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Of Fish and Flatulence: An Environmentalist Dilemma

Decisions, decisions...

By Kermit Frosch  |  April 1, 2009

Not a day goes by but that the news reminds us, yet again, of the Devastation Consequences of Global Warming - well, make that "Climate Change" - and how it's All Our Fault.  Every step we make, every breath we take, we are generating more of that noted poison carbon dioxide, thus recklessly and selfishly contributing to the death of Life As We Know It.

Of course, the most commonly attacked source of so-called greenhouse gases is the energy generation, through burning coal, oil, and natural gas, that makes modern life possible.  That is why greens are sometimes accused of wanting to drive us back to the Middle Ages of pre-technology when the only carbon dioxide emissions were from wood fires and from Black Death victims exhaling their last breath.

Unfortunately, even such an unappealing solution would be insufficient, because as every Robin Hood aficionado knows, the Middle Ages were also a great era for animal life - from the King's Deer so merrily roasted by the Merry Men, to the poor widow's cow confiscated by the Sheriff of Nottingham for nonpayment of taxes.  Being ruminants, both of these beasts expel large quantities of methane, 20 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Not ones to leave targets unstoned, green activists have proposed to tax barnyard animals for their emissions just as they desire to tax cars or powerplants, an admirable if unusual consistency.  More productively, scientists have been trying to unearth a more effective and less intrusive solution to this problem.

It appears they have done so - though creating yet another environmentalist conundrum in the process.  LiveScience reports:

Including 2 percent fish oil in the diet of cattle reduces flatulence, apparently due to the omega 3 fatty acids in the oil...  "The fish oil affects the methane-producing bacteria in the rumen part of the cow's gut, leading to reduced emissions," Lillis said. "Understanding which microbial species are particularly influenced by changes in diet and relating them to methane production could bring about a more targeted approach to reducing methane emissions in animals."

So here's the plan.  Remember those ads for Beano: "Take Beano first, and there'll be-no gas"?  Apparently fish oil is Beano for cows.

One little problem: There may not be enough fish to go around.  Fish and fish oil are increasingly popular for people to eat, and recommended by many doctors.  According to research studies, however, there's a flaw in the notion:

The main problem with this advice is that, even at current levels of fish consumption, fisheries globally have reached a state of severe crisis.  Already, the demand from affluent and developing economies, particularly newly affluent China, cannot be met by the world's fisheries.

Now we should not only eat more fish ourselves, but feed them to cattle?  From whence cometh the fishes?

As so often, the devout environmentalist is faced with an irreconcilable conflict: Reduce global warming by feeding fish oil to cows to stop them farting up the atmosphere with destructive methane, and watch the fish die from overharvesting?  Or let both fish and flatulence stay as they are, with the resulting methane-induced warming, death of the polar bears, and all that?

Of course, they will make no such "false choice," as Mr. Obama might say, when there's a much more appealing solution: browbeat people to stop eating meat altogether.  When the alternatives are trying to intelligently weigh a decision and do tough scientific research, or impose intrusively on private lives, for the left it's not a tough call at all.