sribd, Melbourne Pig Save and his own blogging site, Terrastendo.


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