Livestock’s Role in a Changing Climate

Edward Bork’s research surrounding how livestock grazing affects soil carbon has made him a believer in the beneficial role cattle can potentially play in a changing climate.

“Because their grazing contributes to the concentration of carbon in the soil – a helpful process – livestock can be a tool to help reduce atmospheric carbon and thus mitigate climate change,” says Bork, director of the Rangeland Research Institute, University of Alberta.

Cattle critics say otherwise, calling for decreases in numbers or even elimination of ruminants as a means of reducing the greenhouse gases contributing to climate change. They point to the methane cattle emit as a key polluter of the atmosphere. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that ruminants put out as part of their digestive process.

Bork calls for a balanced view, one that weighs the drawbacks against the benefits.

“Pointing the finger at methane emissions of livestock is a convenient excuse people use,” he says. “It’s a red herring to claim that cattle are destroying the planet and ignores the fact that these grasslands evolved with grazing – and even depend on it to exist.