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Unraveling the mystery of whether cows fart

WASHINGTON — Let’s clear the air about cow farts.

In the climate change debate, some policymakers seem to be bovine flatulence deniers.

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This became apparent in the fuss over the Green New Deal put forward by some liberal Democrats. More precisely, the fuss over an information sheet by the plan’s advocates.

With tongue in cheek or foot in mouth, depending on whom you ask, the statement’s authors said that despite the plan’s proposals for strong limits on emissions over a decade, “we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast.”

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Airplanes don’t fart. But cows?

Cow burps

Exasperated by merciless mocking from Republicans on this matter, Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan lectured the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, on the floor of the chamber last month.

“The Republican majority leader said that we want to end air travel and cow farts,” Stabenow said. “By the way, just for the record, cows don’t fart. They belch.”

The Associated Press surveyed global experts on global warming on this question, as well as an author who wrote the definitive science book on gassy animals, which comes with funny pictures.

THE FACTS: Cows fart. That contributes to global warming. But cow burps are worse for the climate.

Methane

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“Cows are pretty disgusting eaters, with methane coming from both ends,” said Christopher Field at Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “But most of it comes from burping.”

Field cited the “classic quote from the technical literature” on the topic: “Of the CH4 (methane) produced by enteric fermentation in the forestomach, 95 percent was excreted by eructation (burp), and from CH4 produced in the hindgut 89 percent was found to be excreted through the breath.”’

In a nutshell, belches are bad news.

At Tuscia University in Viterbo, Italy, environmental scholar Giampiero Grossi said methane emitted by ruminant livestock accounts for about 5.5 percent of the greenhouse gasses that come from human activity. More than 70 percent of livestock emissions are from cattle, he said.

Green New Deal

“Ruminants are a significant source of methane,” which traps more heat than carbon dioxide but doesn’t last as long in the air, said Kristie Ebi, director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the University of Washington in Seattle. “The belches have to do with digesting their food” in the stomach compartments, not intestines, and that fermentation produces methane.

Warming from the burning of fossil fuels is roughly 10 times to 17 times greater than warming caused by livestock burping and farting, Field said.

Nonbinding resolution

For all of that, the Green New Deal does not seek to ban cows or planes as it sets ambitious targets to eliminate most greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming by 2030.

The deal, introduced in the House by Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York as a nonbinding resolution, not legislation, proposes massive spending on clean energy and energy-efficient buildings and transit. It proposes working “collaboratively with farmers” to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture “as much as is technologically feasible.”

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