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Scientists still haven’t nailed down exactly what killed the dinosaurs. Volcanoes? Asteroids? Climate change? Too many nights eating Chinese take-out? Experts haven’t reached consensus.

But when we humans die out, the next species to top the food chain will have no doubt about what did us in: Cow farts.

Progressives behind the Green New Deal say the cattle industry threatens the planet because of the greenhouse gases it produces. Farmers are on notice that some Democrats want a food system free of noxious emissions. Can’t say that I blame them: I wish for the same thing every time I get stuck sitting next to my lactose-intolerant Uncle Milt at Thanksgiving.

Here in Wisconsin, where we invite visitors to smell our dairy air, we know cattle farms don’t smell like flowerbeds. It’s no surprise to us that the cattle industry ranks among the most potent sources of offensive gases this side of the boys’ locker room. But it raised eyebrows when Bessie became climate change activists’ Public Enemy No. 1.

I don’t think the average cheesehead wants to hurt the environment, but anyone calling for the extinction of beef and dairy farming here is in for a fight. Consider a parallel: Just because I’d like to put a cork in Uncle Milt every November doesn’t mean I want him wiped from the face of the Earth.

Agriculture is responsible for 9 percent of U.S. emissions. Worldwide, livestock operations account for 14.5 percent of greenhouse gases. That’s more than the transportation sector (14 percent). And methane is more dangerous than carbon monoxide because it traps more heat. To think, the society that created the pyramids and the internet and deep-fried Oreos could be rendered extinct by cow gas. Oh, the humanity!

So what are we going to do? If the Green New Dealers have their way, we’ll stop ordering steaks and milkshakes. They say the planet can’t sustain billions of people consuming industrially produced farm food. This will create an existential dilemma for the Wisconsinites who might rather go extinct than go vegan.

Ranchers have responded by proclaiming they’re producing food more sustainably and efficiently than ever. Politicians representing farm states note the ag industry generates billions of dollars annually. Also, we buy 75 percent of the world’s output of overalls, mesh caps and polka music. But nobody’s calling for bans on any of that.

Ag advocates say livestock only produce 5 percent of U.S. greenhouse gases directly, with the other 9.5 coming from tractor exhaust and other indirect sources. Experts have a tendency to quibble, whether the topic is cow farts or what knocked off the dinosaurs. Although they’d probably concur on ruling out my Chinese take-out theory.

Most also would agree that livestock gas contributes to climate change. Consider an example: If our planet is grandma’s dining room and the tooting cows are Uncle Milt, we have a pretty good idea who’s making the paint peel.

But what do we do about it? Outlaw burgers and ice cream and watch Culver’s go the way of the triceratops? Wisconsin already leads the nation in farm bankruptcies. And how could consumers survive without the industry that gives us cheese and beef jerky? All we’d have left would be beer, brats, motorcycles and euchre tournaments — which actually still sounds pretty awesome, but you get my point.

For starters the Green New Dealers probably will settle for a reduction in harmful emissions coming from this neck of the woods. I don’t think I’m prepared to cut back on beef or cheese, but here’s a starting point we might agree on: We’ll make Uncle Milt give up the ice cream with his pumpkin pie.

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Ben Bromley writes for the Baraboo News Republic.


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