Friday, October 17, 2008

Roos for Ruminants but What about Rice

The Federal Government's climate change advisor, Professor Ross Garnaut, has suggested that reducing sheep and cattle numbers and replacing them with 175 million farmed kangaroos would help to dramatically reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emissions.  This is because ruminant animals, like sheep and cattle, produce methane which is a potent greenhouse gas.

But of course there are other forms of agriculture that produce methane, in particular rice agriculture.  Furthermore, we all know that there are a lot of Chinese and they eat a lot of rice.  In the scheme of things, if Australians are to give up their lamb chops then perhaps there should also be some pressure brought to bear on the Chinese to stop eating rice.

Indeed while ruminant animals are thought to produce 93 million tonnes of methane per year globally, rice cultivation is not far behind at 60 million tonnes of methane annually.

Interestingly the world's wetlands dwarf both these sources of agricultural emissions, producing an estimated 145 million tonnes of methane each year.  Another natural source of methane is termites producing an estimate 20 million tonnes of methane each year.  But clearly in this age of environmental concern it will be sheep and rice that go before termites or wetlands.

It has been suggested that because methane production in flooded rice fields is a result of microbial activity in the anoxic environment of the flooded soils, that drier forms of rice cultivation could solve the problem.

Of course, all sorts of potential solutions are possible to all sorts of proposed problems.  Mr Garnaut could have even suggested that the Chinese start eating kangaroo.  Indeed Australia is a large country and we have a lot of greenhouse-neutral kangaroos.

A problem for the Australian kangaroo industry has not been a shortage of kangaroos, but rather the lack of a reliable market in large part because of animal rights campaigning against the killing of this perceived cute and cuddly creature.

Environmental personality, the late Steve Irwin, was even against the idea of farming Australian native animals and supported a campaign that forced David Beckham to stop wearing kangaroo skin soccer boots.

I am not averse to a good lamb chop, beef burger or kangaroo stew and there are better reasons than "climate change" for eating kangaroo -- nature's natural bounty.  But Australians and Chinese will first need to overcome some of our cultural aversions and the opposition of animal rights organisations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

Indeed the PETA cheer squad would probably prefer we all ate rice.


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